The all-important Women Reservation Bill (WRB) has been passed by a majority in Lok Sabha. Intending to provide 33 % quota to women in the Lower House and state Legislative Assemblies, the Union Cabinet had approved the Bill on September 18. Once effective, the Bill is aimed at increasing the number of women MPs in the Lok Sabha to 181 from 82.
Known as the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, it is noteworthy that there has been a sea of political debate for many years revolving round it. And the passage of the Bill — after its introduction in 1996— was stalled due to various political hurdles. At present, women’s representation in the parliament stands at under 15 %, an insignificant political participation and political inclusion.
Additionally, the reservation can help mitigate gender disparities aside from ensuring social justice for effective governance. A more representative parliament should better take care of the diverse needs of people. Pertinently, empowering women is a key aspect for establishing a healthy democracy whose backbone is equality, not gender discrimination.
The reservation, it can be argued, is likely to struggle in empowering women in actuality. It is difficult to disagree with the possibility of a proxy representation — male power holders may field female acquaintances or relatives as just rubber stamps and themselves act as real bosses behind the scenes. And if the Bill ends up in bringing only the affluent women to limelight, then social inequalities may deepen their roots. And condemn the less privileged women to disillusionment and deprivation. These concerns, although may not be important, cannot be overlooked in the long term.
However, notwithstanding these challenges, the Bill is viewed as a blessing for the country. To put in perspective, women tend to focus on real issues — healthcare, education, employment and violation of rights. Hence, the increased representation of women in politics is likely to find more resources for the foregoing sectors.
Similarly, the increased representation in the parliament bears a promise of attracting more women to public life, pushing gender bias and stereotypes to the backseat. Gender, therefore, shall no longer come in the way of career advancement in politics— particularly in a society where patriarchal dominance has the upper hand.
In fact, not representation women in law making does more harm than good. For attaining social justice and social development with equity and justice, the representation of women in the legislature is a key requirement. Only a woman can better realize the significance of having anti-domestic violence laws. Unless women are involved in policymaking, issues concerning them would not gain good attention.
What merits a special mention is that India has signed the "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” ; as per this convention, a state (under Article 7) is required to eliminate discrimination against women in political and public life and make them as eligible as men to contest elections to all public bodies.
It remains to be seen how long it will take for the Bill to come into effect. Notably, the successful passage of this key development will raise the stature of the country and provide a platform to the country's half population for participating in the nation building in a more productive manner.
Moreover, the passing of the Bill into law will be tantamount to raising the status of women and taking another stride towards overcoming gender based issues and concerns. Stalling the move, however, will be anything but good service to the country.
Most importantly, the WRB can potentially come as a psychological comfort to the women who against all odds have displayed their capabilities in public life. Now this more representative character of the polity is bound to trickle down to the other walks of life and bolster the morale of more women for entering politics. And undoubtedly, the representation can enable women to take forward the legacy of the women who have risen in public life.
Making up roughly 50 % of India’s population, only 15 % women are in the Lower House. Many South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal have taken measures in improving women’s representation in their parliaments.
Although there ostensibly is substantial support to the WRB, challenges can raise their head. The mindset and attitudes of different stakeholders: politicians, the public and society at large, can potentially derail the effective execution of the Bill. But backed up by the political will, the Bill will no longer be on a shaky ground.
(Author is RK columnist and can be reached on: email@example.com)