Nearly after 27 years, the Women’s Reservation Bill was once again introduced in Parliament on and passed. This bill was presented in a special session called by the 128th Constitutional Amendment.
According to the MLA, there is a provision to guarantee 33 percent reservation to women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies.
The delimitation work itself will depend on when the census is completed. However, this time will also not be wasted because it will give the government a chance to prepare rules carefully.
We have seen in recent years that the scope of Affirmative Action (measures to bring the historically backward class forward) has been expanded keeping political interests in mind.
In such a situation, if the program for implementing women’s reservation is not prepared keeping in mind the important socio-economic target of the women, then it may also lead to similar unwanted consequences.
For example it should be brought for a period of 15 years. It is worth noting that originally a provision of 10 years of reservation for education and employment was made for the people of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, but this is still going on.
Similarly, the quota of 70 years for these categories in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies was to end in 2020 but it is extended for 10 years.
This initiative is welcome but it is also important that this law does not remain symbolic and its purpose is not only to garner votes during elections or to increase India’s ranking in global indices.
The real test of this law lies in to what extent it proves helpful in providing better education, health, nutrition and sanitation and employment to half of the country’s population. Looking at recent evidence, this expectation is not absurd.
In 2013, it was a cross-party initiative led by female MPs that led to the passage of more stringent laws against rape and sexual harassment in the workplace.
This should be relatively easy to achieve as women’s representation in the Lok Sabha has increased over time.
But the challenge may increase in states and union territories. No state has been able to match the national average and the percentage ranges between zero and nine even in the northeastern states and Kerala, which have traditionally matriarchal societies.
Seen from this perspective, recent history shows that constitutional provisions have their limits in resolving aspects of gender discrimination.
However, India is among the few countries which had given voting rights to women even before many developed countries.
There have been many challenges in ensuring the political and economic empowerment of women.
The low participation of women in Panchayats and their low visibility in the labor force also shows this.
It is also important to note that gender equality is already in a better position in countries like the US and UK where there are no parliamentary quotas or Australia, parts of Europe where there are voluntary party quotas or legislative candidate quotas.
On the other hand, reservation for women in legislature exists in countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan, Niger, Bangladesh, Philippines and Indonesia and only a few of these can be considered better in gender equality.
Here, Indonesia, Philippines and Bangladesh are exceptions which show how important a role vibrant economic liberalization can play in women empowerment.
In such a situation, economic growth will always be the most important factor in gender equality laws.