India is on the cusp of the transformation of its traditions and modernise them with women empowerment, gender equity, and other socio-political measures. Over the past decades, the country has made significant progress in proving the status of women and now their participation in every field has gone up considerably. However, it is widely admitted that there is a gender gap in political decision-making, and women leaders need to come out more in numbers to impact position decisions and inspire teenage girls to contribute to nation-building.
It is acknowledged even by the government’s Economic Surveys that women’s representatives in Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies are abysmally low. However, the success of women’s reservation in the three-tier Panchayati Raj institutions is widely admitted across the country. Even after heavy demand from all quarters including women groups, the women’s reservation bill was not tabled by the NDA government in the recently-concluded budget and winter sessions of Parliament.
The Women Reservation Bill, in discussion over the last two decades, proposes to amend the Constitution to reserve 33% of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and all legislative assemblies.
“To bridge the gender gap in political decision-making the Women’s reservation bill can become a very strong catalyzing tool. Political leadership plays the most important role in nation-building and if we will have an adequate number of women leaders, in the law-making process, they would significantly impact policy decisions and raise aspirations among teenage girls,” says Sujata Pandey, Political Analyst.
Historically speaking the Constituent Assembly originally comprised 389 members out of which only 15 were women. Studies reveal the issue of women’s reservation was raised in the Assembly but it did not garner much support due to various reasons. Even woman members such as Renuka Ray, argued against it as she considered it an “Impediment to our growth and an insult to our very intelligence and capacity.” She believed that in a free India, women would be evaluated in terms of ability alone and would not be in any need of reservation, citing the example of Ms. Vijaylaxmi Pandit and Sarojini Naidu, failing to realise they were the exception rather than the norm, and unable to anticipate the institutionalised sexism and discrimination that women would continue to face which act as obstacles to female success.
“We were very hopeful that our Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojna and the intension of his government appeared honourable in this context. A ray of hope was visible for the passage of the Women Reservation Bill too,” she adds.
The main objective of the Bill is to enhance the participation of women in decision-making. Several researchers have found that despite the handicaps women leaders might face in terms of education and experience, they invested more in public goods preferred by women suggesting that reservation for women had important effects on local policy decisions in the reserved gram panchayats. “This is high time to scale up the process at national and state levels,” Pandey emphasises.
Another disadvantage faced by women is the reluctance of major political parties to give more tickets to women candidates. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Congress gave only 13% of its tickets to women and the BJP gave 12% of its tickets. Parties like Trinamool Congress and the BJD, which have given 37% and 33% of tickets to women respectively, have done a far better job than the larger parties.
It is high time for women to take their rightful place in the state legislatures and Parliament. Political leadership should not have any doubt regarding Women’s power and women in leadership positions are more likely, than their male counterparts, to make decisions that further the cause of an inclusive and just society. In this context, womens reservation has huge potential to transform governance in India.