The issue of women’s representation in elected bodies will come to the forefront again as election campaign for Lok Sabha 2019 will intensify. Political parties will once again pledge to ensure easy passage of Women’s Reservation Bill in the parliament.
This illustrates the inadequacy of women in our elected bodies and an utmost requirement for constitutional and legal safeguards for the entry of women parliamentarians. This inadequacy also focusses on the fact that half the population is systemically excluded from political participation, representation, and decision-making.
At present, out of the 543 MPs in the current Lok Sabha, only 62 are women.
The BJP has tried to build a consensus among all political parties for the passage of Triple Talaq bill on the issue of Women rights. The Congress, on the other hand, has also been vocal to raise the burning issue of gender equality. Party chief Rahul Gandhi had earlier offered “unconditional support” of the Congress party for the passage of Women’s Reservation Bill.
Despite the support from political parties on women rights, there’s not much parliament window left for the women’s reservation bill. There’s no seriousness on the part of any political party to address the demand for fair and equitable representation of women in Parliament. The demand for quota within quota was made to kill the Bill.
Ironically, the third- tier of elected bodies, the Panchayats, have already implemented a 33% reservation for women. Due to the mandatory 33 percent quota, women’s reservation has met with fair success at the panchayat-level.
Women’s Reservation Bill
It has been ten years since the Bill was drafted and yet, an overwhelmingly male parliament has failed to enact the legislation that aims to boost the number of women in the Lower House.
The Women’s Reservation Bill or The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008 was proposed to amend the Constitution to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The seats were proposed to be reserved in rotation and would have been determined by draw of lots in such a way that a seat would be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections.
At the time, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha was a woman, Sushma Swaraj; yet Sonia Gandhi, the UPA chairperson was unable to build bridges with her to bring the Bharatiya Janata Party as a whole on board.
The Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 9 March 2010. The Lok Sabha, however, never voted on the bill. As a result, the bill lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
Another provision of the bill was that one-third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies.
Transformation since the first Lok Sabha
The first Lok Sabha in 1951 had 22 women MPs constituting 5% of the total members of parliament. The current Lok Sabha has 66. Thus, we can see that in course of 54 years and 16 Lok Sabha elections there has been a three-fold increase in the number of women MPs that made their way to the lower house of the parliament. The women MPs constitute 12.2% of the Lok Sabha today.
There has been a steady rise in numbers of women parliamentarians, both in absolute numbers and percentages. However, a decline in the number of women MPs was seen during the 6th Lok Sabha in 1977, the 9th Lok Sabha in 1989 and most recently the 14th Lok Sabha in 2004. The trends show a marked and steady increase from 1991 onwards to the present Lok Sabha.
The national average of women MLAs in state assemblies stands at a dismal 9%, much lower than the average representation of women MPs which is 12.15%.
While popular perception might be that few women are willing to or have taken the political plunge, the number of women contestants reveals something else. According to a study, between 1957 and 2015, the total number of women contestants has increased from 45 to 668 amounting a 15 fold increase in the number of women contesting. This increase in women contestants indicates the growing appetite for women to enter the political fray and willingness to be part of political decision-making.
Besides this, the success rate of women contestants, as opposed to the male contestants, has been consistently high over the years. In 1971, the success rate for men was 18%, whereas it was 34% for women, which is twice that of men.
For the current Lok Sabha, the success rate was 6.4% for men and 9.3% for women. This signifies that either women had a greater chance of winning from the seats that they stood from or that tickets were being given to women who had a greater chance of success.
As observed, the political parties unable to put forward this cause anytime soon, the only hope is for active pressure from society to demand from parties and politicians that this much-needed legislation is reintroduced and passed.