21 February 2013

The Women Reservation Bill

The Women's Reservation Bill has been a political raw nerve for nearly a decade now. It has always triggered heated debates in Parliament and outside.
If you are wondering just what the Women's Reservation Bill is and why it is so controversial, read on.
·       The highest representation of women in Parliament is in Rwanda, at 56%. At the top of the IPU list was Rwanda, with 56 per cent representatives being women in the Lower House and more than 38 per cent in its Upper House.
·       Andorra and Cuba ranked second and third.
·       Sweden 46%, and Cuba 43%, Finland 42%, Argentina 40% and there are several European countries with over 30% representation of women.
·       In socialist countries Cuba tops the list, followed by Vietnam at 26%, China with 21 % and DPR Korea with 15.6%,. Canada 22%, UK 20%, USA 17% is much lower.
·       In the SAARC region Nepal with 33%, Pakistan with 22.5% and Bangla Desh with 12% .
·       China ranks 60th in the world and Bangladesh took the 65th spot. Nepal came in 20th and Pakistan 52nd.Sri Lanka and Myanmar rank lower on the list, at 129th and 134th respectively
·       Eight countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Belize, Palau, Micronesia, Nauru and Solomon Islands, have no female representation in national politics
·       India ranks 105th in the world for women's representation in politics, with only 60 women lawmakers in the 543-member Lok Sabja and 24 women MPs out of a total of 240 members in Rajya Sabha.
Women Representation in India:
In modern India, women have adorned high offices in India including that of the PresidentPrime ministerSpeaker of the Lok Sabha and Leader of the Opposition. As of 2011, the President of India, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Leader of the Opposition inLok Sabha (Lower House of the parliament) are all women. However, women in India generally are still exposed to numerous social issues. According to a global study conducted by Thomson Reuters, India is the "fourth most dangerous country" in the world for women. India ranks 115th of 162 countries in terms of gender development..
It is shame on the world's largest democracy- even after 60 years of independence- despite 15 general elections; Indian women still have an abysmal representation in Indian Parliament.
Women comprise half of the population in India, 340 million voters out of a total electorate of 710 million in 2009 - constitutes a lowly 9% of the total strength of lokSabha. . 
A record 59 women have been elected Member of Parliament (MP) in the 15th Lok Sabha (LS)—the highest since Independence. Of the 59 women MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha, 23 are from the Congress and 13 from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Lok Sabha
Total No. of seats
Number of Women contestants
No. of Women Members elected
Percentage to the total seats
Percentage of total number of women contestants
First – 1952

The Parliament presently has 543 members. As per existing laws, 122 of these seats are reserved for SC and ST candidates. If 33 per cent seats are reserved for women, it would amount to 181 seats for women alone. That would leave just 240 seats for male members who do not fall even in the SC and ST categories. In all, there would be 282 seats for male members. Women cannot be denied if they want to contest even from these seats. The implementation of this bill could change the history of political domination of this country by male leaders.
Historic Women's Reservation Bill, ensuring 33% reservation to women in Parliament and state legislative bodies, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on9th March 2011.The Bill, was passed by a two-third majority  Of the votes polled, 186 were in favour of the bill and only one was against. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley described the measure as "momentous and historic".
The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill could get through with "unequivocal" support from the BJP and the Left in the Upper House
UPA ally Trinamool Congress, with two members in the Upper House, did not participate in the voting.
BSP, having 12 members, walked out of the House saying the bill did not contain amendments suggested by it.

How did the Women's Reservation Bill originate?

The proposed legislation to reserve 33.3 percent seats in Parliament and state legislatures for women was drafted first by the H D Deve Gowda-led United Front government. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996. Though it has been introduced in Parliament several times since then, the Bill could not be passed because of lack of political consensus.

Women's Reservation Bill: Chronology

·       1974: For the first time ever in India, the issue of women's representation in Parliament was raised. A committee on status of women in India submits a report to the Ministry of Education and Society Welfare. The report highlighted the low representation of women in Indian politics and recommended the reservation of seats in panchayats and municipal bodies for women.
·       1993: One-third of seats in panchayats and municipal bodies are reserved for women through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments.
·       September 12, 1996: HD Deve Gowda government introduces Women's Reservation Bill in the Parliament as 81st Constitution Amendment Bill. Gowda's government is reduced to a minority. Later 11th Lok Sabha is dissolved.
·       December 9, 1996: A report is presented to Lok Sabha by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the bill.
·       June 26, 1998: The NDA government reintroduces the bill as the 84th Constitution Amendment Bill in the 12th Lok Sabha. But, this time too as the Vajpayee led government is reduced to a minority and the bill lapses.
·       November 22, 1999: NDA government again introduces the bill in the 13th Lok Sabha. The government fails to gather consensus on the bill.
·       May 2004: The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by the Congress announces that it intends to pass the bill as part of its commitments in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP).
·       May 6, 2008: The Bill is introduced in Rajya Sabha. It is then referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice.
·       December 17, 2009: The Standing Committee presents its report. The bill is then tabled in Lok Sabha as well as in the Rajya Sabha. Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (United) protest against the bill.
·       February 22, 2010: President Pratibha Patil says that the government is eager and committed to passing the bill at the earliest.
·       February 25, 2010: The Women's Reservation Bill is approved by the Union Cabinet.
·       9 Mar 2010: The Upper House Rajya Sabha passed the bill
·       As of Feb.2013, the Lower House Lok Sabha has not yet voted on the bill.
What the Bill provide?
Women's Reservation Bill or the The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, proposes to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33 per cent of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. In continuation of the existing provisions already mandating reservations for scheduled caste and scheduled tribes, one-third of such SC and ST candidates must be women. The seats to be reserved in rotation will be determined by draw of lots in such a way that a seat shall be reserved only once in three consecutive general elections.
Does Reservation for women exist in Panchayat and Municipal Bodies Elections?

Yes, in 1993, One-third of seats in panchayats and municipal bodies are reserved for women through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments. The experience of women's reservation at the panchayat level has been very encouraging. A million women are being elected to the panchayats in the country every five years. This is the largest mobilization of women in public life in the world.
What is the arguments in favor of the Women's reservations Bill?
·       Its proponents say it would lead to gender equality in Parliament/ decision-making bodies, resulting in the empowerment of women as a whole.
·       Historically, the Bill's supporters say, women are deprived in India so  the Bill is essential for active political participation of women
·       Increased political participation of women will help them fight the abuse, discrimination, and inequality they suffer from.
·       Political pundits, sociologists, political scientists, feminists and historians and almost everybody has said that if the bill becomes an act then it will be the biggest socio-political news since independence.
·       Only a nation which has empowered its women to be a part of all forms of governance can achieve true liberation and economic success. This can come about only by enacting the Women's Reservation Bill.
·       The socio-economic condition of women will improve only if they are also a part of the governing process, is a fact that is widely accepted the world over.
·       Recent research on the quota system has revealed that it has changed perceptions of women’s abilities, improved women’s electoral chances, and raised aspirations and educational attainment for adolescent girls.
·       In addition, women in India get reservation or preferential treatments in education and jobs.
·       A segment of social and political class in India is strongly in favor of providing preferential treatment to women in order to create a level playing field for all of its citizens.
·       After passing the Bill there will be more women participation in politics and society and conditions of women is expected to improve as a result.
·       The supporters argue that provision of reservation for women is only for 15 years. The idea of reservation is to create a level playing field so that women can raise their share in politics and society and then, look for equal status.
Why there is opposition to the Women Reservation  Bill?
·       Various political parties have staunchly opposed it because they fear many of their male leaders would not get a chance to fight elections if 33.3 percent seats are reserved for women.
·       Political establishment is dead opposed to this piece of legislation as it could nail their political career.
·       Most powerful male leaders, who have deep root in their constituencies, could find their political career endangered.
·       If 33.3 per cent reservation for women is added to the already existing 22.5 percent for scheduled castes and tribes, more than 55 per cent of seats in Parliament would be reserved. This would not be fair to other sections of the population.
·       The Bill has also been opposed by politicians from the socially and economically backward classes. They argue that reservation would only help women of the elitist groups to gain seats, therefore causing further discrimination and under-representation to the poor and backward classes. Reservation would only help women of elitist groups gain political power, aggravating the plight of the poor and deprived sections.
·       The opponents propose a quota within a quota for certain classes (for for dalits, backwards classes and Muslim women).
·       By asking for reservation women are perpetuating unequal status for themselves
·       Better to create reservation of women in political parties than in Parliament.
·       The provision of rotation of reserved seats is also debated. It can reduce the incentive of the elected MPs to spend energy because he or she may not be able to re-seek the mandate from the same constituency.
Who are the main political opponents of the Bill?
·       The SP and RJD are opposed to the Women's Reservation Bill in its present form and the three well known trios Lohiaites-Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sharad Yadav demanding a quota within the quota of 33 per cent for women in Indian Parliament and state assemblies
·       Lalu says the Bill 'would deny adequate representation to other sections of society.' He favours 10 to 15 percent reservation for women. 'My party is not opposed to women's reservation, but the case of Dalits, backward classes, Muslims and other religious minorities should not be overlooked,' is his argument. "I want to see women like Kalawati and Bhagwati Devi to be included in the quota. There should be reservation within reservation," said Lalu.
·       Mulayam favors making it mandatory for political parties to give 10 percent of election tickets to women. His argument is that if inadequacy of representation is the issue, why not reservation for Muslim women (there are only two in the present Lok Sabha)?

Opinions of others:
·       Mamata Sharma, Chairperson of National Commission for Women is planning to press Ms Gandhi and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar for the speedy passage of the Women’s reservation bill.
·       Annie Raja, All India secretary, National Federation of Indian Women “The problem is that the male leaders do not want to vacate their seats. It is a challenge to patriarchy,"
·       Ranjana Kumari, Director of Delhi based Centre for Social Research says whole proposition to provide reservation within reservation to minority women and dalits put by Mulayam and Lalu Prasad  is just a hoax and a kind of eyewash. They  wants to deprive other women of the society by blocking this bill” points Dr Kumari.
·       Rajya Sabha member and senior CPI leader D Raja says that the government is forced to keep the bill in limbo pointing to coalition compulsions. "The government lacks the spine to pass this bill.”
·       Similarly, CPM member Brinda Karat blamed it on lack of political will.of the Congress-led government which is responsible for bringing the legislation.”
·       The principal Opposition party BJP is playing it safe. “We will pass the bill when we come to power,” asserted P Muralidhar Rao, BJP's National Secretary.
·       If the bill is to be passed, it will be passed only by this government,” says an optimistic Prabha Thakur, former Lok Sabha member and current president of All India Mahila Congress.
·       It is however sad and unfortunate that being a woman themselves Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati pulled back from giving support to the bill by abstains in the time of vote. Ruling UPA constituent Trinamool Congress, which has two members, kept away from voting, while 15-member BSP, which has opposed the bill in its present form, walked out before voting.
·       Accusing the Congress of being anti-Dalit, BSP supremo Mayawati said her party opposes the Women Reservation Bill in its present form  from the fact that no separate quota has been carved out for SC/ST women in 33% reservation proposed in the Women Reservation Bill.
·       Trinamool Congress chief and railway minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday attributed her party's abstention from voting on the Women's Reservation Bill in Rajya Sabha to a "communication gap" and said she was committed to the Constitutional amendment.
·        All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) General Secretary and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms J Jayalalithha called upon all political parties to "look beyond narrow divides" and ensure that the Women's Reservation Bill becomes law without further hiccups or delays .The AIADMK's V. Maitreyan pointed out that the bill was a great tribute to the Indian housewife who he said had proved to be better financial managers of the household "than all the finance ministers of India.
This distressing state of affairs regarding women is an outcome of the continuous failure of women’s welfare policies. Most of them fail to take off due to improper planning at the grass root level. Corruption and nepotism threaten to eat into the little good that has been done for women’s empowerment in this country.
That In spite of this realization, gender sensitivity in administration is still struggling to get a foothold because of the general fear that women might surpass men in all spheres and also intrude in their political affairs, which is largely considered to be a male domain.
The individuals who oppose the Bill tooth and nail should be made to arrive at a consensus in the interest of the nation.
·       Wikipedia:
·       SHIV SUNNY
·       Rediff.com.News