Sonia Gandhi, the matriarch of Indian politics, said she was "happy for all the women of the country" after Rajya Sabha passed a bill that would reserve a third of Parliament's seats for women.
The bill passed its first hurdle late Tuesday when the house approved it by an overwhelming majority. Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party and widow of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, said in television interviews broadcast Wednesday that she was "very relieved" at the vote.
"I think we all have to think to be generous," she said. "Women empowerment is after all a dream, a vision."
An attempt to pass the legislation was first made in 1996, and it has been consistently blocked since by political groups demanding quotas for women from Muslim and low-caste communities.
"Politics is always full of risks," Gandhi said. "Whenever there is something revolutionary and new, there is opposition, there are difficulties in all parties."
Women currently occupy 59 seats out of 545 in Lok Sabha and just 21 in the 248-seat Rajya Sabha.
The bill will now pass to Lok Sabha and state assemblies, where a third of seats will also be reserved for women. If it clears these two stages, it will then require presidential consent.