Time to enact the Women’s Reservation Bill

Published on Aug 19, 2022 01:24 PM IST

The article has been authored by Amar Patnaik, a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha from Odisha.

According to a report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) released in 2020, less than a tenth of the over 50,000 candidates contesting central and state elections are women. (HT Archive)
According to a report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) released in 2020, less than a tenth of the over 50,000 candidates contesting central and state elections are women. (HT Archive)
ByHindustan Times

From teaching in a tribal school in Odisha to being elected as a councillor and further becoming the first tribal woman President of India, President Draupadi Murmu’s journey is a testimony to what women can achieve if given the opportunity. She has made all Odias proud, and stands as a symbol of absolute grit and passion to work toward the upliftment of marginalised communities.

However, the idea of women's empowerment should not stop at this one example or a handful of others. As per the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, India ranks 48 in the political empowerment sub-index. Further, it occupies the last rank, i.e. 146th in the health and survival sub-index. Thus, while we are celebrating President Murmu, it is also important to note that there is still a lot that needs to be done for women’s empowerment.

As we observe the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, women’s representation in the Lok Sabha has not even grown by 10% in the last 75 years of Independence. Even when we speak about the Upper House, i.e., the Rajya Sabha, the percentage strength of women members elected/nominated has been consistently below 13% since 1952. Further, as per the data from the Election Commission of India, the condition of women in the state assemblies is even worse, where they account for about 9%.

According to a report by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) released in 2020, less than a tenth of the over 50,000 candidates contesting central and state elections are women. Here it is important to understand that merely contesting elections is not the end goal of ensuring women’s representation.

For instance, if we take the 17th Lok Sabha elections into perspective, 575 women candidates lost their deposits out of the total of 726 women candidates that contested for elections. This highlights the absence of a conducive environment for women candidates at the state- and grassroots- level, in securing an elected membership.

An elected membership in legislative bodies drastically affects the power relations in society with respect to breaking the socially constructed gendered norms of men and women. Women’s leadership and autonomy in these deliberative bodies is further increased when they have a direct say in the decision-making processes.

Here, I would like to highlight the efforts of the Odisha government and chief minister (CM) Naveen Patnaik in women's empowerment and reservation. Not only was Odisha one of the few states in India’s history to announce 30% reservation for women in all government jobs in 1991, it was also the first state to announce a 33% reservation that is now further increased to 50%, in Panchayati Raj institutions through the Osdisha Zilla Parishad Act of 1991.

Even for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) was the only party in the country to voluntarily announce a direct 33% reservation of seats for women candidates. CM Patnaik has also fought for political representation of women by raising his voice for women reservation time and again. On the occasion of 24th foundation day of the BJD, he said that the party will continue to demand 33% reservation for women in assemblies and Parliament. Noting that empowerment of women means empowerment of the nation, Mr. Patnaik said "We cannot deprive half of our population of their rights. They must have their rightful place in the political space of our country”.

It is unfortunate to witness that India has so far made no progress on the bill to reserve a third of the seats in Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies for women (108th Amendment or the Women’s Reservation Bill) that was introduced so long ago. While the Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha, it is yet to be passed in Lok Sabha. After being referred to multiple Standing Committees, the final outcome on this bill has remained unchanged. On the occasion of Amrit Kaal and celebrating India’s rich legacy that is also led and driven by women, I believe the perfect tribute will be to introduce women’s reservations. I urge the government once again, as in alignment with the Private Member Resolution I moved in the Rajya Sabha back in 2020, to introduce a 33% reservation quota for women in Parliament to increase the representation of women and to ensure inclusivity. Further, establish the constitutional obligation of the principle of equality between men and women in the legislature at all levels like zilla parishads, block samitis and gram panchayats.

There is a need to introduce institutional mechanisms guaranteeing women’s participation in the decision-making process, particularly within elected assemblies, and promote women’s participation in all sectors of social and economic life. This can further be supported by conducting awareness and education campaigns to develop role models that encourage women to enter politics.

The article has been authored by Amar Patnaik, a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha from Odisha.

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