The importance of gender quota in politics

women’s reservation Bill
The 128th Constitution Amendment Bill, referred to as the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, will now go to the President for assent. Photo: PIB

The Rajya Sabha unanimously passed the women’s reservation Bill to reserve one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies for women on September 21. The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on September 20.

Unlike the Lok Sabha, where two of the 456 MPs present in the House had voted against the Bill, all the 214 lawmakers present in the Rajya Sabha voted in its favour on September 21.

This is the first Bill to be passed in the new Parliament building. 

When will it be implemented?

• The 128th Constitution Amendment Bill, referred to as the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, will now go to the President for assent.

• The Bill will require the approval of a majority of state Assemblies.

• It will be implemented after a delimitation exercise to redraw Parliamentary and Assembly constituencies based on Census which is said to be commissioned next year.

Census couldn’t happen in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and would be taken up after the 2024 general elections.

• Women constitute nearly half of the country’s 95 crore registered voters, but comprise only 15 per cent of lawmakers in Parliament and 10 per cent in state Assemblies.

• The 33 per cent reservation for women will not apply to the Upper House of Parliament and state Legislative Councils.

Why gender quota is important in Parliaments across the world?

• While more women than ever are being elected to Parliaments around the world, equality is still a long way off, and current progress is far too slow.

• Most Parliaments are still heavily male-dominated, and some have no women MPs at all.

• As on January 1, 2023, about 26.5 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses are women, up from 11 per cent in 1995.

• Only six countries have 50 per cent or more women in Parliament in single or lower houses. They are: Rwanda (61 per cent), Cuba (53 per cent), Nicaragua (52 per cent), Mexico (50 per cent), New Zealand (50 per cent), and the United Arab Emirates (50 per cent).

• A further 23 countries have reached or surpassed 40 per cent, including 13 countries in Europe, six in Africa, three in Latin America and the Caribbean, and one in Asia.

• Globally, there are 22 countries in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, including one lower chamber with no women at all.

• In India, women accounted for just 13.9 per cent of the Rajya Sabha in 2022. 

• According to a report by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, India, the world’s most populous democracy with nearly 690 million women, remains in the lowest quartile worldwide for women’s representation. Neither the Upper House nor Lower House have ever exceeded 15 per cent women. 

• At the current rate of progress, gender parity in national legislative bodies will not be achieved before 2063.

• Change is possible if political commitment and adequate legal and policy frameworks are in place to provide a level playing field for both women and men.

• Legislated quota is a decisive factor in women’s representation in all regions of the world.

• Balanced political participation and power-sharing between women and men in decision-making is the internationally agreed target set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. 

• The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted in 1995, is a visionary agenda for the empowerment of women. It is also one of the reference frameworks to analyse the situation of women around the world and to assess the efforts of countries in support of women’s empowerment.

• The Platform also sets an agenda for governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector to safeguard women’s human rights and to ensure that gender is taken into account in all national, regional and international policies and programmes.

• While most countries in the world have not achieved gender parity, gender quotas have substantially contributed to progress over the years. 

• In countries with legislated candidate quotas, women’s representation is five percentage points and seven percentage points higher in parliaments and local government, respectively, compared to countries without such legislation.

Challenges for women in politics

• Women running for election face numerous challenges — including addressing discrimination or cultural beliefs that limit women’s role in society, balancing private, family and political life, gaining support from political parties.

• Barriers such as gender-based violence and unequal access to campaign finance maintained and deepened the gap between women and men in politics in many parts of the world.

• They may also face violence, harassment and intimidation. Some women may even be dissuaded from running for office, leaving men in the positions of power.

• Violence against women in politics, which spans everything from misogynist speech and online sexist attacks to sexual harassment and physical assault, is part of structural tactics to dominate and silence women.

Gender-sensitive Parliaments

• Women’s participation in Parliament has never been as diverse and representative as it is in many countries today. Dramatic changes in technology and parliamentary operations that were introduced during the pandemic are becoming institutionalised, helping to make Parliaments more modern, gender-sensitive and family-friendly workplaces.

• There is established and growing evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making processes improves them. For example, research on panchayats in India discovered that the number of drinking water projects in areas with women-led councils was 62 per cent higher than in those with men-led councils. In Norway, a direct causal relationship between the presence of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage was found.

• Women demonstrate political leadership by working across party lines through parliamentary women’s caucuses, even in the most politically combative environments, and by championing issues of gender equality, such as the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, pensions, gender-equality laws, and electoral reform.

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