Over six decades after Independence, just 12 pc women in Parliament!
Women power: PM Narendra Modi greets delegates after the valedictory session of the National Conference of Women Legislators
One experiences a rare kind of bonhomie when women Members of Parliament belonging to various political parties come together. This was noticed when these women members came together last week as a part of the national conference of women legislators. And as has been the case with all other such meets in the past, this convention too has once again brought the issue of women’s quota in Parliament to the fore. President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari have stressed on the need for all political parties to arrive at a consensus to pass the long pending Bill on Women’s Reservation for Parliament and state legislature seats.
Incidentally, Maharashtra was one of the first states in the country in early 1990s to implement the provision of 33% seats for women in local self-government bodies. This revolutionary provision was implemented when Sharad Pawar was the State chief minister. The first elections for civic bodies with the 33% quota for women were held in Kolhapur Municipal Corporation. I remember camping in Kolhapur along with representatives of various dailies to cover this one of the first such elections in the country. There were many apprehensions whether this experiment will ever be successful in achieving its avowed aim of politically empowering women or whether the men in the families will continue to rule by proxy despite the rule on women’s quota.
Three decades have passed since 33% quota for women in local self-government bodies came into the force. A few years ago, the women’s quota was enhanced to 50%, providing representation to a large number of women in decision making at the local civic bodies. India perhaps may be the first country in the world to reserve 50 per cent seats for women in local self-government bodies. However even six decades after Independence, the percentage of women in Parliament has remained less than 12%. Comparatively, Pakistan and Bangladesh have higher representation in their national assemblies.
Unfortunately the issue of providing quota for women in Parliament and state assemblies has been pending in the Lok Sabha for many years although the same Bill has already been passed in the Rajya Sabha. In the previous House, the issue of the women’s quota in its given form was mainly opposed by the Socialist leaders namely Mulayam Singh Yadav, and others while both the UPA government and the then main opposition party BJP both competed with each other in paying lip sympathy for the woman’s quota.
Now with the change of guard at the Centre, the roles in the Lok Sabha have been reversed. This is also for the first time in three decades that the ruling party at the Centre enjoys a simple majority. Surprisingly there has been a deafening silence on the issue of providing for women’s quota in Parliament and state assemblies since the change of power at the Centre. Neither the ruling NDA coalition nor the Opposition parties have ever raised this issue either in the House or outside.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice-President Hamid Ansari have now raised the issue of women’s quota. The ongoing debate on JNU, nationalism, sedition and intolerance in the country is likely to continue for a longer period. The ruling and opposition parties will earn the kudos of women, the country’s nearly half population, if they arrive at a consensus to provide some percentage of reservation to women in Parliament and state legislatures.
The political parties have already wasted many years on this issue. Now they need to muster the political will and work to ensure that the next general elections will be held to have an adequate number of women lawmakers in both Houses of Parliament.