“ I measure the progress of a community with the degree of progress women have achieved”

 – B.R Ambedkar


With the evolution of time there has been evolution of women’s status and rights. In the ancient periods the women enjoyed equal rights and status as of men while in the later times there was denial and subjugation of their rights. Thus, the participation of women in politics and their political representation is something which has been in talks since a very long period of time and there have been continuous efforts and debates going on to challenge the patriarchal norms binding the society. 

This article delves into the challenges faced by the women while getting the political representation, the importance of gender equality in politics. Why there was a need for introduction of Women representation bill, its implications, the past efforts made by several feminist protagonists is the main aspect of the article. 

Why Women did not get representation in politics, what were the challenges faced?

  • Traditional gender norms: The stereotypes ingrained in the society about women that they must adhere to the domestic chores becomes a restriction for them to enter into the political arena.
  • Threats and Violences: Women in politics often face threats and attacks from the society which obstruct them to raise voice and participation against the injustice. This makes it challenging for those women who want to take the political roles. 
  • Low Political Knowledge: Due to the structural barriers and institutional biases women are restricted to get the sufficient political knowledge and resources and thus remain underrepresented and often operate in a smaller area compare to men. 

Importance of gender parity in politics

Gender equality is of utmost importance in politics as for a democratic nation to work efficiently it becomes vital that there is equal representation while decision-making processes. This inclusiveness adds to the positive societal effects, participation of women especially in politics results in fostering educational developments, decreased political corruption, more transparency and accountability. Equal participation of men and women enhances diversity resulting in more comprehensive and suitable policies. With greater gender equality it becomes easy to promote peaceful and stable environment fostering economic growth. 

Background of Women Reservation Bill

The fight for the women political representation began long back during the period of national freedom when India was in the clutches of the British Empire. In the year 1931, Begum Shah Nawaz and Sarojini Naidu advocated for women’s equal political rights and status.

Then in 1971 National Action Committee and 1988 National Perspective Plan highlighted the situation of political representation of women and recommended reservations at various levels of governance. 

Under P.V. Narasimha Rao the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment act came up which were better known as Panchayati Raj Act mandated 1/3rd seats for women in Panchayati raj institutions and 1/3rd of chairperson offices at various levels, with additional reservation for SCs and STs women. With this amendment women got representation at all the local-self government institutions.

In the year 1989 Rajiv Gandhi brought the constitutional amendment for participation of women in local bodies, but it was defeated in the Rajya Sabha. In 1996 for the first time ever Women Reservation Bill got introduced by H.D. Deve Gowda led government. The then minister of state of law Ramakant D Khalap brought 81st amendment bill,  but this again suffered stiff opposition by certain parties who were not in favor thus the bill referred to the Joint Committee headed by Geeta Mukherjee of Communist Party of India. The bill faced a lot of scrutiny for not including reservation in Rajya Sabha and the consideration for Other Backward Classes. There were certain people and political parties who withdrew their enthusiastic support for the reservation bill for women like M.P. Sharad Yadav stated that with the introduction of the women reservation bill women with “short hair” would dominate the legislatures. The criticism was done not only by the men but certain women were also against it like Renuka Ray said “reservation would be an impediment to our growth and an insult to our very intelligence and capacity”

From 1998-2004 under NDA government Atal Bihari Vajpayee made several attempts to pass the bill but postponed due to lack of consensus. Afterwards in 2004 under the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a legislation was introduced for 1/3rd reservation of women in Vidhaan Sabha and Lok Sabha but opposed by certain parties. In 2008 again it was introduced leading to the chaos unfolded in the parliament. Surprisingly in 2010 RJD withdrew its opposition and the bill got passed in Rajya Sabha however couldn’t make through the Lok Sabha.

Recently in March 10, 2023 it was K Kavitha who did a hunger strike for the implementation of women’s reservation bill which had been pending for over three decades.

Analysis of Women’s Reservation Bill 

On 28th September 2023 the bill got assent of the president and the act came to be called as the Constitution (One Hundred and Sixth Amendment) Act,2023. According to this act the article 239AA of the constitution was amended and there was inclusion of (ba), (bb), (bc) which said seats will be reserved for the women in the Legislative Assembly of National Capital Territory of Delhi, 1/3rd of the seats for Scheduled Castes in Legislative Assembly of National Capital Territory of Delhi and as nearly as maybe, 1/3rd of total number of seats to be filled by direct election in the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi. There is insertion of new article 330A for reservation of seats for women in the House of the People. Article 332A says reservation of women in the Legislative Assemblies of the States.

However there have been criticism going on with the insertion of 334A which says that the implementation of the reservation depends on the rotation of the reserved seats which will be done after the delimitation period after taking the census. Thus, the critics argue that the implementation will be delayed till the 2029 general elections. 

It has also been argued that the legislation has not adequately addressed the representation of vulnerable and marginalized groups like the Other Backward Classes and minorities giving the domination to the upper cast and potentially favoring the educated and urban women. It has also been argued that there will be certain people who will be taking the advantage of this bill by using the names of the women of the house for the representation of the election wherein all the actual work will be done by male members secretively.

Potential Challenges to the Bill 

  • Lack of Intersectionality: The bill has not considered diversity within the category of women like the indigenous women, LGBTQ+ women, women with disabilities resulting in skewed representation. 
  • Lack of Genuine Empowerment: The representation of women in politics without providing them with agency, resources and support would impact the actual empowerment of women.
  • Impact of delimitation period: The bill may face resistance potentially hindering progress towards gender parity in politics. The critics would argue over the  delayed implementation of the bill which has already been pending for 27 years. Also the expiry of the bill after 15 years from the commencement period would further add to the ambiguity and agony of the vulnerable.


Public opinion and societal impact of increased women’s representation

Women’s rights activists support the bill as a crucial step towards addressing the underrepresentation of women in elected bodies, fostering policy framing with the gender equality approach. The bill emphasizes the importance in breaking the gender barriers, combating discrimination and enhancing a more democratic society reflecting the diversity and variability. The political parties view it as a amplifier of women’s voices and interest in decision making process. This bill challenges the patriarchal structure and biases which restricts and binds the women from raising their voices, bringing about “awakening” among women, eradicating all the injustices done to the women over the years. 

The societal impact of increased women’s representation is very evident in terms that earlier only 5% women were there in Lok Sabha which has been transformed into 15% in the current scenario. Chhattisgarh being the only state with highest number of women representation in politics. With the increased women representation there has been an increase in the awareness of women-centric issues and issues related to children like better standards of living, better education, sanitation and hygiene in both rural and urban areas, vast spread of awareness of women related diseases which no one ever discussed or pondered over.

Therefore, the implementation of the Women Reservation Bill or the Gender Quotas becomes essential and a need of the hour in determining equal status and rights of women in political sphere, to strike a balance of power, to transform gender disparity and to challenge existing rigid patriarchal structures. This would further boost up the empowerment of women in various other fields.

by Ditya Luthra, a law student at NMIMS


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