WOMEN’S RESERVATION BILL, 2023

ABSTRACT –

On September 19,2023, the Lok Sabha introduced the Constitution (One Hundred and twenty-eighth amendment) bill 2023 which aims to allocate one-third of the total seats in both Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies for women. This reservation also extends to seats designated for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The reservation becomes operational once the census, conducted in accordance with the commencement of the Act, is published. It remains in force for a period of 15 years, and there is a possibility of extending it through parliamentary decision. The origins of the bill can be traced back to suggestions put forth by several committees and commissions, such as the National Commission for Women and the United Nations. These entities have consistently promoted greater involvement of women in political affairs. Regardless of this, there should be a transparent timeline for its implementation. The present bill, like its predecessors, does not include reservations for women in the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils, the Rajya Sabha having lower female representation as compared to the Lok Sabha. Nevertheless, the bill encourages political parties to promote women leaders and give them opportunities to contest elections, which can lead to a more inclusive and diverse political landscape.

KEYWORDS Reservation, Women, Amendment, Parliament, Empowerment, Representation

INTRODUCTION-

Women’s Reservation Bill 2023, also termed as Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam, was introduced in the parliament recently. The 73rd and 74th amendments[1], enacted in 1993, introduced provisions in the constitution for reserving one third seats for women in panchayats and municipalities. Additionally, the constitution mandates seat reservation for schedule castes and schedule tribes based on their population. However, there is no provision for reserving seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the State legislative assemblies. Notably, some members of the constituent assembly had opposed the idea of allocating seats for women in legislature.

                        In the 2nd Lok Sabha elections, women made up only 3% of the total candidates. 15% of the total members of the 17th Lok Sabha are women while in state legislative assemblies, women on average constitute 9% of the total members[2]. The 2015 report on the status of women in India highlighted the persistently low representation of women in both state assemblies and parliament, emphasizing the scarce presence of women in decision making roles within the political parties. It recommended a 50% reservation for women in local bodies, state legislative assemblies, parliament, and all government decision making bodies. The National Policy for the empowerment of women (2001) had previously expressed consideration for reservation in higher legislative bodies.

                         Constitutional Amendments aiming to reserve seats for women in Parliament and the state legislative assemblies were proposed in the year 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2008[3]. The first three bills lapsed due to the dissolution of their respective Lok Sabha, although the 2008 bill passed in Rajya Sabha, it also lapsed with the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha. The 1996 Bill underwent examination by a joint Committee of Parliament, Public Grievances, Law and justice.

The recent Bill introduces notable additions to the constitution, highlighted as follows:

Article 330A permits the reservation of seats for women in the Lower House under Article 330, which originally provided for the reservation of seats for SCs/STs in the Lok Sabha. The Bill stipulates the allocation of one-third of reserved seats for women on a rotational basis and the reservation of women’s seats in direct elections to the Lok Sabha.

Article 332A allows the reservation of seats for women in State Legislative Assemblies, mandating the reservation of seats for women in every state Legislative Assembly. It dictates that one-third of the seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes should be designated for women. Additionally, one-third of the total seats filled through direct elections to the Legislative Assemblies must be reserved for women.

Article 334A addresses the commencement and implementation of reservation, specifying that the reservation becomes effective after delimitation is conducted following the publication of relevant census figures. The provision includes a rotation of seats for women after each subsequent delimitation exercise, and the reservation is applicable for a period of 15 years (Sunset Provision). The rotation of seats will be distributed among constituencies within a state or union territory.

Article 239AA[4] permits the reservation of seats for women in the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi and grants special status to the Union Territory of Delhi as the national capital concerning its administrative and legislative functions. It mandates the reservation of seats for women in the Delhi Legislative Assembly, with one-third of the seats reserved for scheduled castes for women, in addition to seats filled by direct election.

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

This paper is of descriptive nature and the research is based on women’s reservation bill which was recently passed by the parliament and how with this, the representation of women in the Lok Sabha and State legislative assembly has come into a crucial role. If a demographic group lacks proportional representation in the political system, its capacity to shape policy decisions is restricted. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women asserts the imperative to eradicate discrimination against women in political and public spheres. Despite higher levels of education, political awareness, and employment among women, the progress in achieving women’s political representation has been slow, primarily due to the persistence of patriarchal structures in societies. However, a crucial opportunity has emerged to bridge this gap, and it urgently needs to be translated into reality during the upcoming special parliamentary session. The benefits of reserving seats for women are manifold; it empowers them to influence how political parties navigate and conduct their recruitment processes. This would incentivize political parties to provide women with access to resources for financing campaigns, securing safe working environments, and offering mentorship and training by positioning them in winnable positions.

As the custodians of the world’s largest democracy, political parties must now adopt an inclusive and gender-sensitive approach to expedite the pace of change that strengthens women’s agency in governance and leadership. It is crucial for political parties to carefully consider allocating the necessary number of party tickets to women without succumbing to the pitfalls of tokenistic or dynastic politics. Numerous global examples, such as Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, Rwanda, the United Arab Emirates, and New Zealand, demonstrate how women representatives have benefited from efforts advocating for gender mainstreaming processes in their legislatures.

The empowerment of women through the Indian Women Reservation Bill is poised to contribute significantly to the overall development of the nation, particularly for women, and aims to tackle the intertwined issues of socioeconomic and political inequality. This is evident in the Women’s Reservation in Panchayats, where one-third of seats in direct panchayat elections are reserved for women, as mandated by the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992.

The deliberate exclusion of women from political participation is deemed unacceptable and a violation of their democratic and constitutional rights, especially considering the systematic undervaluation of their contributions in the socioeconomic realm. Hence, it is imperative for the government to take proactive affirmative action. While it is acknowledged that reservation alone may not eliminate deeply rooted gender bias in India, it is considered a crucial measure to catalyze change and ensure greater equality.

The Constitution of India does not explicitly allow for the reservation of women in public employment. In fact, Article 16(2) explicitly prohibits discrimination in public employment based on gender. Consequently, women can, at most, receive only horizontal reservation, as outlined by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Indra Sawhney (1992).[5]

The Women’s Reservation Bill represents a pivotal stride toward achieving gender equality in Indian politics. While not a panacea, it is deemed an essential tool to address the longstanding underrepresentation of women in legislative bodies. The core principle of providing equal opportunities for women in politics remains crucial for fostering a genuinely inclusive and representative democracy. Ultimately, the implementation of the Women’s Reservation Bill marks a significant milestone for India, symbolizing the nation’s commitment to gender equality and inclusive governance.

REVIEW OF LITERATURE-

Women’s Reservation Bill is a landmark moment in the history of India as it would ensure gender equality, especially in terms of women’s political leadership. This bill is a testimony of India’s commitment to women-led development. This paper tries to substantiate the relationship between affirmative action policies and the equality of women. The reservation of seats for women in legislatures can be evaluated through three perspectives[6]:

  • assessing the efficacy of women’s reservation policy as a means of empowerment,
  • exploring the feasibility of alternative approaches to enhance women’s representation in legislatures, and
  • scrutinizing any potential issues associated with the proposed reservation method outlined in the 2008 Bill. This analysis draws heavily from our previous brief on the 2008 Bill.

It is crucial for the country to comprehensively grasp the potential consequences of this bill to evaluate its future impact on the nation. In essence, the bill aligns with the right objectives. It is poised to tackle issues related to women’s empowerment, gender bias in political arenas, and the formulation and execution of national policies. Considering the prevalence of patriarchal norms in many regions of India, the bill could serve as a mechanism to challenge and overcome outdated practices, thereby addressing some of the societal hurdles hindering women’s progress.

The Women’s Reservation Bill holds significant importance in India for various reasons, with wide-ranging implications:

Addressing Underrepresentation of Women in Legislature:

Globally, women currently hold only 26.7% of parliamentary seats and 35.5% of local government positions. India’s adoption of this bill could positively impact global gender representation, given its status as a major economy.

Promoting Gender Equality and Empowerment:

The primary goal of the bill is to advance gender equality and empower women by ensuring substantial political representation. As nearly half of India’s population is female, their active involvement in decision-making processes is crucial for achieving gender justice.

Boosting Political Participation:

The bill strives to increase women’s political engagement across all levels of government. Through reserved seats, it encourages women to enter politics, run for elections, and assume public office.

Amplifying Women’s Voices and Addressing Issues:

Enhanced representation of women in legislatures ensures that critical issues related to women’s rights, education, health, and safety are given due consideration. Women in political roles can advocate for policies combating gender-based discrimination and violence.

Role Modeling and Challenging Patriarchy:

Women elected to political positions serve as role models, inspiring others to pursue leadership roles. The reservation of seats challenges traditional gender roles and combats the patriarchal nature of Indian politics and society.

Promoting Gender-Inclusive Governance:

Research indicates that gender diversity in decision-making bodies, including legislatures, often results in improved governance and decision-making by incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences.

Social and Economic Development:

Political empowerment of women can positively impact social and economic development. It can lead to gender-sensitive policies, improved access to education and healthcare, and increased economic opportunities for women.

Addressing Gender Disparities:

The bill has the potential to reduce gender disparities in education, employment, and healthcare by ensuring that women’s concerns and priorities are adequately addressed.

International Commitments:

Implementation of the Women’s Reservation Bill reflects India’s commitment to international agreements and conventions advocating for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Encouraging Inclusive Political Landscape:

The bill encourages political parties to actively promote women leaders and provide them with opportunities to contest elections, fostering a more inclusive and diverse political landscape.

Present Status of Women Representation[7]

As per the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023, India has made strides in political empowerment, achieving 25.3% parity in this domain.

Women represent 15.1% of parliamentarians, which is the highest representation since the inaugural report in 2006.

METHOD AND ANALYSIS

Despite the bill successfully becoming an Act in 2023 following its clearance in the Rajya Sabha, its practical implementation is deferred until 2026. The delay is attributed to the inadvertent postponement of the 2021 Census, with no specified timeline provided by the government for its rescheduling. Consequently, the fate of the bill’s execution, even after approval from both Houses of Parliament, remains uncertain. Notably, when a bill secures clearance in the Rajya Sabha, it does not lapse even in the event of the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. This raises questions about why the previously passed Rajya Sabha bill wasn’t promptly considered and passed as ‘The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam Bill.’ Unlike the earlier version, the present bill lacks a clause detailing implementation post-delimitation. Since its introduction, debates in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have seen leaders from various political parties claiming credit for their support of the Women’s Reservation Bill and their role in its adoption.

                       Paradoxically, even after 75 years of independence, women in India find themselves reliant on reservation measures to establish a foothold in the political sphere. In July 1947, Renuka Roy addressed the Constituent Assembly, expressing the view that when seats are reserved for women, their consideration for general seats, regardless of competence, tends to diminish. She argued for a future where women could advance based on merit alone in a free India. In a nation like India that prides on having a significant female population brimming with untapped potential – the passage of this legislation marks a pivotal milestone. It unleashes the potential of our country and propels progress by engaging women in decision-making processes[8].

                              Legislative reservations for women may perpetuate the cultural paradigm where women are primarily viewed as wives, daughters, and daughters-in-law, rather than as autonomous individuals. These dynamics underscore the formidable challenges posed by existing patriarchal structures to achieving genuine gender equality in politics.

Despite these challenges, having women in political positions can have a lasting impact. There have been various landmark judgements which aim to strengthen Gender Justice, for instance the case of Shah Bano versus Mohammad Ahmed Khan[9] which emphasized the maintenance rights for Muslim women, becoming a precedent for gender justice in personal laws. Another would be a case which addressed the entry of women in Sabarimala temple, laying emphasis on equality of women in matters of Religion, the case being Indian Young Lawyers Association vs. State of Kerala[10] (2018). Consequently, while political representation might initially seem symbolic, it yields enduring effects on voter behavior and perceptions, especially at the grassroots level.

CRITICISM

Critics of the Women’s Reservation Bill argue that allocating seats exclusively for women may primarily benefit educated and urban women, potentially sidelining underprivileged rural women from marginalized castes. In contrast, supporters of the bill contend that opposition from certain political leaders reflects patriarchal tendencies, with concerns about a potential power shift to women if a significant number of seats are reserved for them.

Political parties such as Congress, Samajwadi Party, and Rashtriya Janata Dal have criticized the bill for lacking provisions for reserved seats for women from Other Backward Classes (OBC) and minority communities. The absence of quotas for OBC and minorities could pose challenges for marginalized women to effectively voice their concerns in Parliament.[11]

There are two main reasons for criticizing the 2023 Bill. Firstly, the complexity of the implementation schedule is a point of contention. The bill specifies that the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Act of 2023 will take effect once delimitation is conducted after the publication of relevant figures from the first Census following that date. However, the election cycle for women to achieve fair representation is not clearly outlined.

Secondly, the new Bill does not provide for women’s reservation in the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils, contrary to previous regimes. Women are currently underrepresented in the Rajya Sabha compared to the Lok Sabha, and critics argue that both the Lower and Upper Houses should adhere to the principle of equal representation.

SUGGESTIONS

In an ideal scenario, the reservation should be operational for the upcoming general elections. Perhaps the government is of the opinion that immediate implementation is not viable given the limited time remaining until the 18th Lok Sabha elections. Regardless of this perspective, there should be a transparent timeline for implementation. It is imperative that a decision of such historical significance explicitly outlines when and how these rights will take effect. Members of Parliament should introduce amendments to ensure that the final legislation establishes a distinct and definite timeline.

                                        Consistent with previous administrations, the present bill, like its predecessors, does not include reservations for women in the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils. The Rajya Sabha currently exhibits lower female representation compared to the Lok Sabha, and the call for representation is one that should extend to both the Lower and Upper Houses. It is crucial for the government and Members of Parliament to contemplate ways to address this gap and formulate appropriate measures to ensure comprehensive representation across all segments of the population. While undoubtedly a complex legislative task, a potential solution surfaced in the Constituent Assembly debates through Purnima Banerjee’s proposal, which, though rejected at that time, holds promise in today’s democratic context. Banerjee suggested that if any women occupying seats in the Assembly were to vacate them, these seats should be filled by women themselves. While initially proposed for the Constituent Assembly, this concept could serve as a valuable starting point for reservations in the Upper House, encompassing not only women but also individuals from Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and other minorities.

CONCLUSION

The inadequacy of addressing women’s inclinations through a predominantly male assembly is evident in the treatment of the reservation bill. While the principle of equal participation for women is widely acknowledged, there is a reluctance to ensure their equal representation. Restricting women from taking leadership roles and excluding them from decision-making processes perpetuates the historical gender oppression that has persisted for centuries in this region.

The true test of democracy lies in creating equal opportunities for all segments of society, particularly those historically deprived. This necessitates an optimal social environment and a shift in individual mindset and societal climate. The relationship between these factors is reversible, influencing each other in both directions. Practically, this implies simultaneous efforts at various societal levels, recognizing that each endeavor may adversely affect certain vested interests. Thus, there must be a readiness for a persistent struggle on all fronts, integrated into daily life and expressed in both literary and political discourse.

The women’s reservation bill represents a significant step toward achieving the objective of a genuine and enlightened democracy and should be expeditiously enacted. Women’s organizations, irrespective of political affiliations, should unite under a common platform with a singular agenda, transforming into a widespread social movement that conveys a unified message to all political parties. These trends underscore that women’s representation in politics demands special consideration and cannot be entrusted solely to the existing powers dominating our political parties and government.

NAME: Shivangi Dwivedi

COLLEGE: Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi


[1] India Const. art.243, amended by The Constitution (Seventy fourth Amendment) Act, 1992.

[2] PRS Legislative Research, “The Constitution (One Hundred Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023,” PRS India,  < https://prsindia.org/billtrack/the-constitution-one-hundred-twenty-eighth-amendment-bill-2023 > accessed 26-12-2023

[3] Perspectives: Reservation of Seats for Women in Legislative Bodies, Rajya Sabha Secretariat, July 2008, http://164.100.213.102/RSCMSNew/UploadedFiles/ElectronicPublications/reserv_women_pers2008.pdf

[4] India Const. art.239AA.amend(sixty-ninth amendment act)1991

[5] Indra Sawhney v Union of India, AIR 1993 SC 477.

[6] PRS Legislative Research, “The Constitution (One Hundred Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023,” PRS India,  < https://prsindia.org/billtrack/the-constitution-one-hundred-twenty-eighth-amendment-bill-2023 > accessed 26-12-2023

[7] “Women Reservation Act 2023: Women in Politics,” Drishti IAS, < https://www.drishtiias.com/to-the-points/Paper2/women-reservation-act-2023-women-in-politics > accessed 26-12-2023

[8] Kisley Pandey, “Breaking Barriers: The Women’s Reservation Bill Heralds a Long-Awaited Leap Towards Nation Building and Empowerment,” Bar & Bench (https://www.barandbench.com/law-firms/view-point/breaking-barriers-the-womens-reservation-bill-heralds-a-long-awaited-leap-towards-nation-building-and-empowerment) accessed 26-12-2023

[9] Mohd. Ahmed Khan v Shah Bano Begum and Others, 1985 AIR 945, 1985 SCR (3) 844.

[10] Indian Young Lawyer Association & Ors. v. State of Kerala & Ors., 2018 SCC OnLine SC 1690.

[11] Why OBC Quota in Women’s Bill is a Problem,” The Tribune, <https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/india/why-obc-quota-in-womens-bill-is-a-problem-546212> accessed 26-12-2023

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *