Women’s Reservation Bill: India passes a historic bill to reserve a third of seats for women

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Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party women offer sweets in celebration after the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha during the special session of Parliament, in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, September 21, 2023.


The Indian Parliament passed a historic bill Thursday that will reserve a third of its seats in the lower house and state assemblies for women, in a major win for rights groups that have been fighting for decades for better gender representation in politics.

The bill received cross-party support and was celebrated by politicians across India’s often divided political spectrum, but some expressed reservations that implementing the quota could take years.

A total of 214 upper house legislators voted in favor of the Women’s Reservation Bill, introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in a special parliamentary session on Tuesday. The House of Representatives approved it on Wednesday.

“A historic moment in our country’s democratic journey!” Modi wrote on Twitter after approving it. “With the passage of this bill, the representation of women’s power will be strengthened and a new era of women’s empowerment will begin.”

Six attempts to pass the bill, which was first introduced in 1996, have failed, sometimes due to strong rejection by the country’s overwhelmingly male lawmakers.

In India, the world’s largest democracy with a population of 1.4 billion, women make up nearly half of the country’s 950 million registered voters, but they make up only 15% of lawmakers in Parliament and 10% in state assemblies.

Despite the approval vote, the move will not apply to next year’s general election.

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Implementing the quota may take years because it depends on redrawing electoral districts, which will not happen until after the completion of the population census, which is conducted once every decade in India.

This massive census project was supposed to be implemented in 2021, but it was delayed due to the Corona virus pandemic, and has since been halted.

Some members of the Indian opposition expressed disappointment that the bill will not enter into force soon.

Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress, said that women have been waiting for the passage of the bill for 13 years.

“Now they are being asked to wait longer,” she told lawmakers in Parliament. “How many more years?”

Rajani Patil, another Congress MP, said that while the party was “very happy” about its passage, his demand was that the bill should be “immediately implemented” in the general elections.

“It should include OBC reservations as well,” she added, referring to India’s caste system, a 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth. Although it was abolished in 1950, it still exists in many aspects of life.

However, the passage of the bill in Parliament will be seen as another boost for Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of next year’s national elections.

Although India has made progress on women’s issues in recent years, it remains a deeply patriarchal country.

Since its independence in 1947, it has had one female prime minister. India Gandhi served as the country’s leader twice before her assassination in 1984.

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The current President of India, Draupadi Murmu, who was appointed to this position last year, became the second woman to hold this position.

Worldwide, the total share of parliamentary seats in the House of Representatives held by women is about 26 percent According to data from UN Womencompared to 11 percent in 1995.

Only six countries have so far achieved 50 per cent or more women in parliament in the individual assemblies or the House of Representatives. Rwanda leads with 61 percent, followed by Cuba (53 percent), Nicaragua (52 percent), Mexico (50 percent), New Zealand (50 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (50 percent).

Another 23 countries reached or exceeded 40 percent, including 13 in Europe, six in Africa, three in Latin America and the Caribbean, and one in Asia – East Timor.

But Taiwan, which is not counted in the UN data, It has the second highest representation of women in its legislature In Asia, after the United Arab Emirates, with 43 percent.

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