Date : 06/10/2023
Relevance: Gs Paper 2- Polity - Reservation
Keywords: Women’s Reservation Act, 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, Local Governance
- The recent enactment of the Women’s Reservation Bill, now the Constitution (106th Amendment) Act, reserving one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for women, marks a significant milestone in India's democratic journey.
- This legislation passed in the new Parliament building during a special session, is a momentous step forward. It coincides with the 30th anniversary of constitutional reforms that reserved one-third of seats in panchayats and municipalities for women. While the final implementation of this reservation in Parliament depends on delimitation and census processes, it is an opportune moment to reflect on the 30-year experience of women’s reservation in local government and its implications for Indian democracy.
The Evolution of Women’s Reservation in Local Government
- Three decades ago, Parliament enacted the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, aimed at establishing panchayats and municipalities as "institutions of self-government." These amendments mandated reserving a minimum of one-third of seats and the offices of chairpersons in these local bodies for women. Additionally, they mandated reservations for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) based on their population percentages and allowed states to reserve seats for Backward Classes. These reforms resulted in a system with over 3 million elected panchayat representatives, nearly half of whom are women.
- The success of these constitutional reforms lies in expanding and diversifying the representative base of Indian democracy. While the Union government's 2009 constitutional amendment to increase women’s reservation in local governments from 33% to 50% was not enacted, many states have implemented laws reserving 50% of seats for women and have introduced reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Consequently, local governments now employ a combination of vertical and horizontal reservation mechanisms. This approach recognizes the compounded disadvantage faced by individuals at the intersection of their caste and gender identities. The recent women’s reservation law, similar to its 2008 version, follows this model of intersectional reservation for women. However, it does not provide for reservation of seats for OBC women.
The Impact of Women’s Reservation in Local Government
- Empowering Governance and Policymaking: Research indicates that female lawmakers tend to exhibit greater responsiveness, accountability, honesty, and collaboration than their male counterparts. They also prioritize important issues such as health, education, welfare, environment, and social justice, which are crucial for societal progress.
- Local Representation: In India's local urban and rural bodies, gender quotas have proven to be effective in promoting gender equality. Approximately 62 percent or 1.375 million individuals in local political offices are women, a remarkable figure globally. The implementation of quotas has significantly increased the inclusion of Indian women in local politics, making it a noteworthy case study in the field.
- Impact on Labor Force Participation: The implementation of women's reservation in Parliament and state legislatures is expected to have secondary effects on women's labor force participation over time. Evidence from gender quotas in panchayats indicates that women political leaders challenge gender stereotypes, particularly in societal and domestic roles. Their increased visibility serves as a role model for younger women, encouraging them to pursue their goals.
- Boosting Women's Economic Participation: Enhanced political representation of women in India can have urgent implications for increasing women's labor force participation. It can also bolster the long-term viability of women's political careers. With greater female participation in politics, women have the opportunity to progress from community involvement to positions in state and national legislative bodies.
- Impact on Public Services: The reservation policy for women sarpanches in Gram Panchayats highlights that female political leaders prioritize crucial public services like sanitation, education (specifically anganwadis), and health. This focus can reduce the time women spend on household chores, allowing them to pursue employment opportunities within or outside their homes.
- Enhancing Mobility and Access: Female political leaders who address public safety and gender-sensitive urban planning can improve women's physical mobility. This, in turn, can enhance women's access to employment opportunities located farther from their homes.
- The proposed legislation, increased female representation in local politics, and gender quotas in higher legislative bodies have the potential to empower women in India, both in the political arena and the labor force. These measures can challenge stereotypes, promote inclusivity, and contribute to gender equality, ultimately benefiting society as a whole.
- However, another paper suggested that women’s reservations had negative effects on welfare programs targeting SC/ST households and no significant impact on female-headed households. In contrast, a 2008 study by Vijayendra Rao and Radu Ban found that women leaders in South India performed similarly to their male counterparts, with institutional factors such as the maturity of the state's panchayat system being more relevant.
- More worryingly, a 2020 paper by Alexander Lee and Varun Karekurve-Ramachandra, examining reservations in Delhi, indicated that constituencies reserved for women were less likely to elect OBC women and more likely to elect upper-caste women.
The Future of Women’s Reservation in Parliament and State Assemblies
- The impact of women’s reservation is multifaceted and not entirely straightforward. Ideally, the design of women’s reservations in Parliament and State Assemblies should have drawn from the 30-year experience of local government reservations. Since the roles of women in local governments differ from their roles in Parliament, the effects of reservation may vary. However, introducing such a vital constitutional amendment without comprehensive discussion and analysis of its experience, through a "supplementary list" in a hastily organized Parliament session, raises concerns.
- Furthermore, the present women’s reservation law links its implementation to delimitation and census processes, both lacking definite dates. The constitutional freeze on delimitation, in place since 1976, is set to end in 2026. If seat reallocation among states is solely based on population, southern states' representation in Parliament will substantially decline. This implies that the next delimitation exercise may expose the fault lines of India's delicate federal relations. Consequently, coupling women’s reservations with a politically charged delimitation process makes its implementation contentious. However, the near unanimity in passing the Bill suggests that there may be consensus on implementing women’s reservation in the near future.
Enhancing Women's Participation in Indian Politics: Strategies for Improvement
The issue of women's representation in Indian politics has garnered considerable attention over the years, and although strides have been made, there remains significant ground to cover. Here are some avenues for enhancing women's participation in Indian politics:
- Reservation of Seats: The successful implementation of seat reservations for women in local bodies and legislative assemblies has proven to be an effective strategy for bolstering their political representation. Expanding such reservation policies could provide more opportunities for women to engage in the decision-making processes.
- Increasing Awareness and Education: Fostering awareness among women regarding their rights and the significance of their involvement in politics is pivotal. Educational initiatives and awareness campaigns can play a pivotal role in augmenting women's political engagement.
- Addressing Gender-Based Violence and Harassment: Gender-based violence and harassment stand as significant impediments to women's political participation. Addressing these challenges through policy reforms and legal measures can create a safer and more supportive environment for women in the political arena.
- Electoral Process Reforms: Implementing reforms like the introduction of proportional representation and preferential voting systems holds promise in elevating women's representation in politics by ensuring a more equitable selection of female candidates.
These strategies represent only a fraction of the approaches that can be employed to elevate the presence of women in Indian politics. Achieving lasting change necessitates a comprehensive and multifaceted strategy that tackles various challenges head-on.
The journey of women’s reservation in India has seen significant progress, from local governments to Parliament. Understanding its nuanced impact, drawing lessons from local governance, and addressing challenges in its implementation are critical for ensuring the meaningful participation of women in the highest echelons of Indian democracy.
Source - The Indian Express