7 PM | Making national legislatures more gender balanced | 26th July, 2019

Context: Women representation in Parliament.

Gender parity is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive. Ensuring the full development and appropriate deployment of half of the world’s total talent pool has a vast bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses worldwide.

Global gender gap report:

  • The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time.
  • The Global Gender Gap Report benchmarks 149 countries on their progress towards gender parity across four thematic dimensions:
    • Economic Participation and Opportunity
    • Educational Attainment
    • Health and Survival
    • Political Empowerment.
  • The rankings are designed to create global awareness of the challenges posed by gender gaps, and the opportunities created by reducing them.
  • The 2018 report’s key findings include:
    • Across the four subindexes, on average, the largest gender disparity is on Political Empowerment, which today maintains a gap of 77.1%. The Economic Participation and Opportunity gap is the second-largest at 41.9%, while the Educational Attainment and Health and Survival gaps are significantly lower at 4.4% and 4.6%, respectively.
    • When it comes to political and economic leadership, the world still has a long way to go. Across the 149 countries assessed, there are just 17 that currently have women as heads of state, while, on average, just 18% of ministers and 24% of parliamentarians globally are women.
    • The most gender-equal country to date is Iceland. It has closed over 85% of its overall gender gap. Iceland is followed by Norway (83.5%), Sweden and Finland (82.2%).
    • India ranks at 108 out of 149 countries.

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU):

  • The IPU is the world’s organization of parliaments. It was founded in 1889 as the first multilateral political organization, encouraging cooperation and dialogue between all nations.
  • It promotes democracy, helps parliaments to become stronger, younger, gender-balanced, and more diverse. It also defends the human rights of parliamentarians.
  • Twice a year, the IPU assembles over 1500 delegates in a world parliament, bringing a parliamentary dimension to the work of the United Nations and the implementation of the 2030 global goals.
  • India ranked 149 among 192 countries in IPU 2018 report.
  • Rawanda tops the list with 61.3% seats in lower house and 38.5% in upper house occupied by women. Since 2003, the country has implemented a legislated quota of 30% in all elected position which has enabled a steady inflow of women in parliament.
  • Nepal which ranked 36 in IPU list has earmarked 33% seats for women in all state institutions including legislature.

Women representation in Indian Parliament:

  • 716 women candidates contested the General Election.  Out of which, 78 women MPs have been elected to the 17th Lok Sabha.  In 2014, 62 women MPs were elected. 
  • The representation of women MPs in Lok Sabha is slowly improving from 5% in the 1st Lok Sabha to 14 % in the 17th Lok Sabha.
  • Though the percentage of women MPs has increased over the years, it is still lower in comparison to some countries. These include  Rwanda (61%), South Africa (43%), UK (32%), USA (24%), Bangladesh (21%).

The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008:

  • It seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies.
  • One third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies.
  • Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory.
  • Reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of this Amendment Act.

Key Issues and Analysis:

  • There are divergent views on the reservation policy. Proponents stress the necessity of affirmative action to improve the condition of women. Some recent studies on panchayats have shown the positive effect of reservation on empowerment of women and on allocation of resources.
  • Opponents argue that it would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit. They also contend that this policy diverts attention from the larger issues of electoral reform such as criminalisation of politics and inner party democracy.
  • Reservation of seats in Parliament restricts choice of voters to women candidates. Therefore, some experts have suggested alternate methods such as reservation in political parties and dual member constituencies.
  • Rotation of reserved constituencies in every election may reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.
  • The report examining the 1996 women’s reservation Bill recommended that reservation be provided for women of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) once the Constitution was amended to allow for reservation for OBCs. It also recommended that reservation be extended to the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils. Neither of these recommendations has been incorporated in the Bill.

Pros and Cons of reservation in political parties and dual member constituencies:

Way forward:

National parliaments are the cornerstone of democracy. Parliamentarians are ultimately responsible for the enactment of sound law and supervision of the process of government. The concept of democracy entails equal rights and representation for all sections of the community. The right of women to vote is now established in most parts of the world but their participation in political and parliamentary life still falls far short of what would be equitable. There is urgent need to bring legislation with respect to reservation of seats in parliament to ensure equal participation of women in the development of India. Continuous lapse of the ‘Women Reservation Bill’ shows lack of political will.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/making-national-legislatures-more-gender-balanced/article28713195.ece

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