Historic women’s quota bill approved in lower house of India’s parliament

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Political Party Workers

India’s lower house of parliament, Lok Sabha, has approved a bill that aims to significantly increase the number of female lawmakers within its ranks. This development comes after several unsuccessful attempts to pass this measure spanning many decades.

The proposed legislation, known as the Women’s Reservation Bill, seeks to reserve one-third of seats in India’s lower house and state assemblies for women once it becomes effective, a process that may extend until at least the end of this decade. This revival of the bill occurs just months before the scheduled general elections in May 2024, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pursuing a third term. It could potentially strengthen the already dominant position of Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming elections.

Analysts suggest that the likelihood of the bill passing in parliament has improved as opposition to it has diminished over the years. In the recent vote, 454 lawmakers supported the bill, with only two opposing it.

While India has seen some female leaders, including Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1966, the overall representation of women in politics remains low. In the last national election, only 104 out of 788 MPs were women, accounting for just over 13 percent.

These statistics reflect a broader issue of gender underrepresentation in Indian public life. Government data indicates that just under one-third of working-age Indian women were part of the formal labour force in the previous year.

The Women’s Reservation Bill has faced significant opposition and has languished for decades due to resistance from some political parties. To become law, it needs approval from both houses of parliament and a majority of state legislatures. Previous attempts to pass the bill, which was first introduced in 1996, have stalled, often due to strong opposition from lawmakers.

The bill proposes a constitutional amendment to establish a one-third quota for women, requiring a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament to succeed. It is expected to pass smoothly in the upper house due to broad political support.

The implementation of the quota will only occur after India redraws its electoral boundaries following a census for its 1.4 billion population. The last census, initially scheduled for 2021, was indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This process is expected to take several years, potentially making the quota effective around 2026-27.

Sonia Gandhi, from the opposition Congress Party, expressed support for the bill but called for revisions to expedite its implementation, emphasizing the urgency of its enactment to prevent injustice to women.

The BJP, widely expected to win the upcoming election and secure Modi a third term, already enjoys significant support among women. An exit poll conducted after the 2019 election found that 46 percent of Indian women voted for the BJP and its coalition partners, compared to 44 percent of men.

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