Fight for parliament reservation: African presiding officers

Indian women should fight for reservation in parliament as more representations would translate into policies that could change the country's social fabric, speakers of African parliaments say.

"I know the women's reservation bill is pending with the Indian parliament and my only advice (to women) is that don't let it go till you achieve it," Swaziland Senate President Gelane T. Zwane told IANS.

Zwane, along with five women Speakers from Africa, were in the capital to attend a two-day meet organised by the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), an international organisation of parliament with 162 member-countries.

Fourteen years after the legislation to reserve 33 percent of seats for women in parliament and state assemblies was introduced, it was finally passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010. But not before the upper house saw high drama that saw suspension of seven parliamentarians who violently disrupted the proceedings. The bill is now pending in the Lok Sabha.

"At present, representation of women in our parliament is negligible but we have kept a benchmark of 30 percent and have to really fight for it. We want to give to our children a level-playing field where there is equal representation of men and women in parliament," Zwane told IANS.

Talking about opposition to the women reservation bill by fellow parliamentarians, Zwane said: "Men will never let women to come to a level where she can take part in policymaking, but we have to push for it and fight for it."

As per data compiled by the IPU, the African Union fares better than Asian countries when it comes to representation of women in parliament.

Average percentage of women in parliament in sub-Saharan Africa is 20.3 percent, while the average for Asia remains 18.5 percent. In the case of India, the percentage is 11 percent in the Lok Sabha and 10.7 percent in the Rajya Sabha, according to IPU figures.

Zwane was not the only one who advocated reservation in parliament. Speakers from other African nations also stressed that reservation for women in parliament and local bodies is important to ensure that women, who comprise 50 percent of the world's population, have a say in policymaking.

Anna Makinda, speaker of the Tanzanian National Assembly, also said that nations, including India, should take a cue from countries where women reservation is prevalent.

"Reservation in parliament has brought a social change in our country. Other countries and India can learn from this," she added.

Makinda said women have 36 percent reservation in the Tanzanian parliament and many women are coming forward to join politics.

"The reservation has been in place in Tanzania since 1995 and having more women in parliament has given a fillip to social welfare policy," she said.

Makinda feels that women parliamentarians should advocate for change in policy to ensure more funds for education, health and family planning, sanitation and maternity facilities.

"Now women are more aware about their rights and duties. We have worked a system where each woman parliamentarian elected to a reserved seat can only serve two terms, in order to ensure more young women get a chance to take part in decision making," she added.

According to Edna Madzongwe, president of Senate, Zimbabwe, there are few women in parliament globally.

"Globally only 20 percent women are there in parliaments. There should be at least one-third women members. Women naturally are nation builders and if there are more women in parliament nations will be better off," Madzongwe told IANS.

She said women in Zimbabwe have fought side by side with men for freedom and now that the country is liberated, women should have an equal role.

"We are in the process to create an equal situation and are in the process to make provision in our constitution for 50-50 share for women and men. Presently, we have 14 percent women representation in  the lower house," she said.

Rebecca Kadga, speaker of Parliament of Uganda, opines that there should a bottom-up approach and reservations must start from local bodies.

"We have 34.9 percent women in parliament and in cabinet it stands at 22 percent. Our constitution provides for representation of marginalised groups and women," she said.

According to the IPU, only 37 women preside over one of the houses of 190 parliaments worldwide. Women therefore occupy only 13.5 percent of the total number of 274 posts of presiding officers of Parliament or of one of its houses.

"Reservations are necessary because we need a different approach," Kadga stressed.

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