Women's power

A welcome feature of the composition of the new Lok Sabha is the increased representation for women in the House. It has 61 women MPs and this is an all-time record -- 12 more than the previous best of 49 in the 13th Lok Sabha. But this is no more than an electoral accident. No political party had taken a conscious decision to field more women candidates. The proportionate representation from UP, considered to be a backward state, is more than from any other state and there is a lesson in this for states that claim to be socially more advanced. But the strength of women MPs is much less than what it should be in a country of more than 50 crore women. In many other countries the percentage of women in parliament is much higher. In Britain it is about 20 per cent and in the US about 15 per cent. It is sometimes argued that the better parliamentary representation for women in these countries is on account of the better status of women in their societies. The argument needs to be reversed. It is the poor status of women in the Indian society that necessitates a deliberate effort to increase their representation in legislative bodies at all levels.

The women’s reservation bill, which seeks to reserve 33 per cent of the seats in legislatures for women, can be passed in the current parliament, if the parties are sincere in their profession of support for it. It was the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal which strongly opposed the bill in the last Lok Sabha. These parties have lost their clout. The Congress, the BJP and the Left parties have claimed support for the bill. The bill was originally conceived 13 years ago and it was the indifference of the male-dominated political establishment that ensured that it did not become the law. It is  with a parliamentary standing committee and can be passed expeditiously if the government and the main opposition parties want it.

If the bill is passed in the coming months, the next round of Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal can be held in accordance with its provisions for women’s representation. Since  the idea of reservation for women and the provisions of the bill have been debated extensively and for long, the bill as it was introduced in the Rajya Sabha last year represents a national consensus. What remains is only parliamentary approval. 

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