Context: The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023 that was passed by overwhelming majority in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha received the assent of the President of India.
This article explores the 106th amendment to the constitution, reason for its introduction and provisions of the amendment act. It also explores the concerns associated with the amendment and suggests some way forward.
Reason for Introduction of the Bill
- The representation of women in the Indian Parliament and state assemblies is significantly lower than their share of the population.
- According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, India ranks 148th out of 193 countries in terms of women’s representation while the global average is 26.5%.
- Women’s representation in state assemblies is also dismal, ranging from 3.1% in Nagaland to 23.1% in Bihar.
- In the Lok Sabha, women make up less than 15% of the total strength.
- In the Rajya Sabha, women’s representation is around 14%.
Women Reservation Act, 2023
The Constitution (One Hundred and Sixth Amendment) Act, 2023 also known as Women Reservation Act, 2023 aims to provide 33 percent reservation to women in both the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and state Legislative Assemblies.
This Act is similar to the previous attempt in 2010, The Constitution (One Hundred and Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2008, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha but not taken up by the Lok Sabha.
Highlight of the Act
The Act seeks to introduce three new articles and one new clause in the Constitution and has a sunset clause.
- New Clause in 239AA: This clause mandates the reservation of seats for women in the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
- Additionally, one-third of the seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) shall also be reserved for women, as well as one-third of the total number of seats to be filled by direct elections.
- New Article – 330A: This article focuses on the reservation of seats for women in the Lok Sabha.
- It specifies that one-third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs shall be reserved for women.
- Furthermore, one-third of the total seats to be filled by direct elections to the Lok Sabha shall also be reserved for women.
- New Article – 332A: This article pertains to the reservation of seats for women in every state Legislative Assembly.
- It follows a similar pattern, reserving one-third of the seats for SCs and STs for women, as well as one-third of the total seats to be filled by direct elections to the Legislative Assembly.
- New Article – 334A: This article deals with the implementation of the reservation.
- It specifies that the reservation shall come into effect after the delimitation is undertaken following the publication of relevant census figures.
- There will also be a rotation of seats for women after each subsequent exercise of delimitation.
- Sunset Clause: The Act has a sunset clause, which means that the reservation for women will be in effect for a period of 15 years from the commencement of the Act.
Advantages of the Act
- Gender Equality, representation and Empowerment: by ensuring that women have equal access to decision-making positions in the government.
- Accommodative Decision Making: by Increased representation of women in politics bringing diverse perspectives and experiences to the table. Women’s unique insights into issues such as healthcare, education, gender-based violence, and family welfare can result in better-informed legislation.
- Role Models: When women hold prominent political positions, it sends a powerful message to the entire nation, inspiring women and girls to pursue leadership roles in various fields.
- Social Development: Research indicates that countries with higher levels of women’s political representation tend to have better outcomes in areas such as healthcare, education, and poverty reduction.
- Fostering Inclusivity: By encouraging political parties to field more women candidates it can lead to a broader spectrum of women from different backgrounds, including those from marginalised communities, entering politics.
- Enhanced Accountability: With increased women’s representation, Women lawmakers may prioritise issues such as women’s rights, healthcare, and education, leading to greater accountability in governance.
- Legal Protections: Women in politics can protect women’s rights, such as laws against gender-based violence, workplace harassment, and discrimination.
- Global Recognition: Passage of the Act would enhance India’s global image as a nation committed to gender equality and aligns with international goals, such as those outlined in the Goal 5 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Long-Term Impact: The act by reshaping traditional gender norms and expectations can contribute to a more equitable and inclusive society where women have greater opportunities for leadership and decision-making.
Case Studies on Present Reservation for Women in Local Governments 2004 paper by Esther Duflo and Raghabendra Chattopadhyay on panchayats in West Bengal and Rajasthan
It found that women leaders invest more in public goods and ensure increased women’s participation in panchayat meetings.
2008 paper by Vijayendra Rao and Radu Ban
It found that women leaders perform no differently than their male counterparts in south India and instead institutional factors such as the maturity of the State’s panchayat system were more relevant.
2010 paper by Pranab Bardhan and others
It found that women’s reservations worsened the targeting of welfare programmes for SC/ST households and provided no improvement for female-headed households.
Study in 2011 across 11 States by Ms. Duflo and others
It reaffirmed that women-led panchayats made higher investments in public services like drinking water, education, and roads.
2020 paper by Alexander Lee and Varun Karekurve-Ramachandra
It examined reservations in Delhi and found that constituencies reserved for women are less likely to elect OBC women and more likely to elect upper-caste women.
Women Reservation: Not Just a Number Game
- Different Approach: Male Members of Parliament (MPs) mostly focus on finance, defence, external affairs, the PMOs, etc. as found in different studies whereas women representatives particularly focus on critical matters such as healthcare, education, roads, and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
- Political Affiliation and Government Accountability: Female MPs from the ruling party, as found in different studies, have demonstrated a significantly higher level of scrutiny towards their own government, holding their own ministries accountable in comparison to male MPs.
- Reinforcement of other Rights: According to a report of United Nations 2011, The political empowerment of women plays a vital role in reinforcing civil and human rights through direct engagement of women in public decision-making.
- Policy Formulation and Implementation Gaps: As majority of the beneficiaries of some government initiatives such as Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana are women, their participation in formulation of policies and implementation ensure effective implementation of such schemes.
Concern with the Act
Legal and Constitutional Concerns:
- Contingent on Delimitation: The reservation will take effect post-delimitation following the publication of the Act and post delimitation census figures.
- If the reallocation of seats between States is purely based on population, the southern States’ share in the Parliament will drastically reduce which is likely to open the fault lines of India’s delicate federal relations.
- This could also delay the implementation of women’s reservation, possibly until 2029.
- Identification of reserved seats: The Act does not specify the method regarding identification of the reserved seats for women.
- Opposition from Political Parties: They argue that women from marginalised communities like Other Backward Classes (OBCs) should also have reserved seats within the women’s quota.
- Lack of Consensus: Despite support in principle by political parties, disagreements on the implementation details and sub-reservations have hindered the Act’s passage.
- Impact on Existing Power Structures: Increasing the representation of women may necessitate a shift in political dynamics and party hierarchies which could affect existing power structures.
- Lack of Deliberation and Analysis: The introduction and passing of act surreptitiously through a “supplementary list” in a hastily organised Parliament session shows the lack of deliberation and analysis.
- Representation of Diverse Groups: The concerns have been raised about the need for diversity within the women’s quota from diverse backgrounds, including different castes, religions, regions, and economic strata.
- Empowerment vs. Tokenism: Some critics argue that merely reserving seats may not necessarily empower women unless they have a meaningful role and voice in decision-making processes.
- Social Norms and Stereotypes: Deep-rooted social norms and stereotypes about women’s roles in society and politics can be a barrier to the effective implementation of the Act e.g., issue of Sarpanch Pati.
- Changing perceptions about women’s capabilities and roles in leadership positions is a long-term challenge.
- Inclusivity of Marginalised Groups: The Act’s implementation left out the marginalised groups of women, such as those with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and women from indigenous communities.
- The Act’s aim of providing women representation is a way to promote social justice in India. This can be supplemented by providing special quotas to marginalised women to make it more representative and inclusive.
- The Act is an important step in the direction of promoting an enabling environment for the participation of women from all backgrounds in public life which can have profound, positive implications for society as a whole.
- The Act is an important step towards implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals as well as India’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.