Women's Reservation

Women's Reservation

Again in summer session of Lok Sabha in 2003 the long awaited Women's Reservation Bill has failed to reach consensus. The move was primarily opposed by Samajwadi Party, RJD (Laloo Parsad) and some of the constituents of the NDA (Samta Party, JD(u) and Shiv Sena). Those who have been opposing the bill constitute hardly 25% of the total strength of Lok Sabha. About 75% of the members belonging to the BJP, Congress and the CPM supported the measure.

Let us see how hypocritical this support is! Every political party has welcomed it in the hope that the other party will scuttle it. The BJP insists on consensus knowing well there will be no consensus. The Congress is ready to support it in any form knowing it will not come up in any form. Mulayam and Laloo want reservation within reservation to stall the real issue.

How serious are we about the empowerment of women that constitute half of our population? The Bill was shelved for the time being because it failed to reach a consensus. The Women's Reservation Bill in its present form demands a 33 per cent reservation of women in the Lok Sabha & State Assemblies. Since 1996 when the Bill was introduced in 11th Lok Sabha, much water has flowed under Howra bridge. In the 13th Lok Sabha it was again introduced for the third time by way of 85th Constitutional Amendment in 1999 but was shelved for lack of consensus. It met with the same fate in 2003.

Our constitution grants reservation of 15% seats to SCs and 7% seats to STs. Article 15 (3) provides "Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from - making any special provision for women and children." At present there are 48 women members in the Lok Sabha which is about 9% of the total strength. In case the bill in present form gets through, 180 seats will be reserved for them." The logjam over the issue will continue because the smaller parties are going . to be losers. The women making inroads into their domain is an intolerable idea. Moreover, in view of present consideration sitting men members will be losing 132 seats with already 48 women members in the house to make up the reservation quota of 180 women members.

Let us study the international scenario in this context of Reservation for women in other countries. In Bangladesh 10% seats are reserved for women in parliament. So is the case in Morocco. In Tanzania 20% of national seats and 25% of local government seats are reserved for women. In Pakistan the cabinet announced that 60 of the 342 seats (about 17%) be allocated for women.

In France, a 1999 constitutional amendment requires political parties to include 50% of women candidates on party lists submitted for election. The other countries that have constitutional quota system for women are South Africa, Argentina, Nepal, Uganda, Kenya, China, Philippines, Taiwan, Norway & Sweden.

Is it not a paradox that a country that can boast of woman Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and Judges feel shy of giving constitutional reservation to women? We have made mockery of the simple problem because of male chauvinism. How long will women have to wait is a moot question?

Another important question is whether the bill, if passed, ensures that the voice of women will be heard. Many feel that it won't happen. Women will have to toe the policies of their party leaders. Their numerical strength is not going to lead to their empowerment. But our successful experiment with Panchyats should embolden us to continue our efforts in this direction. However, the artificial quota system is designed just to create vote bank. Otherwise where is the need of reservation for them? They have already achieved splendid success as members of judiciary, police officers & even in defense forces on equal footing with men.