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Empowering Women Women Reservation Bill Passed

It was an historic day in the history of India’s parliament, when the government introduced the Women's Reservation Bill in both the houses of the Parliament. The Bill is a major step forward for gender equality, when the government, during a special session in parliament in the new Parliament building, announced the bill that would reserve one-third of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies. After 27 years in the making, the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha by 454 votes in its favour and 2 in against, while it was passed unanimously by the Rajya Sabha the next day. 

The bill now needs the signature of the President to become law. A similar bill was first introduced in September 1996, with nearly every successive Indian government trying, but failing, to pass it into law after facing staunch opposition from various regional parties earlier. Though, India had Indira Gandhi as a woman Prime Minister and Pratibha Patil and Draupadi Murmu as two female Presidents since its independence, and 15 women have served as Chief Ministers in various states, but women occupy just 82 out of 542, or about 15% of seats in Lok Sabha, while in Rajya Sabha, the number is dipping further, where they occupy 31 out of 250 seats, or 12%. This pushes India, called the world’s largest democracy toward the bottom of the global list on gender parity in legislatures. Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked the parliamentarians, and called the passage of the bill a “historic legislation” that will enable greater participation of women in the political process. Though every party claimed that it was their own idea, in the end, it is hoped that the bill will empower women, and involve them in the decision making process. A more diverse legislature that includes a significant number of women can bring a broader range of perspectives to the decision-making process. This diversity can lead to better policy formulation and governance. Women leaders in politics can serve as role models for young girls, encouraging them to aspire to leadership positions in various fields and sectors. The Bill provided that reserved seats for women may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in states or Union Territories. The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women in 2001 had stated that reservation would need to be considered in higher legislative bodies. 

There are 542 members in the Lok Sabha at the moment, out of which 78 (14.39%) are women. The average percentage of women MLAs in assemblies across the country is only 8%, according to the government's response to a parliamentary query late last year. Now, there will be an increase in female members of both the Lok Sabha and the States/UTs assembly, although the increase will be more pronounced in those bodies. The new bill includes a clause that states: "The provision of the Constitution relating to the reservation of seats for women in the House of the People, the Legislative Assembly of a State, and the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi shall come into effect after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first census taken after the commencement of the Constitution (128th Amendment) Act 2023 have been published."  That's a tricky area. It means the population data should be available for the bill to take effect. The Census, which was scheduled to be finished in 2021, got delayed due to Covid pandemic. In addition, the government has already said that, by current law, the subsequent delimitation exercise may be carried out following the first census to be held after the year 2026. So in theory at least, implementation of the bill cannot happen before 2029, taking all these factors into consideration. One of experts informs, “ The Congress government gave it a push in 2010 but could not give a push in the Lok Sabha. The BJP promised to bring it in their manifesto in 2014.  It's a big day for the women of the country but the criticism is why delimitation? The bill gets passed but doesn't get enforced till delimitation is undertaken. It is just the declaration of intent in 2024. The reality happens only in 2029." 

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