The Women’s Reservation Bill of 2023 was finally passed after 27 years of struggle. The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on 20 September with a 454-2 vote result with almost the whole house voting in favor. Further, the bill has also been passed by the Rajya Sabha with each MP voting in favor of the bill i.e., unanimous support.
This stands as a cornerstone in the legal history of gender equality in India since Independence. We have to wait to see the result that this act is going to have for women and society at large but it is surely going to take the representation of women, especially in the legal field, to new heights.
History and Background of the Bill
The Women’s Reservation Bill was first presented in the parliament 27 years ago, in the year 1996 but couldn’t be passed. Since then, it has been presented in the Lok Sabha six times before being passed in 2023. There have been various reasons for it not being passed in the past like not getting enough support or the dissolution of the house before it is passed.
When we look at the history of women’s reservations and gender equality in the legal and political sphere in India, it is extremely important to look at the 33% reservation that was granted to women in local bodies including both Panchayats and urban local bodies by the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts. This increased their representation and gender equality at the grassroots level and the same has been granted at the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies level now.
India, since its independence in 1947, has established that there is no discrimination based on gender and the constitution talks about the equality before law. However, when taking a look at the representation of women in the Parliament, it can easily be comprehended that there needs to be work done.
Features of the Bill
Currently, the proportion of women in the Lok Sabha is around 15%. This is extremely disappointing and shows how the principle of gender equality has not been able to materialize as mentioned in the Constitution. The Women’s Reservation Bill grants 33% of seats to women in the Lok Sabha as well as in the State Legislative Assemblies. This is a huge step towards giving women their due rights which have been awaited for a long time now.
Moreover, within this 33% of seats for women, 1/3rd has further been reserved for women specifically from marginalized communities like SCs and STs. This ensures that this step towards a more egalitarian society is not limited to privileged women but also to women belonging to oppressed communities. This is gender equality in the true sense.
However, the critics have pointed out that the actual implementation is not in the desirable way. The bill mentions that the reservation will only actually be implemented after the “Delimitation Exercise”. This exercise is contingent on the conduction of the next consensus. This means that women will not be able to able to benefit from the Women’s Reservation Bill in the next election i.e., that of 2024.
It is to see whether this will be implemented in the 2029 elections. For now, there is no set time when the implementation of the bill can be considered.
Significance of the Bill
The Women’s Reservation Bill is significant for several reasons. First and foremost, of course, is the step towards gender equality and a more equitable society. It makes the statement that equality before the law is not only in the Constitution but that we also practice it in reality. This “positive discrimination” is extremely important to help women come out of the patriarchal society they have been the prey of since time immemorial.
This doesn’t even mean that this will completely dismantle patriarchy but it will help us move forward in that direction.
Moreover, apart from the gender equality component, this bill is also significantly important because this brings a real tangible change. For social change to be brought in, political change is the first step. The state or government is an actor which has the power to provide legitimacy to ideas, actions, and changes. When the government itself goes ahead and makes some legal changes, people perceive it as the “right” thing.
This will bring positive change in the attitude of people towards women in leadership positions. This will enhance the quality as well as quantity of women’s representation in politics as well as institutions.
The Women’s Representation Bill, since the time it was first proposed in the Lok Sabha, has evoked debates. There have been arguments made in favor and arguments made against its application and how correct it is to provide women with reservations.
However, it is the importance of gender equality and representation of women in politics that finally led to the passing of the bill by both houses of parliament. The mere passing of the bill is in itself a success for women and a gender-equitable society. The only point of concern now is to see when this bill gets implemented and starts reaping its benefits.