Women Reservation Bill : A Step towards Women Empowerment

“Achieving the goal of equal participation of women and men in decision making will provide a balance that more accurately reflects the composition of society and is needed in order to strengthen democracy and promote its proper functioning… Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.”
Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995: Article 181
The women reservation bill[1]was first introduced by the Deve Gowda government in 1996 and it can be better understood by looking at a brief overview of what it contains. The main provisions of the Bill, as introduced in the Rajya Sabha in May 2008, are:
Provisions of the bill
(1) The Constitution (108th amendment) Bill, 2008, reserves one-third of Lok Sabha and state assembly seats for women.
(2) One-third of the total number of seats reserved under clause (2) of article 330 (the existing quota for Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes) to be reserved for women belonging to the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes;
Article 330
(2) The number of seats reserved in any State [or Union territory] for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes under clause (1) shall bear, as nearly as may be, the same proportion to the total number of seats allotted to that State [or Union territory] in the House of the People as the population of the Scheduled Castes in the State [or Union territory] or of the Scheduled Tribes in the State [or Union territory] or part of the State [or Union territory, as the case may be, in respect of which seats are so reserved, bears to the total population of the State [or Union territory].[2]
(3) Reservation of seats to cease to exist or expire after 15 years of the commencement of the constitutional amendment.
(4) To select women candidates through a system of rotation, by which one third of the total number of constituencies to be reserved for women candidates, will be determined through a draw of lots.
(5) To consider extending the reservation to Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils of States, without making any definite provisions within the scope of the current Bill.
(6) One of the two LS seats for Anglo-Indians will be reserved for a woman of that community for the first two terms in a block of three elections.
In article 239AA of the constitution in clause (2) in sub-clause (b), for the words “scheduled castes”, the words “the scheduled castes and the women shall be substituted.
After article 330 of the constitution, the following article shall be inserted namely
“330A (1) seats shall be reserved for women in the house of the people.
(2) As nearly as may be, one – thirds of the total number of seats reserved under clause (2) of article 330 shall be reserved for women belonging to the scheduled caste or scheduled tribes, as the case may be.
1n article 331 of the constitution , the following proviso shall be inserted at the end, namely-
“provided that where such nominations are made, in relation to every block comprising of three general elections to the house, one seat shall be reserved for nomination of a woman of anglo-indian community to every house constituted after two general elections and no seat shall be reserved for the women of that community in the house constituted after the third general elections.
After article 332, the following article shall be inserted, namely:
“332A. (1)
In article 333 of the constitution, the following proviso shall be inserted at the end, namely:
“provided that             where such nomination is made, in relation to every block comprising of three
general elections to the assembly , the seat in the assembly constituted after the first general
elections shall be reserved for nomination of a women of anglo-indian community and no seat
shall be reserved for women of that community in the assembly constituted after the second and
third general elections.
After article 334 of the constitution, the following article shall be inserted, namely:
“334A – notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this part or part VIII, the
provisions 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[3]
The bill seeks to empower women and reduce gender inequality. To eliminate gender discrimination and promote female empowerment, women’s decision making capacity must be enhanced within the household, the workplace and the political sphere. For the very purpose of increasing participation of women in Indian parliament and moving them closer to the decision-making process the bill is introduced. Reservation of seats is a basic, consistent and logical step towards both women’s emancipation and inclusive development – particularly for a government which promised that the “equal access to participation and decision making of women in the social, political and economic life of the nation” would be at the heart of its agenda (National Policy for the Empowerment of Women, 2001,goals and objectives, 1.11(iii))[4].It is undoubtedly true that the representation of women in Indian Lok Sabha has been critically low: this can be proved by looking at the no. of women MPs in all the past Lok Sabha sessions, which are hereunder-
Women representation in Lok Sabha[5]
Lok Sabha No. of women members
1st Lok Sabha 23
2nd Lok Sabha 24
3rd Lok Sabha 37
4th Lok Sabha 32
5th Lok Sabha 26
6th Lok Sabha 28
7th Lok Sabha 32
8th Lok Sabha 46
9th Lok Sabha 28
10th Lok Sabha 39
11th Lok Sabha 40
12th Lok Sabha 44
13th Lok Sabha 49
14th Lok Sabha 45
15th Lok Sabha 59
As seen from the data above the representation of women in the parliament is not satisfactory. The bill seeks to reserve for women 181 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and 1,370 out of a total of 4,109 seats in the 28 State Assemblies.[6] There is huge debate regarding the bill and whether it should be implemented or not, but before making a judgment as to whether the bill would actually lead to women empowerment or would just prove to be another one of government’s failed attempt to empower women, let us first see the origin of the bill.
1974 The issue of women’s representation in Parliament first raised in a report submitted to the Ministry of Education and Social Welfare by a Committee on Status of Women in India.
1996 INTRODUCTION OF BILL FOR THE 1ST TIME – the Deve Gowda government introduces the women’s reservation bill as 81st constitutional amendment bill.
1998 RE- INTRODUCTION OF THE BILL – The bill is re-introduced in the 12th Lok Sabha as 84th constitutional amendment bill by National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee
1999 The NDA government re – introduces the bill in the 13th Lok Sabha.
2002 The bill is introduced in the parliament but fails to sail through.
2003 The bill introduced twice in parliament.
2004 The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government includes it in the common minimum programme.
2005 BJP announced complete support for the Bill.
2008 The government tables it in the Rajya Sabha so that the legislation does not lapse.
2009 The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, and Personnel recommended passage of the Bill in Dec 2009
2010 The bill was cleared by the Union Cabinet on Feb. 25, 2010.

MARCH 9, 2010- The upper house of the Indian Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, passed the bill.
“There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals”.
– Aristotle
“It is important for women to know that they have to be there (within the political process) where it matters. Whether it is at the rural council, urban council or other levels of policy making, they have to be there to ensure their lot is addressed”.
– Gita Welch, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
The World Economic Forum’s annual Gender Gap Report (2009) stated that India ranked 114 among the 134 countries surveyed in The Global Gender Gap Index 2009. India has the largest number of maternal deaths in the world and shocking rates of female malnutrition, and a woman in India has lesser chance of survival than in all but 2 of 128 countries. The oft-discussed imbalance in the sex ratio can be attributed – not only to female infanticide, as is often assumed – but to sustained neglect from infancy of female health, nutrition and wellbeing. A girl child is up to 3 times more likely to be malnourished than her brother (UN), and is also significantly more likely to drop out of school before completing a full eight years of education. As well as passive neglect, violence against women and girl children is on the rise: the number of rapes per day has increased by nearly 700 per cent since 1971, and thousands of dowry deaths occur each year (National Crime Records Bureau).[7]
Gender equality and our constitution
Article 15(1) -The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.[8]
Article 15(3) – Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.[9]
Article 325 – There shall be one general electoral roll for every territorial constituency for election to either House of Parliament or to the House or either House of the Legislature of a State and no person shall be ineligible for inclusion in any such roll or claim to be included in any special electoral roll for any such constituency on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or any of them.[10]
Women particularly need reservations because of the following reasons –
  • Women represent half of the population of a country and therefore have the right to half of the seats, since decisions made in parliament have a direct impact on their lives.
  • Women have different social and biological experiences which should be represented in institutions of governance.
  • Women and men have partly conflicting interests.
  • Women in positions of power can inspire more women to place themselves in influential and decision-making roles.
  • In the Lok Sabha, out of a total of 543 seats, 122 are already reserved for the scheduled castes and tribes (SC/STs). Now a further 181 will be reserved for women, leaving only 282 seats open for the general category. Same is the case in the state assemblies, where out of the 4,109 seats, 1,167 are reserved for SC/STs and 1,370 for women, leaving 2,942 for the general category.[11]
  • Since the ratio of reservation is 1:2, thus in the course of three election terms, in each seat in Lok Sabha and each seat in assemblies, there would be two free terms and one reserved term. Thus in a fifteen year term, each seat will get reserved for women only once as in India elections are held every five years.
  • Reservation for women expected to create equal opportunity for both men and women, Skewed sex ratios (1.06 males per female) may be checked as women get equal status in Society.
  • Reservation system would directly affect the Indian democratic recipe as instead of promoting equality, it is representing that women are weaker and need to be supported. This may further provoke for the demand of reservation on further caste creed factors which would be an unhealthy practice in the free India.
  • This Bill takes away the democratic right of 33% of the electorate to elect their representatives as after the implementation of bill it became compulsory to fill the reserved seats for women.
  • Gender hatred could be encouraged.
  • Political parties may have to locate women candidates irrespective of the candidate’s vision mismatch with that of the party’s.
  • Powerful male members might be tempted to ‘reserve’ seats for women relatives (and thereby for themselves).
  • Only elite women might stand to gain from the passing of this Bill Further discriminating against the under – represented and the marginalized.
  • It is not guaranteed that benefits are received by the socially backward and underprivileged women, who really need them.  Excellence never requires reservation. Efficient educated women will make way on their own to the politics. By raising the concept of reservation in every other sector we are just suppressing the actual intellects. Let the people come to politics, administrative service, and army on the basis of their caliber rather than on sex, caste or religion.
  • · This Bill takes away the democratic right of 33% of the electorate (22 crore people) to elect their representatives. It restricts the choice of both men and women in those constituencies. The state has no right to limit the pool of representatives available to the public to choose from. This is against all democratic principles of free choice.
    This takes away the democratic right of about 11 crore men to contest in elections, thus imparting a severe blow to the health of democracy in India. This is against the fundamental rights of 11 crore men. It violates the right to equality guaranteed under the constitution
  • · The number 33 % is totally arbitrary and no justification has been provided. Even in advanced democracies like US and UK, where most women are already empowered, the number of women in legislature is less than 20%.
  • · This bill suggests a rotation system which would be determined by draw of lots, in such a manner that a seat would be reserved only once in a block of three general elections. This is a serious flaw, insofar as it mechanically provides for entry of women members to fill one-third of vacancies in Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas. This subverts the democratic process which is all about free choice vis-à-vis a mechanical action/ process..
    8. The concept of reservation is an insult to women and their capability. It is an admission on her part of her inferiority. It gives the impression that women are incapable of competing with men and hence need protection and a support structure to enter public offices of parliament and state legislatures. In India, women have always been side-by-side with men in council as well as in battles.
  • · This law perpetuates gender discrimination. To seek any form of preferential treatment would be to violate the Integrity of the universal demand of Indian women for absolute equality of political status.
  • § Rather than taking a judicious and considered approach towards the issue, which normally expected during the legislative process, the current Bill builds on gender stereotypes and makes several deeply flawed assumptions such as:
  • § Women only vote for other women – More than 50% of the women exercised their franchise in the General Election of 2004 and elected their representatives, both men and women.
  • § Men cannot represent women’s interests – Men have always been more sympathetic to women and this has been proved beyond doubt in the last 60 years with women being empowered with legislations and policies of special significance. Female literacy rate, employment and political empowerment have happened without any reservations.
  • § Forcing more women on the electorate is women empowerment – Forcing more women in the parliament through undemocratic means will only serve to undermine the legitimacy and efficacy of the elected women representatives.
  • § All women are under-privileged – A gross generalization is made that all women are under-privileged, deprived and discriminated. That women are a homogenous group and there are no differences in terms of social status, education, etc. and hence, an across the board reservation system is needed. This major flaw would be misused by upper caste and upper class women to dominate lower class/ caste women. Thus, the really needy women would continue to be oppressed while the creamy layer among women would become richer and powerful.
  • § All men are privileged – Similarly, a gross generalization is made that men are a homogenous group and are all privileged and have a natural advantage over women.
  • § Women are disadvantaged – Assumption is made that women have no natural advantages over men. That, the society discriminates only women and not men. It does not recognize the natural and societal advantages that women have got in terms of moral superiority, greater faith and sympathy.
  • § Reservation is indispensable – The bill does not recognize the fact that there have been many women who made it to high public offices and there have been many women Chief Ministers and a Prime Minister. Right now, we have a Woman President and a Woman Speaker. They all assumed office through their own efforts and without any reservation. The bill is based on the false assumption that women need reservation to enter high public offices.
A WOMAN constitutes a crucial segment of the human resources in a community. Unfortunately, despite their numerical strength, the role of women has been grossly underplayed. It is an established fact that Indian women, in spite of the constitutional and legal safeguards, are still in the process of struggling for equality of status and equality of participation in the development process.
The suppression of women, is not only based on biological differences, but also the ever existent male dominance has added to the disadvantage of women. The relationship between men and women was ‘grounded on force’. The women have always played a passive role in the family hierarchy. Furthermore, the existence of certain socio-economic constraints like poverty, unemployment, exploitation and social taboos prevent women from participating in the political life. They not only continue to remain economically dependent on men, but also have a little say in the distribution of benefits of the system in the society. The situation of women as it exists is one of low status, powerless, endangered by development, suppressed by poverty and oppressed by patriarchy.
This bill would improve the participation of women in the parliamentary affairs of the country and this in turn would have a positive impact on the decision making of the system. Since women had a marginal role in the policy making programs of the country, thus many weaknesses of the system would be eliminated. Issues directly related to the women can now gain more importance and could be dealt more effectively by them.
One thing which still remains to be seen is what would happen when the bill is taken to the Lok Sabha. We have crossed 1 small hurdle after 14 years of struggle; but the question still hangs,” will the bill ever become a law?”
The women reservation bill can be seen as a Long Delayed and a Much Needed Step which would prove to be milestone towards the empowerment of women and their participation in the parliament, into the decision-making process where it counts. Although the bill seems to be a good venture for the future but certain questions still remain unanswered.
How far will women’s reservation empower women and the society? Is being a woman enough to “represent” women? In the absence of meaningful inner – party democracy and electoral reforms, is the bill just going to window- dress the republic? Is it fair to expect everything from a Bill that merely seeks to let in more women?
Sites Referred:
The copy of women reservation bill as presented in the rajya Sabha as on may 8, 2008 from
A policy brief for parliamentarians prepared by CLRA (Centre For Legislative Research and Advocacy) retrieved from http://www.corecentre.co.in/Database/Docs/DocFiles/clra.pdf

[1] Herein after referred to as the ‘bill’
[2] Dr. J.N. Pandey, THE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF INDIA, 46th edn., Central Law Agency, p. 691
[3] See : copy of women reservation bill as presented in the Rajya Sabha on may 8 ,2008 retrieved from http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Constitution%20Eighth/1211455181_The_Constitution__One_Hundred_and_Eighth_Amendment__Bill__2008.pdf p.
[4] See http://wcd.nic.in/empwomen.htm, goals and objectives 1.11 (iii)
[5] Manorama Yearbook 2010, Malyala Manorama, 45th edn.,p. 934
[8] Dr. J.N. Pandey, THE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF INDIA, 46th edn., Central Law Agency, p. 124
[9] Ibid at 126
[10] Constitution of india

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