The International Women’s Day celebration continued even after 8 March, with the Biju Janta Dal (BJD) chief Naveen Patnaik announcing on 10 March, 33 percent reservation for women in its Lok Sabha candidate list. It is a historic move as, for the first time, an Indian political party introduced voluntary party quota for women. Not to be left behind, a day after BJD’s announcement, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) said it would allocate 41 percent of Lok Sabha poll tickets to women.
Presently, India with 12.6 percent women MPs, ranks 149 out of 193 countries, as per the Inter Parliamentary Union’s ranking, based on percentage of women in national parliaments.
Types of Women’s Reservation
A complex web of socio-economic-political reasons has stalled women’s advancement in political spaces, but the bigger question is, despite such glaring under-representation, why is the women’s reservation bill (WRB) that was first introduced in 1996 by the Deva Gowda government, still languishing in the Lok Sabha, despite the passage by Rajya Sabha in 2010? Additionally, has the BJD paved the way for introducing the voluntary party quotas in India’s political circuit?
It is important to look at the types of quotas that have been adopted worldwide, as they have played an important role in increasing women’s political representation in the parliament.
So far, countries have adopted one type or a combination of two kinds:
- reserved seats ie, a certain number of seats are reserved for women in parliament,
- legislated candidate quotas, ie, number of places on an electoral list are legally reserved for women,
- voluntary party quota i.e. number of places on the electoral list are reserved for women voluntarily by the political party
The first two have constitutional or legal backing, while the third is often reflective of each political party’s commitment towards increasing women’s participation in their political apparatus.
As per the World’s Women Report, 2015, “Among the 43 countries with at least 30 percent of representation of women in the lower or single house of the parliament, 84 percent have implemented some type of gender quota.”
Additionally, the report also presents that the proportion of seats held by women in the lower house of parliaments stands at 26 percent for countries with voluntary party quotas, 25 percent for countries using legislated candidate quotas, and 23 percent for countries using reserved seats.
With India two months away from electing its 17th Lok Sabha, the national parties have once again started their appeasement politics by promising the passage of the women’s reservation bill if voted to power, despite giving tickets to 8.6 percent (BJP) and 12.3 percent (INC) women candidates in 2014, which is itself less than the 33 percent mandated as per the WRB, especially when women candidates have better winning percentage of 10.6 percent than male candidate (at 6.4 percent as of 2009).
How Other Parties Can Follow BJD & TMC’s Policies
As political parties pass the buck by citing ‘lack of consensus’ as the impediment to WRB seeing the light of the day, based on international success and following BJD and TMC’s policies, national and regional parties can introduce voluntary party quotas for women, as for that:
- Parties don’t have to wait for legislation or constitutional amendment to bring in a quota
- It is not dependent on any other political party’s belief; it is only dependent on the willingness and commitment of each political party.
- It gives great opportunity to show the scale of commitment parties have towards increasing women’s political participation and representation by unilaterally deciding the extent of the quota for their party
However, it is important to learn from examples, such as seen in France, where in the national election, the legislated candidate quota of 50 percent did not drastically increase women’s representation because, as per research, parties nominated women candidates to non-winnable seats. Therefore, it is important to ensure that women are given tickets to ‘winnable’ seats for each party.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Furthermore, along with quotas, long-term strategies are required to enable creation of gender-sensitive parliaments and to facilitate women’s role as political agents of development and change.
More importantly, political parties have to play a pivotal role in order to break the glass ceiling and mentor a ‘critical mass’ of women workers and leaders within their party, who can represent the aspirations of the people and ideology of the party at the national stage. The question that needs to be asked is that, are the political parties willing and committed to take a step forward in this direction by training a cadre of women leaders and introducing voluntary party quota for women?
- http://blogs.reuters.com/india-expertzone/2014/06/13/election-2014-imbalanced-participation-of-women/ & ECI
- Election Commission of India (ECI)
- Drude Dahlerup, Women in Arab Parliaments: Can Gender Quotas Contribute to Democratization?
(Radhika is an independent development professional with experience of working with national and international non-governmental organisations. An optimistic writer and researcher who believes in the power of working ‘with’ the people rather than working 'for' the people. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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