Women’s Reservation Bill [UPSC Notes]

On 20 September 2023, the Lok Sabha passed the Women’s Reservation Bill 2023 [The Constitution (One Hundred Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023]. This brought the issue of women’s reservation in Parliament back into the limelight. The topic of women’s reservation in politics, particularly, in the Parliament, assemblies and local bodies is very important for the polity and governance section of the UPSC syllabus. In this article, we discuss in detail this topic from multiple perspectives.

Women’s Reservation Bill

On 19 September 2023, The Constitution (One Hundred Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023 was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The bill was passed with almost 100% consensus among members on 20 Sep paving the way for the reservation of 1/3rd of seats in the Parliament and the state legislatures, probably from the 2029 general elections.

  • The bill received a majority vote of 454-2.
  • It was the first time that the women’s reservation bill had been put to vote in the lower house.
  • The bill is set to clear the Rajya Sabha hurdle in the coming days.
  • Within the 33% quota, there would be sub-reservation for SC, ST and the Anglo-Indian communities.
  • However, the actual implementation of the bill might take years since the reservation for women is contingent upon the delimitation exercise.
  • And, for the delimitation exercise to be carried out, the census should be conducted.
  • The current number of Lok Sabha seats, i.e., 543, is based on the last census carried out in 1971.
  • A census was supposed to have been carried out in 2021 but the covid-19 pandemic saw it being postponed indefinitely.
  • The census will be followed by a delimitation exercise.
  • The number of seats in the Lok Sabha might go up to 888 after the next delimitation census.
  • It is only after the delimitation exercise is conducted that the bill will be implemented. So, it will likely be implemented in the 2029 elections.

Women’s Reservation Bill History

  • The Women’s Reservation Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1996 as the 81st Amendment Bill. The bill provided 33% reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies.
  • The bill was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee but the bill lapsed after the Lok Sabha was dissolved.
  • In 1998, the 12th Lok Sabha saw the reintroduction of the bill.
    • This time also, the bill lapsed after it failed to get any support.
  • The bill was introduced again in 1999, 2002 and 2003 but met with the same fate as the previous times.
  • In 2008, the bill was tabled in the Rajya Sabha and was passed in 2010.
  • However, it was never introduced in the lower house and it lapsed with the dissolution of the House.
  • After that, there has not been any movement on this bill.

Women’s Reservation in Politics

The issue of women’s reservation has been around since the independence struggle. Even during the Constituent Assembly debates, the issue had come up but it was rejected on the grounds that a democracy would accord equal representation to all groups of people. However, in the post-independence decades, there was no improvement in the representation of women in politics and the numbers continued to be poor.

  • In 1971, the Committee for the Status of Women in India was established which talked about the declining women’s representation in Indian politics.
  • Even though the Committee was against the reservation of women in legislative bodies, it was for the reservation of women in local bodies.
  • After this, a few state governments started providing reservations for women in local bodies.
  • In 1988, the National Perspective Plan for Women suggested reservations be provided to women from the Panchayat to the Parliament level.
  • Accordingly, the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution were passed which led to the state governments mandatorily having to reserve one-third of the seats of the Panchayats and the urban local bodies for women.
    • Of the reserved seats for women, one-third are reserved for SC/ST women.
  • Currently, many states such as Kerala, Maharashtra, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand provide legal provisions to ensure 50% reservation for women in local bodies.

Also read: National Policy for Women

Arguments for Reservation for Women in Parliament

Some of the arguments in favour of the bill are discussed below.

  • Political parties are inherently patriarchal and therefore, there is a need for affirmative action in the form of reservations to ensure the just representation of women in Parliament.
  • It is believed that a higher representation of women in the Parliament will ensure that women’s issues are discussed more effectively. Even today, women in India lag behind men in various aspects.
    • According to the Global Gender Gap 2023, India ranks 127 on the index out of 146 countries.
    • At the rate given in the report, it would take another 162 years to close the Political Empowerment gender gap.
    • Political empowerment made only slight gains compared to previous years with women representing about 15% of the total number of parliamentarians.
  • It is now seen that women in Panchayat leadership positions have made a big difference in many respects even though they are seen as rubber stamps of their husbands or fathers.
    • They have been more accessible, controlled the liquor problem to a large extent, invested in public goods, and curbed corruption, among other things.
  • It is also argued that we need more women in decision-making roles to address the pressing issue of increasing crimes against women, the skewed sex ratio in many parts of the country, low nutrition levels, etc.

Arguments against Reservation for Women in Parliament

Some people vehemently oppose the women’s reservation bill. Their arguments are mentioned below.

  • Providing reservations to women runs counter to the principle of equality enshrined in the Constitution.
  • Women do not form a homogenous group like the caste groups, so women’s reservation is not akin to caste-based reservations and the same argument cannot be made for both.
  • Some also argue that the reservation of seats in Parliament would restrict the choice of voters to women candidates.
    • This argument has led to suggestions of alternate methods for women’s reservations such as reservations within political parties and dual-member constituencies (where constituencies will have two MPs, one of them being a woman). 
      • However, this may backfire as political parties may contest women from unwinnable seats, or they may not win at all from the seats they contest.
  • Certain sections also argue that this proposition may lead to the destruction of what is considered the ‘ideal family’.

The topic of women’s representation in Parliament is essential to be studied and understood in detail as this topic can be asked in the UPSC mains exam, as well as provide material for a potential essay question. The following question was asked in the UPSC mains exam 2019.

“The reservation of seats for women in the institutions of local self-government has had a limited impact on the patriarchal character of the Indian Political Process.” Comment. (2019)

Check UPSC previous year question papers here.

Women’s Reservation Way Forward

Women’s reservation in the Parliament and the Assemblies is a contentious issue and one that seems to polarise opinions across society. However, there is no denying that it is of utmost importance that women’s representation in politics as a whole is enhanced. This is the right way forward as more women representation would mean women’s issues are discussed more effectively and purposefully in policymaking.

Women’s Reservation Bill [UPSC Notes]:- Download PDF Here

Related Links
Gender Inequality In India Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Elections and Women Card: RSTV – The Big Picture
Pradhan Mantri Mahila Shakti Kendra Scheme Women Empowerment


Leave a Comment

Your Mobile number and Email id will not be published.