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India’s lower house of parliament votes to reserve a third of seats for women

Indian MPs have voted to ensure that a third of seats in the lower house of parliament and state assemblies go to women, a move that would more than double the number of women parliamentarians in the country’s largest democracy. world.

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India’s elected lower house, the Lok Sabha, on Wednesday passed the Women’s Reservation Bill by a vote of 454 to two.

It must now be approved by the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, as well as half of India’s 28 state legislatures. He is generally expected to get it.

Once the bill, first drafted in 1996, is finally passed, the number of women parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha will rise to at least 181 from the current 82.

Indian President Droupadi Murmu called it “the most transformative revolution of our time” for gender justice in India, where women currently occupy only 15.1% of parliamentary seats.

Gender equality advocates also welcomed the bill, which would make India one of around 30 countries in the world to reserve seats for women.

“The passage of the bill demonstrates India’s commitment to women-led development, for which it mobilized global support during its G20 presidency this year,” said Susan Ferguson. of UN Women India.

Slow progress

“This is a moment of great exhilaration for gender advocates,” Ferguson told RFI in an emailed statement.

But critics have stressed that progress has been slow.

“Let us also be ashamed that India still ranks 140th out of 196 countries in terms of women’s parliamentary representation,” opposition lawmaker Mohua Moitra said during a heated parliamentary debate.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets with MPs in the central hall of the old Parliament building in New Delhi, September 19, 2023. © AFP PHOTO/Press Information Bureau of India (PIB)

Home Minister Amit Shah announced that the bill would only come into force after next year’s general elections.

Its implementation also depends on the completion of India’s long-stalled census, scheduled for 2021 but delayed by the Covid pandemic and other setbacks.

“This means we don’t actually know if and when we will have 33 per cent women sitting in the Lok Sabha,” remarked MP Moitra.

“Indian women have waited years to take on political responsibilities and now they are being told to wait a few more years,” lamented Sonia Gandhi, the leader of India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress.

Muslim women sidelined?

Ramya Haridas, also a Congresswoman, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government of dangling the bill to win over women voters in the 2024 polls.

“I fear this bill will become a fool’s errand for all of us,” she said.

Meanwhile, prominent Muslim MP Asaduddin Owaisi voted against the bill, arguing that it would only benefit Hindu women.

“Muslim women make up seven percent of India’s population, but their representation in the Lok Sabha is only 0.7 percent,” he said. “There have been 690 women MPs elected to the Lok Sabha and only 25 of them are from the Muslim community.”

Accusing the government of neglecting Muslim women and other marginalized groups by not including specific quotas for their inclusion, Owaisi told lawmakers: “This is a bill for those who are already represented in this august house. »

Hits and misses

A 1992 constitutional amendment gave 1.4 million women access to leadership positions in village councils and urban agencies in 20 of India’s 28 states.

But four years later, the move to reserve 33 percent of seats in the lower house and assemblies failed as male MPs torpedoed the bill which would have the effect of cutting their benefits and pensions.

Outside Parliament, unclear policies and neglect are blamed for the decline in women’s participation in India’s workforce, from 32 percent in 2005 to 24 percent in 2022.

Law enforcement also accuses low political representation of contributing to the increase in gender-based violence. In 2021, India reported an average of 86 rapes per day.


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