India’s lower house of parliament passed a bill Wednesday that would more than double the number of women lawmakers in its ranks.
A total of 454 lawmakers voted for the Bill, with only two against.
“The proposal has been passed with more than a two-thirds majority of the members present in the house,” said Om Birla, the speaker of parliament.
The Women’s Reservation Bill (Narishakti Vandan Adhiniyam) which seeks to ensure reservation for women at the federal and state levels to improve representation of half of the country’s population, was presented to the lower house of parliament on Tuesday during a special session.
The bill will require approval of two-third members of both houses of parliament and ratification by half of the state assemblies to become a law.
Here’s a look at the history of the Bill and when it is expected to come into force.
What are the main features of the Women’s Reservation Bill?
The Bill proposes that 33 per cent of seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) and Assemblies of State and National Capital Territory of Delhi be reserved for women. Reservation will also be provided within the seats set aside for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The Bill proposes that the reservation will be in effect for 15 years. Seats reserved for women will be rotated after each delimitation exercise.
When will the Bill become a law?
First, both houses of Parliament need to pass the Bill by a two-thirds majority.
Then, according to provisions of Article 368, the Constitution Amendment Bill will require ratification by at least 50 per cent of the states, as it affects their rights.
So will the changes take place immediately?
One of the provisions of the new Bill says that it will come into effect “after an exercise of delimitation is undertaken for this purpose after the relevant figures for the first census taken after commencement of the Constitution (128th Amendment) Act 2023 have been published.” In short, a census and redrawing of the constituencies are first needed.
When is the next census going to be held?
There is no clarity on when the next census will be completed. India’s once in a decade census was due to be completed in 2021 but was delayed because of the pandemic. Technical and logistical hurdles have set the survey back further.
The government has said that the next delimitation exercise will be conducted after the next census. Therefore, keeping all these in mind, implementation may not take place before the 2029 elections.
What is delimitation?
According to the Election Commission of India, delimitation means the act or process of fixing limits or boundaries of territorial constituencies in a country or a province having a legislative body.
Will there be a significant increase in the number of women in Parliament and state assemblies?
Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said the 542-seat lower house has 82 women members at present and if the bill is approved the number will rise to at least 181.
In response to a Parliamentary question late last year, the government had said that the average number of women MLAs in Assemblies across the nation accounts for only 8 per cent. So the rise will be significant in state assemblies.
Was a similar Bill introduced in Parliament earlier?
Reservation for women in panchayats and municipalities was provided by the insertion of articles 243D and 243T in the Constitution through the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act, 1992 and the Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992, respectively.
The Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill, 1996 in the Eleventh Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996, sought to reserve not less than one-third of the total number of seats filled by direct election in the House of the People and in the Legislative Assemblies of the States for women.
The Bill was referred to the Joint Committee of Parliament which further strengthened some of the provisions of the Bill. The Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 11th Lok Sabha. Another attempt was made to introduce reservation for women through the Constitution (84th Amendment) Bill, 1998 in the Lok Sabha on December 14, 1998. The Bill lapsed on the dissolution of the 12th Lok Sabha.
Yet another attempt was made by introducing the Constitution (85th Amendment) Bill, 1999, in the Lok Sabha on December 23, 1999. However, the Bill was not pursued due to a lack of consensus among political parties.
The last such attempt was made in 2008 when the Manmohan Singh government introduced the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, and it was passed in 2010. However, it could not be passed in the Lok Sabha and lapsed because of dissolution of the House.
How have political parties reacted to introduction of the Bill?
Opposition parties have welcomed the Bill and have called for its speedy implementation.
India’s opposition Congress leader Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday offered unequivocal support to the Bill. “The Congress demands that the Bill be implemented as soon as possible,” said Gandhi, the first lawmaker to start the debate on the Bill.
Women in India’s workforce
India has a female workforce of about 25 per cent. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), doubling the percentage of women in the workforce could boost India’s growth rate from 7.5% to 9% and raise the country’s GDP to $700 billion by 2025.
Here’s a look at women’s participation in the Indian workforce:
India has had one woman prime minister and two female presidents since independence in 1947. Fifteen women have served as chief ministers so far.
The percentage of women lawmakers elected to parliament stood at 14.94% for the lower house, 14.05% for the upper house, and about 10% of state legislatures.
Around 1.4 million of India’s 3.1 million village body representatives are women.
India’s Supreme Court has not had a female chief justice so far. As of August 2023, there were three women judges in the apex court of a sanctioned strength of 34, 106 women judges out of 788 in the 25 high courts and 7,199 in the lower courts.
Defence and police
As of March 2023, there were 6,993 women officers in the Indian army, 748 in the navy.
The strength of women officers in the Indian Air Force stood at 1,636, excluding medical staff.
Women constitute 11.7% of the 2.1 million strong police force.
India has the highest proportion of female pilots to males in the world, making up 15% out of a total of about 10,000 pilots in the South Asian country, against 5% globally.
According to available data, women make up to 30% of doctors and 80% of nurses and midwives in India.
With 62.9% female participation, agriculture has the highest percentage of women workers, followed by manufacturing, at 11.2% in 2022.
Millions of Indian women are employed in unorganised sectors such as domestic and daily wage labourers.
Women accounted for 18.2% of board seats at NIFTY 500 companies in 2023, with the life sciences sector reporting the highest female representation on boards at 24%.
The tech industry has a high representation of women in the workforce at 34% but lags behind other industries when it comes to women in executive positions. There are 8.9% of firms with women in top managerial posts.
Women’s labour force participation was reduced to 22.3% due to impact of COVID-19, according to a 2022 report on Diversity in the Boardroom from Ernst & Young.