Tuesday 9 March 2010

'A giant step for the emancipation of women'

That was the verdict of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after India's Upper House voted by 186-1 for the Women's Reservation Bill, which would see one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha (India's House of Commons) reserved for women for a period of 15 years.

'This is a momentous development in the long journey of empowering our women.

'The bill that is going to be passed today is a historic step forward, a giant step forward in strengthening the process of emancipation (of women),' he said , drawing thunderous applause.

Speaking extempore, Manmohan Singh said that despite the many progress achieved by women in India, 'we have also to recognise that ... our women have faced enormous difficulties...'

'Our women faced discrimination at home, there is domestic violence, they face discrimination in equal access to education, healthcare, there are all these things. All these things have to end if India were to realise its full potential.'

'What we are going to enact today is a small token of homage to the sacrifices our women have made in nation building, in the freedom struggle, in all other nation building activities.'

There are currently 59 members in the 545-member Lok Sabha. The new rules will set a floor of 181 women MPs. This method of a national quota will see all women constituency contests between the different political parties in chosen constituencies, which may rotate over time.

In the highly unlikely event that Britain were to adopt as radical a gender equality measure as India, the number of women in the House of Commons would rise from the current 126 to at least 216 women MPs. The number of women in the next House of Commons looks likely to be broadly similar to the current number. It could be marginally up, though the number of women MPs would probably fall if the Conservatives were to win a large majority. (There would be around 61 Tory women if the party won a majority of 2, yet only around 69 Tory women MPs if the party won a majority of 100).

The Bill would amend the Indian Constitution, and so needs two-thirds support in both houses of Parliament and to be carried by state legislatures, but now seems very likely to be carried. The government had timed the vote to be held on International Women's Day yesterday, but was postponed due to protests from minor parties, who wanted the bill to go further. Seven members of Parliament were suspended for their protests.

The issue of quotas is controversial. Previous attempts to pass a similar Bill had failed several times over the last 15 years.

What is striking, especially from a British and European perspective, about the 2010 debate is how each of the major parties has decided that being seen to oppose the principle of the Bill could be politically dangerous with women voters.

For further reading on this:

The PRS Legislative Research blog from New Delhi's Centre for Policy Studies has more information and links on the bill.

The Telegraph's South Asia editor Dean Nelson writes on the many challenges for gender equity in India.

The Times of India reviews regional and international comparisons on women's representation.

1 comment:

Robert said...

The idea that the best way to get women selected is not to improve the image or helped them to get elected you make it safe for them to win seats, like our beloved New labour, first you train them about landing with Parachutes and then you drop them into seats....