Monday 8 March 2010

India's Parliament debates gender quota bill

Update (3pm)

It turned out to be an unhistoric International Women's Day in India, with the vote deferred to Tuesday amid unruly scenes preventing debate or a vote in the Upper House despite five adjournments during the day.

Voting on a historic bill that reserves 33 percent of legislative seats for women was deferred till Tuesday after a dozen members opposing it tore up the document and hurled pieces at Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari.

Perhaps this was a way to dramatise the case for more women in politics!

At 1400 hours, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily tabled the bill before the Rajya Sabha amid unprecedented pandemonium.

SP members Nand Kishore Yadav and Kamal Akhtar were seen attempting to climb on to Ansari’s table. Yadav uprooted the mike and threw the stationery kept on Ansari's table. Security personnel shielded Ansari and prevented members from climbing on the table.

Akhtar climbed a table used by Rajya Sabha reporters and chanted slogans against the bill. Some members, including RJD's Rajniti Prasad, tore a copy of the bill and threw pieces towards Ansari.

Perhaps ironically, the vote was wrecked by two smaller parties who want the Bill to go further, and who oppose the current measure because it does not include specific reservations or quotas for lower caste women or Muslim women.

"We are not opposing the bill per se. We want, and the nation wants, that the reservation should be given to backward women who don't have resources. The real India should be empowered. Give them 50 percent reservation. We will not oppose that", said Lula Prasad, leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal party.

The two parties involved - the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), who together hold 26 seats in the lower house of Parliament, are now withdrawing their general Parliamentary support for the government over the issue, leaving Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with a very slender majority in the Lok Sabha. They were not formally part of the governing coalition.

The government is holding cross-party talks about the Bill, with the largest parties claiming the combined support of Congress, the BJP and the Communist Parties mean there are sufficient votes to pass the measure comfortably.

It is being reported that the Bill is expected to be put to a vote on Tuesday.


It is International Women's Day. The first National Women's Day took place in the US in 1909, and the international event was first celebrated 99 years ago in 1911.

Do we still need an International Women's Day? That's the question The Observer put to its panel this weekend. The general view was that it does no harm and probably some good. I thought I'd take the chance to put my favourite recent political fact-nugget to a wider audience than the Next Left readership.

Yes. Feminism made some important progress possible in the past 40 years, but its mission is far from finished. Take political power. In Britain, we have elected 4,559 men and 291 women to parliament since 1918. We still elect more men at every general election than we have elected women in our history.

The global causes are greater still. Few things would do more for global development than ensuring every girl gets a primary education – though we should want that for every boy too. More power to International Women's Day if it can rally more of us to act - as long as it is clear that these are not issues for women only, but causes that should unite us all.


A coalition of charities are using International Women's Day to call for greater action on reducing maternal mortality, to cut the number of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth.

You can find out more and supprt the the global maternity mortality campaign from White Ribbon Alliance.


India's Parliament is today due to debate a Bill which would introduce a quota so that women one-third of Parliamentary seats in the Lok Sabha, India's House of Commons, and in regional parliaments.

The measure is controversial. Measures to pass the measure were defeated in 2003 and 2005. The Hindu has a slideshow gallery of campaigns and protests on the issue. Parliament adjourned twice following disruptive protests from some opposition parties.

But supporters of the Bill believe they will have the two-thirds majority in both Houses which is needed for a constitutional reform, with the Prime Minister's Congress party, the right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP and the Communist Party backing it, and competing to claim the credit for the reform.


The F word blog reports and runs pictures from the Million Women Rise march in London on Saturday.

Liberal Conspiracy and the F Word both highlight the UK Gender and Development Network manifesto, suggesting a series of measures to strengthen gender equality and women’s empowerment in international development policy.


Robert said...

So the labour party hand picks the women it selects great way to do it...

Joe Mulhall said...

Some really important points have been made here. The existence of inequality like this in the 21st century is totally unacceptable. I think women’s day is a necessary step on the move towards equality. On that not, not sure if anyone else on here got today’s email from the Hope not Hate campaign regarding a publication specifically aimed at women voters. I just donated and would encourage others to do so as well. Unison are doubling every donation!!!

Bob Without A Job. said...

Women are grossly under-represented in parliament. As you rightly quoted in the article only one in five of our MPs are female, hardly a representative parliament is it?! In my opinion the best way of getting more women into parliament is by implementing proportional representation

The way we vote can and does influence the number of women elected into parliament. First past the post lets down women hugely, it offers very few chances for women to break into national politics and gives huge advantages to its incumbrents. It lets down voters and constituencies by limiting their choices and fosters negative and agressive political culture. Under proportional representation an average of 10% more women would be elected. There is already proof that PR works in making a more representative parliament. Sweden uses PR and as you pointed out 47.3% of their parliament are women and Rwanda has 56.3% women. We need to change our voting system now if we want to see a parliament that represents the people!