Lok Sabha passes Women’s Reservation Bill with two-thirds majority

It will grant 33 per cent seats to women in the Lok Sabha as well as state assemblies, once it becomes law  

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Thursday 21 September 2023

NCP Leader Supriya Sule during the debate in the Lok Sabha on the Women's Reservation Bill. Photo: @supriya_sule / X, formerly TwitterNCP Leader Supriya Sule during the debate in the Lok Sabha on the Women's Reservation Bill. Photo: @supriya_sule / X, formerly Twitter

CORRIGENDUM: An earlier version of this story quoted Professor Nandini Sundar as saying the country needs to wait for delimitation and the census for the implementation of the Women's Resevation Bill. In fact, Professor Sundar had expressed the contrary opinion. We regret the error. 

The Lok Sabha passed the Women’s Reservation Bill with more than a two-thirds majority. The legislation will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha and will have to be approved by it and at least half of the 29 state assemblies before it can become law.

The Bill, named ‘Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam’, was passed by the Lower House with 454 votes on the evening of September 20. Two Members of Parliament (MP) voted against it.

It will grant 33 per cent seats to women in the Lok Sabha as well as state assemblies.

The Bill was first introduced in 1996. Since then, six attempts have been made to pass it but have been unsuccessful.

However, opposition leaders flagged concerns about the timing of the bill’s passage as well its eventual transition to the status of law.

“As per this Bill, women reservation can be implemented only after the Census data is released and delimitation exercise is conducted — dates of both of which are undetermined. Sought clarification on the timeline for implementation of women reservation in Parliament and Legislative Assemblies,” Nationalist Congress Party leader and MP from Baramati Lok Sabha Constituency in Maharashtra, Supriya Sule, stated on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Questioned the need for bringing this Bill in the Special Session, when this could easily be discussed during the Winter Session 2023,” she added.

The Census, a decadal exercise, was to be held in 2021. But it was postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic which saw its peak in India during that very year.

A poor record

A newly independent India granted its female citizens the right to vote unlike western democracies where suffragists had to fight a long, hard battle for women to be able to vote.

Yet, India has usually fared poorly on indices related to women’s participation in public life, the work force, economy and other spheres.

In 2016, Down To Earth reported that India was among the lowest-ranked in reducing the gender gap in health.

Four years later in 2020, India was ranked 117th among 190 countries in empowering women. Even when women have entered panchayats, assemblies and Parliament, several have been proxies for their male kin.

This, even as several countries in Africa, also a developing region, are now closing the gender gap in political empowerment.

Sub-Saharan Africa ranked third behind the Americas and Europe in terms of women’s representation in Parliament in 2021, according to a report by Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the global organisation of national parliaments.

The Women in Politics: 2023 brought out by IPU earlier this year noted:

However, in most other regions, women are severely under-represented dropping as low as 10.1 per cent in Central and Southern Asia and 8.1 per cent in the Pacific Islands (Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand).

But India also has success stories. One of them is Droupadi Murmu, India’s first Adivasi President-elect who was sworn in on July 21, 2022. Her political rise from a Panchayat post to that of Presidential candidate is a success story.

Her nomination as the National Democratic Alliance’s presidential candidate happened in concurrence with the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Constitution (73rd Amendment) Act.

The Act came into effect April 24, 1993. It empowered state governments to take the necessary steps that would lead to the formalisation of Gram Panchayats and help them operate as units of self-governance.

“The passage of the Bill should make a real difference in increasing the number of women in lawmaking,” Delhi-based sociologist Nandini Sundar told Down To Earth.

But, like Sule, Sundar objected to the delay for the implementation of the bill. “Indian women should not be made to wait for the census and delimitation,” she said.

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