India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attempting to breathe new life into long-standing plans to allocate a third of all federal and state level lawmaking seats for women.
(Bloomberg) — India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attempting to breathe new life into long-standing plans to allocate a third of all federal and state level lawmaking seats for women.
Modi may be the premier finally able to pull it off. This week his government tweaked and tabled a bill that multiple administrations have tried and failed to push through parliament since the mid-1990s. Here’s why it’s a keystone piece of legislation for his party.
What is the bill trying to achieve?
The Women’s Reservation Bill will ensure female representation in India’s lower house of the parliament and all state legislatures. It will be incorporated within the existing reservation structure built to ensure participation of people and communities historically disadvantaged by India’s caste system.
The aim is to balance the heavily skewed gender imbalance within the country’s political system. In 2022, only 15% of the seats in the parliament were held by women, the lowest among the Group of 20 leading economies. Modi, who has positioned himself as a champion for women since coming to power in 2014, is not just hoping to increase equality and representation in Indian democracy, but to also shore up female support ahead of five state elections due this year, as well as the national vote in 2024.
Will it impact the 2024 elections?
It’s unlikely to be implemented before next year’s poll as the law can only be enacted after a national census. The last one was conducted in 2011 and the coronavirus pandemic halted one due two years ago, which has yet to be rescheduled. The law will also need to wait for an overdue reshaping of India’s political constituencies, which has been frozen until 2026.
Nonetheless, the fact that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has sought to table and pass the bill will likely boost its appeal to women voters, who cast more ballots than men in the 2019 national elections, which the BJP swept. About 46% of women voted for the BJP-led alliance compared with 44% of men, according to exit surveys.
What would this mean for policy?
A higher percentage of women in parliament may ensure more policies, and their enforcement, which could promote gender equality and reduce widespread discrimination and wage gaps. A larger share of women in politics may help boost participation in the workforce.
Women’s participation in India’s formal and informal workforce is abysmally low, except in agriculture and poor-quality domestic jobs, which tend to be exploitative. At the very least, an increase in female political participation may ensure a conversation on gender-based policies at the highest level in India’s largely conservative society.
Who is for and against this law?
The main opposition Congress party has extended its support for the bill, even though it has raised concerns regarding the timeline over its enforcement. Other political outfits, including regional parties, have also registered their approval. Some political leaders are asking that women from educationally or socially disadvantaged groups be included within the new reservation group.
–With assistance from Saket Sundria.
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