Sohini Paul and Anupma Mehta write about the reasonable success of reserved seats (33%) to get women into local government in India. However, a bill to reserve one third of the seats in the lower house of the national parliament (Lok Sabha) has not been passed. Sohini and Anupma conclude that more women are needed to create a critical mass for transformational change in governance. This transformational change is required to empower women and to address gender-based violence. They argue that quality education is required for women, including capacity building by the parties.
There is no denying the fact that greater participation of women in the political process would be a pre-condition for their economic and social emancipation. However, even though a significantly large number of women vote in the country, yet only a few of them assume the reins of power. Paradoxically, though women have held the posts of President and Prime Minister as well as Chief Ministers of various states in India, the country ranks 20th from the bottom in terms of representation of women in Parliament, as per the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2012.
To remedy the low participation of women electors, India in 1994 established quotas (reservations) vide the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments to reserve 33 per cent of the seats in local governments for women. The Women’s Reservation Bill (108th amendment) has also been introduced in the national Parliament to reserve 33 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats for women, but the bill is yet to be passed. It is believed that though increasing the number of women in national government may not guarantee an impact on governance, a critical mass of women in power can bring about transformation in leadership.
One of the key challenges faced by women is lack of education which hinders their political involvement. We recommend bridging this gap by providing quality education to women in the country. Awareness about their rights and privileges as mentioned in the Constitution can only be ensured once women are appropriately educated. The issue of gender-based violence and provision of safety and security of women should also be addressed on a priority basis to promote gender equality in the social and political arenas. Although the Government of India has initiated the National Mission of Empowerment of Women in 2014 with the broad objective of gender empowerment, the progress of this project is not up to the mark. It is thus imperative to strengthen its functioning and implementation. In addition, there is need for capacity building of prospective women leaders by imparting leadership training to the female members of political parties.