Will the Government of India fulfil its promise on women’s reservation in Parliament?, ask tens of women’s organizations, academicians, activists, individuals and civil society members in a statement. The organizations which have signed a statement demanding 50 per cent reservation for women in Parliament are JWP, NFIW, AIDWA, YWCA-DELHI, YWCA-NATIONAL, AIWC, CWDS, ICWM, ANHAD, CBCI, CSR, AIDMAM, VIVAT International, WPC, the Hunger Project, Guild for Service, Oxfam, War Widows, CARITAS, JAGORI, SODPress, NAPM, Pension Parishad, , and IGSSS. Text:
We the undersigned organizations and concerned citizens who have been working long years to achieve equal rights for women in this country would like to express our concern that the Women’s Reservation Bill seems to have completely disappeared from the agenda of the present NDA Government even after their election promise of “not 33 but 50%”.
You would be aware that the review of women’s status carried out by national and international agencies have repeatedly stressed the importance of women’s enhanced political participation for facilitating equitable development.
The enactment of the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments that mandated 33% reservation for women in Panchayats and Local Bodies since 1993 has facilitated the entry of lakhs of women in villages, small towns and cities, into the political arena. In some states, this has been raised to 50%. While women‟s participation in panchayats and local bodies was a welcome step, women of India are still struggling to secure the same in Parliament and State Legislatures, which continues to be around 10% or less of the total number of members. This lacuna indicates lack of political will displayed by those in power at the Centre.
Women from every strata of society, despite tremendous odds and opposition, have made significant contributions in different positions, proving their capability for governance beyond doubt, and strengthening their claim to reservation in Parliament and Assemblies also.
The Women’s Reservation Bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha on September 12, 1996. Though it has been introduced in Parliament several times since then, the Bill was not taken up for consideration and put to vote. Successive governments have shelved it on the pretext of what they call “lack of political consensus”. No rule of Parliament says that a bill can be passed only after arriving at a consensus. What then prevents the government to let the law makers decide the fate of the Bill.
The Bill has been discussed thoroughly by two Parliamentary committees, the second one submitting its Report in December 2009 which endorsed the Bill as it was. With the historic passage of the 33% Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha on 9th March 2010, women of this country were very optimistic that the Bill would soon be passed by the Lok Sabha and become a law. Unfortunately, this was not to be. The Bill eventually lapsed following the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2014.
We would like to point out that the BJP had included an assurance for passage of the Women’s Bill in its election manifesto, holding out to women a promise that their democratic right to adequate presence in the highest decision making bodies would be recognized. However, the current Government which came to power in May 2014 has not moved on this front at all. And 22 months and 5 Parliament sessions later, the reality is that this issue has never figured in Parliament.
The Union Law Minister DV Sadanand Gowda has informed Rajya Sabha in a written reply on August 7, 2015 that “the Government has not started consultation with any political party or other stakeholder” on the Bill. He also stated that Memorandum on Women’s Reservation Bill Page 2 of 2 “the issue involved needs careful consideration on the basis of consensus among all political parties before a Bill for amendment in the Constitution is brought before Parliament.”
Once again, it appears that the Bill is going to fall victim to a patriarchal mind-set, and be stalled by those who fail to see that a strong and vibrant democracy is predicated on equal presence of women at all levels of Government. The MWCD Minister has also given a written reply on September 14th 2015 saying that the Bill is indeed important, though in need of a few modifications, but that she “does not see it listed in Parliament in the near future”.
The women of this country have carried out a peaceful struggle and have already waited 19 long years for the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill. Leaders from public platforms do support women’s reservation, but rhetorical chants by the Prime Minister such as “women led development”, “e-platform for women representatives” would count only as mere tokenism unless there are sincere and concrete steps to end the impasse. Women’s exclusion from a fair representation in the National and State legislatures must now end without any further delay. Hence, we the undersigned demand that the Women’s Reservation Bill be introduced put to vote in Parliament to begin a new era in the legislative history of the country.