Low percentage of women in Indian Parliament:
- India had only 65 women out of 545 members of Parliament (MPs) elected to the 16th Lok Sabha, for a 12% representation.
- Despite being low, the 15th and 16th Lok Sabha still represent an improvement to earlier share of women MPs of less than 9% since Independence.
Comparision with other countries:
- According to a list compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, India ranks 153 out of 190 nations in the percentage of women in the lower house of world parliaments.
- Even Pakistan with 20% participation from women is ahead of India.
- Rwanda ranks first with 61% of its lower house representatives being women.
- The UK and the US are also a bit lagging, with 32% and 23%, respectively.
- As a region, Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) are leaders with an average of about 40%.
Importance of increase in women’s representation in Parliament
- Unfairly low representation in proportion to population:
- The Indian system has electoral representation to the Lok Sabha based on population.
- Thus, the most populous state Uttar Pradesh has 80 MPs followed by Maharashtra with 48, while four of the north-eastern states—Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Sikkim—have only one seat each.
- While we allocate total seats to states by population, the resultant women’s representation at 12% is far below the actual population of women.
- A representative Parliament requires the different experiences of women also to craft priorities and shape the nation’s economic and social future.
- Greater women representation balances priorities of elected bodies:
- Evidence both at the international level and at the gram panchayat (village) level suggests that a greater representation of women in elected office balances the process and prioritizations that elected bodies focus on.
- For example, in Rwandan lower house , a wider range of family issues get tackled.
- Some studies suggest that more women in the house could result in lesser direct confrontation on the floor of the House.
How to improve representation of women in Parliament:
- Quotas for women in Parliament
- The 73rd and 74th amendments to the Indian Constitution reserve one-third of local body seats for women.
- Similar efforts to provide reservation for one-third of the seats for women in the Lok Sabha has been tabled as a bill several times until as recently as 2008, without getting passed.
- Implementation is complex as constituencies may have to be rotated and/or we may need dual member constituencies.
- Reservation for women in political parties
- Around the world, countries like Sweden, Norway, Canada, the UK and France follow the idea of reservation in political parties.
- Some suggest that the Election Commission could take the lead in the effort to encourage reservation for women in political parties.
- This method though may not lead to more women parliamentarians, but it does allow for a more meritocratic and less complex method of moving forward on this issue.
- Awareness, education and role modelling that encourage women towards politics
- This will follow once reservations are provided for women, even at the political party level. Education, encouragement, and role-modelling for women to aspire to a political role will be in the party’s interest to ensure that their candidate wins.
- India has had a long-serving woman prime minister and several women chief ministers and speakers of the House.
- Yet its record of women parliamentarians is woefully poor.
- For a balanced future for the country, it is important to debate and move forward on bringing about more women representation.
GS Paper II: Polity & Social Issues