While President Pranab Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari called for passage of the Women's Reservation Bill during the two day National Conference of Women Legislators on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made no mention of it when, in the same conference, he said we should move towards women-led development from women's development.
Speaking during the conference on Sunday, PM Modi said, "Women have higher success ratio despite the fewer opportunities they get in comparison to men," Modi referring to Rwanda, saying that the east African country was brought back to its feet by women after massacres in which a large number of men were killed.
He urged women to work more towards srcutinising bills in parliament, saying they have a long-term perspective of events.
"I would urge Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, can you create an e-platform of women representatives," he said.
Meanwhile, inaugurating the conference, Mukherjee had said the country has not been able to achieve more than 12 percent representation for women out of the total membership of Parliament, which is "a sad commentary on us".
The Women's Reservation Bill, which was passed in the Rajya Sabha on 9 March, 2010, was never tabled in the Lok Sabha.
Even when the bill was passed, it had seen opposition from several parties. Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD's Lalu Prasad Yadav and JD(U)'s Sharad Yadav had protested saying passing of this bill would ensure only upper class women get the chance of being a member of parliament. "This bill aims at depriving the backward castes and Muslims of the chance of getting elected. It will only help elite upper caste women get elected," Sharad Yadav had said.
The bill, which reserves 33 percent of seats in parliament and the state legislatures for women, lapsed for the fourth time with the 15th Lok Sabha holding its last sitting ahead of the April-May general elections.
Those who oppose the bill say that it defeats the purpose of equality if women get the right to reservation in parliament and other legislatures. Some others say that it would harm the chances of people from the backward classes.
The Indian Constitution does offer equal opportunities for women, but given our gender biased society women do not have equal chances of getting elected.
And when the Prime Minister wants 'women-led' development, there is a need for larger numbers of women in power to affect policy changes that help improve the status of other women in our country.
Though naysayers have continued to opposed the bill, research has revealed that political reservation has increased redistribution of resources in favour of groups that benefit from such reservation.
While the incumbent NDA government had promised to table the bill that aims to provide a 33 percent reservation for women, nothing has been done so far. Sushma Swaraj, after the NDA was voted to power, had sought the support of Congress for passing the bill. She had said, "A lot of parties have spoken about women empowerment, but we have done our bit by making a woman the chief minister of Gujarat. We also have 25 percent women in our cabinet and even the speaker of Lok Sabha is a woman."
Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda had said in 2015 had said that the bill would be tabled in Parliament after 'careful consideration'.
"The issue involved needs careful consideration on the basis of consensus among all political parties before a bill for amendment in Constitution is brought before Parliament," Gowda had said.
Women's empowerment or women-led empowerment cannot happen on its own. Without a well researched and constructive government agenda, meant solely for the development for women, there cannot be any progress in the grass roots.
And with a Parliament where over 85 percent of representatives are men, there cannot be government policies that can improve the lives of women.
Scandanavian countries are known to be the best examples of gender-balanced societies. And a quick look at their parliaments can show why. A piece on The Huffington Post titled What Makes the Nordic Countries Gender Equality Winners? points out that all Nordic countries are on the top ten in the list of countries that have high number of women in parliaments, Sweden being the highest (among Nordic countries) — 47.3 percent.
Such high representation has ensured legislations that promote gender equality — paid maternity and paternity leaves, equal pay for equal work and even reservations in boards of publicly listed companies.
PM Modi had mentioned the society of Rwanda while addressing the conference. The Rwandan Parliament has the highest number of women in the world and that was brought about by a quota law just like what the Women's Reservation Bill proposes. The quota was introduced in 2003, and by 2008 there were more women in Parliament than men with 56 percent and by 2013 it was 64 percent.
The bill for reservation of women in India, since its inception, has been opposed. It was first introduced in parliament by HD Deve Gowda's government as 81st Constitution Amendment Bill. Soon after, Gowda's government became a minority and the 11th Lok Sabha dissolved. The Bill was the referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee which presented its report to the Lok Sabha in December, 1996.
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee led NDA government had introduced the bill four times in the Lok Sabha, in 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003. However it failed to gather consensus.
The Bill was again introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2008, after the UPA came to power, and then referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice.
After the Standing Committee presented its report, the bill was tabled in both the houses of Parliament in 2009 amid protests by the SP, JD(U) and the RJD. The bill was moved again in the Rajya Sabha in March, 2010 and it was passed with a majority.
And even as India is trying to fill in the huge gender gap, having more women in Parliament could be a could be a good start, and passing of the Women's Reservation Bill could be a steps towards achieving a more gender balanced society.