From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Paper 2- Making the Parliament inclusive
Due to systemic issues, Parliament continues to alienate women. The number of women representatives is still considerably small, but even more subtly, Parliament as a workspace continues to be built exclusively for men.
Women’s participation in the initial years
- In 1952, when the Indian Republic held its first Parliamentary session, there were 39 strong, intelligent, and passionate women as its member.
- Leading in the world in inclusiveness: At a time when women formed only 1.7% of the total members of the United States Congress and 1.1% of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, India was leading the way in the fight towards more inclusive world democracies with 5.5% women representation.
- Women played an important role in India’s struggle for independence and that contribution was reflected in their presence in the parliament.
- What happened in 1952 was a highly progressive step, but 70 years hence, it seems we have strayed from that path.
Electoral representation of women in India: Current scenario
- 14.6 per cent in current Lock Sabha: In India, women currently make up 14.6 per cent of MPs (78 MPs) in the Lok Sabha, which is a historic high.
- Although the percentage is modest, it is remarkable because women barely made up 9 per cent of the overall candidates in 2019.
- In electoral representation, has fallen several places in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s global ranking of women’s parliamentary presence, from 117 after the 2014 election to 143 as of January 2020.
- In terms of electoral quotas, there were two outstanding exceptions in the 2019 general elections.
- Voluntary parliamentary quota: West Bengal under Mamata Banerjee and Odisha under Naveen Patnaik opted for voluntary parliamentary quotas, fielding 40 per cent and 33 per cent women candidates, respectively.
- Women reservation bill: The bill to reserve 33 per cent seats for women in Parliament and state legislatures was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but it was never introduced in the Lok Sabha.
- India ranks a dismal 146th in women’s representation in the national Parliament.
- At the turn of the century, it ranked 66th.
- The decline has come because progress has been piecemeal — several other countries have improved their share of women in Parliament far more rapidly.
Struggle for inclusivity
- Despite a good start in the past, our struggle with inclusivity has not eased.
- Due to systemic issues, Parliament continues to alienate women.
- The number of women representatives is still considerably small, but even more subtly, Parliament as a workspace continues to be built exclusively for men.
Lack of inclusivity in the Parliament
- Absence of gender-neutral language: A closer look at our parliamentary discourse and communication reveals a concerning and disconcerting absence of gender-neutral language.
- After 75 years of Independence, Parliament often refers to women in leadership positions as Chairmen and party men.
- In the Rajya Sabha, the Rules of Procedure continue to refer to the Vice-President of India as the ex-officio Chairman, stemming from the lack of gender-neutral language in the Constitution of India.
- The alarming degree of usage of masculine pronouns assumes a power structure biased towards men.
- Lack of gender-neutral Acts: The issue further extends to law-making.
- In the last decade, there have hardly been any gender-neutral Acts.
- Acts have made references to women not as leaders or professionals (such as policemen), but usually as victims of crimes.
- The root of such instances lies with a gender-conforming Constitution.
- In its present state, the Constitution reinforces historical stereotypes that women and transgender people cannot be in leadership positions, such as the President and the Vice-President of India.
- This represents the failure of the many Union Governments which did not take the initiative of amending it.
- In the past, amendments have been brought about to make documents gender neutral.
- In 2014, under the leadership of the then Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Meira Kumar, the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha were made entirely gender neutral.
- Correcting the language: Internationally, even mature democracies that legalised universal suffrage after India, such as Canada (1960 for Aboriginal women), Australia (1962 for Indigenous women), and the United States (1965 for women of African-American descent), have now taken concrete measures towards gender-inclusive legislation and communication..
- Amendments: India can and must begin with an amendment to the Constitution and the entire reservoir of laws.
- Focus on the deeper issues of aspiration: Once the language is corrected, the entire country, including Parliament, can focus on the deeper issues of the aspirations and growth of its woman workforce.
- Women staff in Parliament: Women are not adequately represented in Parliament staff,.
- We need a single, transparent appointment and promotion process for women staff in Parliament.
- We need to make sure that their professional growth is not being hindered by other issues such as harassment and domestic responsibilities.
In the 21st century, when people of all genders are leading the world with compassion, strength and ambitions, the Indian Parliament needs to reflect on its standing.