Parliament reluctant to pass women’s bill: Book

Friday, February 25, 2011

NEW DELHI - Parliament is reluctant to pass the women’s reservation bill as it is not a politically satisfying move for various parties, says a new book, stressing that “more lobbying and more awareness” are needed to make it a reality.

The yet-to-be-released book, “Reign She Will: Women’s Strife for Political Space”, has been penned by activist Ranjana Kumari, a strong advocate of the bill that seeks to reserve for women one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and in state assemblies .

The women’s reservation bill (WRB) “has had a rather tumultuous life span. Whilst arguably a ‘politically correct’ move, it is not necessarily a politically satisfying move,” says the book.

“As a result, it is difficult for any party to decisively oppose the bill and maintain mainstream electoral support, yet internally many parties seem to be very much divided on the issue and there is a clear reluctance within parliament to pursue the binding steps towards constitutional amendment,” the book said.

“It is felt by many supporters of the bill that whilst lip service is paid to women’s participation, the attitudes of most in politics have not changed and patriarchal attitudes continue to reign,” the book added.

The book, brought out by Har-Anand Publications and priced at Rs.595, highlights the struggle for women’s emancipation in India, spanning almost five decades, and urges social activists to work for increased political participation by women “even if the battle is long”.

The bill, which was first introduced as the Constitution (81st Amendment) Bill Sep 12, 1996, is expected to be considered by the Lok Sabha in the current budget session. It is now called the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill 2010.

It was passed by the Rajya Sabha in the last budget session in 2010. But it could not be put to vote in the Lok Sabha as there was no consensus among political parties on the bill in its present form.

Leaders like Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and Janata Dal-United’s Sharad Yadav are opposed to the bill, as they want the government to provide a quota within quota for women from the backward castes and minorities. They also say the bill will only help women from rich families get elected.

“Opponents have tried hard to stall the passage of the bill and successive governments have been repeatedly non-committal when it comes to a forceful enactment of the bill. In addition, some feel that those parties that do support the bill have tried to undermine each other in order to get the bill through and be the ones who can take the credit, thus valuing political point-scoring over the essence of politics and participation itself and using the WRB as a tool for manipulation rather than a tool for democratisation,” the book said.

It also gives a detailed account of how subsequent governments, since the introduction of the bill in 1996, have been stalling passage of the bill.

The 231-page book highlights the fact that internationally, women’s political participation has slowly been growing.

By 2010, only 11 countries have reached the 30 percent benchmark. Rwanda (56 percent) heads list, followed by Sweden (47 percent), South Africa (45 percent), Iceland (43 percent), Argentina (42 percent), the Netherlands (41 percent), Norway and Senegal (40 percent), Denmark (38 percent) and Angola and Costa Rica (37 percent).

Ranjana Kumari says women’s activists in India took support from these international movements to press the government for passage of the bill.

“As a result of both internal and external pressures, the Indian government has been forced to look sincerely at the issue of women’s political representation and consequently, to consider promoting the active inclusion of women in politics with greater dedication,” it said.

“The future for the women’s movement entails yet more campaigning, more lobbying and more awareness, a generation that will keep the topic of the WRB alive and relevant to every government. Women’s increased political representation must happen and even if the battle is long, it will be achieved,” Ranjana Kumari sums up.

The book will be launched March 9, a day after International Women’s Day.

Filed under: Politics

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