Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Empowerment Gift" to Indian Women

BBC News: Indian upper house approves women's quota bill
NYT: Uproar in India over Female Lawmaker Quota
Global Voices: India: Women's Bill Stirs Up a Hornet's Nest
WSJ: India, Women and Democracy

On the International Women's Day (March 8th), the Indian government introduced a bill that would require one-third of the seats in the national and state legislatures to be reserved for women for 15 years. The upper house of Parliament (the Rajya Sabha) passed this Women's Reservation Bill on March 9th after being adjourned due to strong opposition against the bill. Although the approval of the upper house is only the first step, many welcome this historic move and hope that this step would contribute to improving gender equality and empowering women in India. In fact, it was the first time that the bill passed the first hurdle since it was introduced in 1996. The bill further needs to be approved by the lower house and at least 50% of state legislatures as well as the President of India.

Currently, only 59 out of 545 legislators in the lower house (the Lock Sabha) are women, and there are 21 women out of 245 legislators in the upper house. Women in India face "discrimination at home...domestic violence, unequal access to health and education. This has to end," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Those who oppose the bill argue that it will not make a big change as the reserved seats will likely to be filled with the female family members of prevailing male politicians and those women will just act as substitutes for men. Opponents also say that this bill will adversely affect other minorities. As more seats are reserved for women, other minority groups such as Muslim politicians will face more competition for the less number of seats and their representation in the legislatures may decrease. Some criticize that the bill would undermine India's democracy because the seats can be reserved for women rather than for those who people choose.

At the local level, one third of the seats in local councils have been already reserved for women in India. In Pakistan, 30% of legislative seats are reserved for women and over 27% in Afghanistan.

If passed, what kind of impact would this bill have on Indian women and development in general? Do you agree with opponents' concerns regarding the bill? Does the bill need to have sub-quotas for other minorities such as Muslims and the lower castes?

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