India reserves 50% seats for women in local self government

India probably became the first country to reserve 50% seats for women at local self-government (LSG) level after the Union cabinet approved a proposal for a constitutional amendment bill for increasing quota for women in panchayats at all tiers. This means that about 14 lakh women will occupy 2,52,000 panchayat seats in future.

At present, out of the total elected representatives of panchayat numbering around 28.18 lakh, 36.87% are women.

The government believes that this move will facilitate the entry of more women into public sphere and thereby, lead to their empowerment. The step will also make panchayats more inclusive institutions working towering better governance.

Incidentally, states such as Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh already have 50% seats reserved for women at the panchayat level. But women’s representation is roughly 10% in parliament and state assemblies. In comparison, some South Asian countries such as Pakistan (20%), Nepal (20%), Bangladesh (20%) and Sri Lanka (22%) have a larger representation of women in their national assemblies.

In the US, it is 15%, while in the UK, women occupy 13% seats in parliament. “While this reservation is only at the grassroot level, this is the first step towards providing 33% quota for women in parliament. This move will mobilise women at the grassroots and weed out violence from local politics,” Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research, said.

“This will also facilitate women’s participation in decision-making. However, to further strengthen the democratic process and increase women’s involvement in the highest decision-making bodies, this measure has to be followed up with passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which is pending before parliament,” Sudha Sundaraman, general secretary of All India Democratic Women’s Association, said.

A recent study conducted by the panchayati raj ministry shows that reservation played a significant role in bringing women into mainstream. About four-fifth of all women representatives in panchayat elections got elected from reserved seats and about 83% of them entered politics through quota.

For 67% women, becoming a pradhan or ward member meant more respect from family members. About 66-71% elected women representatives said their family members allowed them to take part in matters related to money and property. About 64% women pradhans said they got increased attention from the local government, while 60% reported quick response on the part of block panchayats.

The most high performing women pradhans were from Kerala, followed by Karnataka, Tripura, Maharashtra, Sikkim and West Bengal. About 72% of elected women representatives reported having been actively involved in providing civic amenities, while 62% said they made efforts in increasing enrolment and mitigating domestic violence.

The positive impact of entering politics and working as a panchayati raj functionary was evident from the fact that a sizeable number of women representatives reported better self-esteem (79%), confidence (81%) and decision-making abilities (74%).


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