The Indian lawmakers approved the Women’s Reservation Bill, 2023, on September 21 in the country’s recently inaugurated Parliament building. The bill, passing through both houses with nearly unanimous support, mandates a minimum of 33 percent representation for women in state legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, with only two opposing votes recorded.
“Attaining a crucial threshold of 30 percent representation by women in Parliament is known to yield positive outcomes for women’s empowerment,” remarked Susan Ferguson, UN Women’s India Country Representative.
At the bill’s passage, approximately 14 percent of Lok Sabha legislators were women, marking India’s highest proportion post-independence but falling below the global average of 26.5 percent and the Central and Southern Asia average of 19 percent.
Among state legislative assemblies, Chhattisgarh holds the highest level of women legislators at 18 percent, while Himachal Pradesh has only one woman legislator, and Mizoram has none.
The newly enacted legislation mandates that 33 percent of seats in both the assemblies and the Lok Sabha be designated exclusively for female candidates in each election. President of India Droupadi Murmu granted assent, turning the bill into law.
“This marks a historic day,” affirmed Asha Bajpai, a former founding dean and law professor at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, now serving as a visiting faculty member. “This law will significantly enhance women’s involvement in policymaking and ensure fair governance at state and national levels. Inclusion of women will grant the majority a voice in shaping their livelihoods.”
The legislation’s journey was prolonged. The initial version of the Women’s Reservation Bill surfaced in parliament in 1996, and successive administrations have strived for its approval, Bajpai noted.
The law is set to take effect after India conducts its upcoming census, the date for which remains undetermined, and will remain valid for 15 years. However, it won’t impact seats in the Rajya Sabha, where women constitute only 13 percent of members.
Similar measures have been implemented in 64 other nations, from Belgium to Rwanda. Rwanda, for instance, established a 30 percent quota for women in elected positions in its 2003 constitution, ultimately leading the world in gender equality in politics, with women occupying 64 percent of parliamentary seats a decade later.
Bajpai highlighted how such quotas have “empowered women, encouraged them to assume leadership roles, and aided in resource allocation.”
“India’s bold move sends a strong global message that achieving gender equality is not just necessary but also achievable,” Ferguson concluded.