Only 11% of seats in India’s Lower House of Parliament are filled by women, one of the lowest ratios in the world and half of China’s ratio.
The Congress party-led government, and especially the party’s president, Sonia Gandhi, believes the answer is to set aside – by law – larger number of parliamentary seats for women.
Supporters point to quotas introduced two decades ago reserving seats for women at village council level elections, a measure they say has boosted female representation and – as a result – increased the focus of these bodies on issues like sanitation and water.
Critics of quotas, though, have blocked attempts to set aside legislative seats for women at a national level. Some complain the proposals will push more higher-cast women into politics, leading to greater underrepresentation of lower-caste groups.
Others say the key is first to improve education of women, so they don’t become proxies for male relatives under a quota system, which has happened in some cases at the local village – or “panchayat” – level.
A new report by the United Nations Development Program, released last month, gives backing to the supporters of a broadening of quotas.
The report looked at eleven countries in the Asia-Pacific region that introduced laws to reserve seats for women in lower houses of parliament.
It found that between 2000, before any of the countries introduced these laws, and 2010, the proportion of women in these legislatures jumped by 10 percentage points on average. Even factoring in other reasons for this rise – say, improved educational opportunities for females – the report estimated the quotas led to a 5- percentage-point rise in the representation of females in these parliaments.
“The uses of reserved seats for women members or gender quotas for candidates generally expand women’s representation,” the report said.
India could look at its neighbor Nepal, which revised its quotas in 2007. In the decade to 2010, the proportion of women in its lower house of parliament rose to 33% from 6%.
These kinds of measures mean Nepal now stands at 21st position on this global survey ranking countries in descending order of women’s representation in lower houses of parliament. While Nepal was one position above Germany, India was in 109th position, tied with Liberia and the Ivory Coast...
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