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Members of the BJP Women offer sweets in celebration after the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha during the special session of Parliament in New Delhi, India, Thursday, September 21, 2023.
India’s parliament passed a landmark bill on Thursday that reserves a third of its seats in the lower house and state assemblies for women. This is a major victory for human rights groups that have been campaigning for better gender representation in politics for decades.
The bill received bipartisan support and was welcomed by politicians across India’s often fractious political spectrum, but some expressed reservations that it could take years for the quota to be implemented.
A total of 215 MPs in the Upper House voted in favor of the Women’s Reservation Bill introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in a special session of Parliament on Tuesday. It was approved by the House of Commons on Wednesday.
“A historic moment in our country’s democratic journey!” Modi wrote on Twitter after his approval. “With the passage of this law, women’s representation of power will be strengthened and a new era of their empowerment will begin.”
Six attempts to pass the law, first introduced in 1996, failed, at times due to strong opposition from the country’s predominantly male lawmakers.
In India, the world’s largest democracy with 1.4 billion people, women make up almost half of the country’s 950 million registered voters but only 15% of representatives in parliament and 10% in state legislatures.
Although passed, this move will not apply to next year’s general elections.
The quota could take years to implement as it depends on redistricting, which will only take place after India’s once-a-decade census is completed.
This massive census project was supposed to take place in 2021, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and has since stalled.
Some members of India’s opposition expressed disappointment that the law would not come into force sooner.
Sonia Gandhi, a leader of the Indian National Congress, said women had waited 13 years for the bill to be passed.
“Now they have been asked to wait longer,” she told MPs in Parliament. “How many more years?”
Rajani Patil, another Congress MP, said while the party was “very happy” with the passage, its demand was that the bill be implemented “immediately” for the assembly elections.
She added: “It should also include OBC reservations,” referring to India’s caste system, a 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth. Although it was abolished in 1950, it still exists in many areas of life.
Still, the passage of the bill in Parliament is seen as a further boost for Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of national elections next year.
Although India has made progress on women’s issues in recent years, it remains a deeply patriarchal country.
It has had a female prime minister since its independence in 1947. India Gandhi served as the country’s leader twice before her assassination in 1984.
India’s incumbent President Droupadi Murmu, who was appointed to the position last year, was only the second woman to hold the seat.
Globally, the overall share of lower house parliamentary seats held by women is about 26 percent, up from 11 percent in 1995, according to U.N. women’s data.
Only six nations currently have a female representation of 50 percent or more in parliament in single houses or lower houses. Rwanda leads with 61 percent, followed by Cuba (53 percent), Nicaragua (52 percent), Mexico (50 percent), New Zealand (50 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (50 percent).
Another 23 countries have reached or exceeded 40 percent, including 13 countries in Europe, six in Africa, three in Latin America and the Caribbean and one in Asia – Timor-Leste.
However, Taiwan, which is not included in the UN data, has the second-highest proportion of women in its legislature in Asia, after the UAE, at 43 percent.