Is Women’s Reser­va­tion Bill a dead is­sue?

To en­sure speedy pas­sage of the Women’s Reser­va­tion Bill in Par­lia­ment and leg­isla­tive as­sem­blies, Cen­tre for So­cial Re­search will gal­vanise 3,000 Pan­chayat heads across the coun­try

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In a bid to en­sure a speedy pas­sage of the Women’s Reser­va­tion Bill (WRB) in Par­lia­ment and leg­isla­tive as­sem­blies, Cen­tre for So­cial Re­search (CSR), New Delhi will gal­vanise 3,000 Pan­chayat heads spread across 29 states of In­dia. While ac­knowl­edg­ing the ben­e­fits of more women in gov­er­nance, sev­eral Pan­chayat heads across In­dia have ex­tended their sup­port to the Women’s Reser­va­tion Bill in­for­mally in the past.

How­ever, they are be­ing reached out through a sys­tem­atic cam­paign, wherein th­ese heads will be en­cour­aged to ed­u­cate their com­mu­ni­ties about the ben­e­fits of more women in pol­i­tics at the na­tional and state level. In the com­ing months, all th­ese 3,000 Pan­chayat heads will be reached through let­ters, work­shops and in­for­mal meet­ings in or­der to seek their sup­port for the pas­sage of the WRB by Lok Sabha and state as­sem­blies.

The process of reach­ing out to Pan­chayat heads na­tion­wide has al­ready started in the month of May 2017 and more than 400 let­ters have been dis­patched by CSR till date.

“The idea is to con­vert the Women’s Reser­va­tion Bill into a peo­ple’s de­mand rather than a po­lit­i­cal one. The past 21 years of our strug­gle on the bill has taught us that it tends to get lost in the cor­ri­dors of power, and it’s ac­tual ben­e­fits are hardly dis­cussed or un­der­stood both by com­mon peo­ple and de­ci­sion makers. We need to change that trend if we have to make head­way on this bill,” says Dr. Ran­jana Ku­mari, Di­rec­tor, Cen­tre for So­cial Re­search.

CSR re­cently con­cluded a meet­ing at Ro­htak, wherein sev­eral vil­lage women and Gram Sabha mem­bers of the district came out in open to sup­port the Women’s Reser­va­tion Bill.

“Such events demon­strate a cer­tain fond­ness for women lead­ers among ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, who have seen the ben­e­fits of more women in de­ci­sion-mak­ing po­si­tions,” adds Dr. Ku­mari.

The re­cent as­sem­bly elec­tions in the five states show the num­ber of women en­trants in the state leg­isla­tive as­sem­blies still re­mains dis­mal. Out of 2,979 can­di­dates in all the states, there were just 234 women in fray. Stud­ies show that the global av­er­age of women in par­lia­ment stands at 22.40 per­cent, and In­dia stands at pitiable 103rd place out of 140 coun­tries, with a mere 12 per­cent rep­re­sen­ta­tion of elected women in Par­lia­ment and an av­er­age of 9 per­cent of fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in state as­sem­blies, which is in­deed a sorry state of af­fairs.

The 21 year-jour­ney of the Women’s Reser­va­tion Bill has hit road­blocks in each of its out­ings in Par­lia­ment be­fore it cleared the first leg­isla­tive bar­rier in 2010. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, a num­ber of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans over the years have op­posed the pass­ing of the Bill, leav­ing it in its cur­rent state.

How­ever, the cur­rent BJP gov­ern­ment had in­cluded an as­sur­ance for the pas­sage of the Women’s Bill in its elec­tion man­i­festo, hold­ing out to women a prom­ise that their demo­cratic right to ad­e­quate pres­ence in the high­est de­ci­sion mak­ing bod­ies would be recog­nised.

The Na­tional Al­liance for WRB, Cen­tre for So­cial Re­search be­ing a part of the Al­liance, rou­tinely de­mands ac­tion for women’s po­lit­i­cal em­pow­er­ment. Ac­cord­ing to the Al­liance, women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­i­tics is a hu­man right and the cor­ner­stone of women’s equal cit­i­zen­ship.

The Women’s Reser­va­tion Bill was de­vel­oped in or­der to fa­cil­i­tate women’s po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion by re­serv­ing 33 per­cent of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state leg­isla­tive as­sem­blies.

Women rep­re­sen­ta­tives while a con­fer­ence on women’s reser­va­tion in New Delhi

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