Representation in Legislative Bodies: Addressing the Question of Gender Equality

Article excerpt

Gender representation in legislative bodies is in the forefront of discussion in the recent times. This paper is a field based research study on the women's empowerment question through the reservation system as pursued through constitutional safety-net arrangements in India. This establishes that the approach has the potential to transform the political destiny of women in India and their neglect or non-inclusion in people's representation at legislative bodies is considered as opposed to the gender justice.

Introduction

Gender inequality is a major social concern all over the world today. Strengthening of women's participation in all spheres of life has been felt to be a major need for economic and social development. If we look at the recommendations of most international and bilateral development agencies, we will be convinced that more policies to integrate women better into economic and social processes should be introduced while formulating all programmes worthy of accelerating development. In this context, it looks strange that the proposals for the promotion of women still face controversies despite the fact that they are meant to be implemented through affirmative action. This is because women, who form around 50 per cent of the adult population of the world and one third of the official labour force, share a considerably lower presence in elected political bodies. They carry out nearly two-third of all working hours, but receive one tenth of world's income and own less than one per cent of world's property (International Labour Organisation Study). The ILO study thus sums up the poor picture of gender equality on the global level. Women are, more often, relegated to a secondary position in the household, in the society, at workplaces and in governance. Apparently universal franchise is inadequate to overcome structural constraints that impede female presence in political offices. Thus, despite their numerical strength, women are still a minority in respect to political power and positions occupied. The presence of women in the legislative bodies is very minimal or very insignificant. In almost all countries, except some Nordic countries where it is slightly above 10 per cent, women's low percentage of participation in legislative bodies/policy/decision making bodies is a matter of deep concern. This is a case despite the absence of legal constraints. As of 1995, women's representation in the Parliament even in long established democracies has ranged from an abysmally low two per cent in Japan to a slightly comfortable 41 per cent in Sweden. The absence of quantitative and qualitative presence of women in legislatures has virtually rendered governments in democracies mostly the governments 'of men, by men and for men'.

The position of women has never been marked with equality in India even though they constitute about 49 per cent of the population (Dhaka and Dhaka 2005:3). It is more true with regard to the participation of women in politics and many reasons can be attributed for this state of affairs like the nature of present day politics. Now-a-days, politics has turned more towards centralisation and criminalisation and it has also undermined all other institutions of civil society. As a result, women are pushed out of leadership positions to carry out certain social work at the local level. The attitude of male politicians can also be a factor. 'Most male politicians feel women don't make good Parliamentarians. That's because for a long time, women have played second-fiddle in matters of governance' (Patil 2005:12). As Swami Vivekananda rightly puts it, 'No nation can be great if half of its population is degraded and discriminated against. Women constitute half of India's teeming population. Political participation is a vital link towards total empowerment of women. With that empowerment, she, as many of my brothers seem to fear, is not a threat to men, but a partner in progress the 'effective-participant'- the true bhagidar' (Giri 2000: IV). …