The Women's Reservation Bill that provides 33% reservation for women in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies comes at the 30th anniversary of the 73rd and 74th landmark amendments that transformed the local government elections.
Illustration by The Geostrata
The 73rd and 74th Amendments in 1993 prescribed that one-third of the total seats must be reserved for women. Clause 3 of Article 243D in the Constitution of India legitimizes the need for this reservation at the local government level. This amendment serves as a shift in the political landscape ensuring social justice and equality of opportunities. Furthermore, 20 states in India have made provisions for 50% of reservations for women in their State Panchayat Acts.
Women are agents of social revolution in society. The reservation became a catalyst in the socio-economic transformation of the rural government structures. This platform was provided to women for their political empowerment. Women in rural areas must have the ability to shape policies and decision-making for their social as well as economic development.
Acquiring political power entails gaining more recognition, and respect in society in addition to financial independence and a stable income for women.
Participation of women in the election system shifts democracy from a representative one to a participatory democratic structure.
Although laws have been enacted and reservations are provided, women still face a lot of challenges at the grassroots level.
Women have been historically discriminated against, leading to a lack of resources for them. The dearth of political consciousness, educational opportunities, and persistent male domination have restricted women in the political sphere. The societal mindset revolves around patriarchy becoming an obstacle in the path of women’s empowerment.
WOMEN'S ROLE IN SOCIETY
Women in rural areas are expected to fulfil their dual responsibilities, which involve managing their work lives and familial expectations. Women as leaders are more likely to stand against regressive social practices like the dowry system, and child marriage that hinder their upliftment.
With time, men at the local government level have used women as proxies or politically unaware figureheads, snatching away their decision-making authority. The lack of faith in women's decisions as political leaders limits their power. Women are used as rubber stamps in most cases, affecting the advantages of the reservation process.
The reservation for women in the election procedure restricts few men from contesting and they take advantage of the seats allotted for women for their selfish purposes.
Therefore, there are no constitutional or legal obstacles at Panchayati Raj institutions for women; rather prevailing structural, functional, cultural, traditional, and social constraints affect their participation in the political processes.
WOMEN EMPOWERMENT AND UPLIFTMENT
Regardless of the existing social constraints, the 73rd Amendment changed the political standing of women in society. Women in rural areas are seen with relatively more respect and dignity when they are in power.
Women as political leaders ensure good governance while catering to the upliftment of disadvantaged groups including women from backward classes.
Women’s increased political participation contributes to the growth of various sectors like education, health, nutrition, and even the increase in family income.
The change in traditional norms results in the emergence of revolutionary development programs for the holistic development of society. For instance, in many states, women have led anti-liquor campaigns and succeeded in its implementation. The inclusion of women in local government politics has shattered biased and traditional myths.
Women get opportunities to break the shackles of constraints on their rights and freedom while inculcating confidence and strength to stand up for themselves. Economically, the employment generation in rural areas for women promises gender parity and an increase in income.
Compared to other options like unpaid domestic work or other menial occupations, women’s political, economic, and social upliftment through reservations at local government elections ensures a better and more secure livelihood.
To ensure an equal platform for women beyond legislative policies, a few complementary initiatives are required along with the reservation. Training and awareness programs must be conducted in rural areas to have active participation of women in politics.
Women should be trained so that they perform their duties as leaders efficiently. Awareness about rights, responsibilities, and gender roles would provide a supportive environment for women.
This can include workshops on governance, leadership, and politics. The banking facilities must be swift. For instance, providing micro-credit loans, or other initiatives for financial inclusion. Budgetary allocation, specifically emphasizing women's development and training programs should be prioritized. Capacity-building programs, networking, and research in this area can enhance empowerment.
The inclusion of women in the political sphere has been a crucial step in the process of women's empowerment. It highlights the importance of gender-sensitive governance and community development. The one-third reservation safeguards women and their rights by providing necessary opportunities for them in politics.
However, various challenges exist and become a hindrance in this process of inclusion. Using awareness programs, stringent checking mechanisms on election procedures and training can mitigate these concerns.
The revival of local government politics ensured the breaking of stereotypes, addressing discrimination, and amplifying women’s voices in the Panchayati Raj institutions. Reservations along with a few complementary measures can ensure a balanced representation and will bridge the gender gap.
BY ANSHIKA MALIK