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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation

Opinion: On Women's Quota, A Reality Check

"Woman, I can hardly express My mixed emotions at my thoughtlessness After all, I'm forever in your debt" - John Lennon

The Lutyens locality is abuzz with speculation that the Union government is going to introduce the Women's Reservation Bill. This columnist belongs to a political party that has been advocating for the Women's Reservation Bill for years (make that decades).

Per a report by UN Women, 26% of parliamentarians in single or lower houses are women. Only six countries have 50% or more women in parliament in single or lower houses - Rwanda, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, New Zealand, and surprise, surprise, the United Arab Emirates. At the current rate of progress, gender equality in national legislative bodies will not be achieved before 2063.

In India, while the female voter turnout has increased from 46% in 1962 to 66% in 2019, just 15% MPs in parliament are women. The ruling BJP has only 14% women members across both Houses. In contrast, one out of three (around 30%) Trinamool Congress MPs are women.

Let's look at women's representation beyond parliament. The Election Commission is a men's only club. One Chief Election Commissioner, two Election Commissioners, six Deputy Election Commissioners, and not a single woman member among them.

The Supreme Court on March 2, 2023, in Anoop Baranwal vs Union of India, gave directives on the appointment of the CEC and EC, till the Union government passes a law. On August 10, the government sneakily introduced The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Terms of Office) Bill, 2023, in Rajya Sabha. While the merits and demerits of this Bill can be the subject of another column, the government failed to take the opportunity to include reservation for women in the Election Commission.

This lack of representation is visible across other high posts in public life too. There have been only 11 women judges in the Supreme Court since its inception, and no woman Chief Justice of India. Currently, there are three women judges in the Supreme Court. Just 83 of the 680 judges in high courts are women. And only 30% of subordinate judges are female.

This year, all four toppers of the UPSC Civil Services exam were women. The top 25 successful candidates consisted of 14 women and 11 men. However, data shows that women officers accounted for only one out of 10 of the total 11,569 IAS officers recruited between 1951 and 2020. Though the number of women IAS officers has been increasing over time, the highest has only been one third, in 2020. In 2022, the number went down again to one out of four.

The numbers are worse in the police force. There are 2.17 lakh women IPS officers, making up only 10.5% of police officers in the country. The pace of growth has been slow, the share of women officers has increased by just six percentage points in the 10 years from 2010. No state in the country has more than 25% of women police personnel. In Central Police Forces, women make up just 3.4% of all members across nine specialised forces.

The need to increase women participation is felt not just in public institutions but in private ones as well. A report by Ernst & Young reveals that the share of women in senior and managerial positions in India is a low 15%, and only 9% of firms have women as top managers.

A key to increasing participation and representation of women in institutions is to encourage them to join professional and technical courses in larger numbers. The All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) report reveals that the enrolment of women was below 30% in engineering and less than 40% in management courses. In the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index, India ranks a dismal 127 out of 146 countries.

The Women's Reservation Bill was promised by the BJP in both their 2014 and 2019 election manifestos. The misogynistic mindset of the ruling party was on full display as India's champion women wrestlers fought for their rights against a BJP parliamentarian who headed the Wrestling Federation of India. The man will be sitting in the parliament building during the special session. Maybe we should send him the Spotify link to the John Lennon song.

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