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Indian activists are advocating for women's equal political representation in the nation

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Over a decade ago, the Women’s Reservation Bill was first introduced to India’s Parliament for passage into law. This legislation aimed to ensure Indian women’s equal representation in elected office by reserving a significant proportion of all seats in the lower house of Parliament and state legislative assemblies for them. On Tuesday, in the run-up to the opening of the Indian legislature’s winter session on December 11, women’s groups came together to express frustration and outrage that the bill has still not been passed.

“Our political leaders having a patriarchal mindset have always put women’s issues on a back-burner,” Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director of the Centre for Social Research and member of The National Alliance for Women’s Reservation Bill, said at a press conference on Tuesday. “It is a long way for women towards empowerment with no sincere efforts coming from political leaders.”

When the Women’s Reservation Bill was first introduced to the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of Parliament, in 2008, it posed requiring that women occupy at least 33 percent of total seats in the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of Parliament, and at least the same proportion of seats in all of the state legislative assemblies. Although the Rajya Sabha passed the bill in March 2010, the legislation was never introduced into the Lok Sabha, so it lapsed in 2014.

Now, in addition to pressing legislators to re-introduce the Women’s Reservation Bill during this session, activists are pressing for the legislation to reserve half of the Lok Sabha’s seats for women instead of a third. Activists argue this quota is necessary as women still form a very small minority of elected representatives in India. In the Lok Sabha, women currently hold only 62 of the 542 seats, or about 11 percent.  According to recent data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, India ranks 152 in terms of women’s political representation on the national level, placing the nation far below the United States (104) as well as most other countries in South Asia, including Nepal (36), Pakistan (93) and Bangladesh (95).

Similar bills have been passed in a number of countries around the world. Rwanda’s constitution requires that 30 percent of seats in the national legislature are reserved for women, and women currently hold over 60 percent of seats in the lower house of parliament; The country ranks first on the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s list. Senegal, Norway, France, New Zealand, Argentina, Ecuador, Albania, Algeria and Kenya among other nation-states also mandate legislative quotas of some kind. “Quotas are becoming more accepted as a vital strategy to ensure women’s inclusion, and have encouraged a ‘role model’ effect between parties and in neighboring countries,” the Inter-Parliamentary Union stated in a 2017 report about women’s participation.

“There is need to invest in the women leaders from within the parties,” Sharmishtha Mukherjee, a spokesperson for the Indian National Congress political party, said on Tuesday. “Women as voters need to create a vote bank and think on gender issues, we need to ensure voters to be sensitised to create a vote bank to work on women issues.”

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