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Hurdles ahead in executing women’s bill
New Delhi, Mar 10 (IANS)
Published on 10 Mar. 2010 10:49 PM IST
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Activists Wednesday lauded the passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha but said that it was just one of the many hurdles it will face before women get true representation in governance. Manorama Bawa, patron of the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC), said she anxiously watched the proceedings in the Rajya Sabha Tuesday where the bill was passed by an overwhelming majority after two days of pandemonium. “There were many uncertain moments when the bill met with stiff opposition from a few people. But yesterday (Tuesday) evening when the bill was passed, we were all very happy,” Bawa told IANS. “The bill will face many problems, especially when it comes to the Lok Sabha. A few days back when we were interacting with women in a Haryana village, they knew about the bill and saw it as a positive step,” Bawa said. Sunitha Chauhan, Delhi’s first woman auto-rickshaw driver who also contested the Lok Sabha election in 2009, said she would contest again if the bill becomes law. “I am very happy as this bill is being passed in the face of such harsh opposition. This will bring about a change in how Indian women are perceived. I will contest elections again,” Chauhan told IANS. Women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari, who heads the Centre of Social Research, feels that the main challenge was to get political parties pass the legislation. “It was heartening to see all parties support the bill. Even BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) Arun Jaitley spoke very passionately about the bill. I feel it will get through the Lok Sabha as well,” she said. The main challenge after that would be to get true representation of women from Dalit and other groups, she said. The CSR in collaboration with an NGO, Women Power Connect (WPC), has selected 1,000 women from across India and is grooming them to contest elections under a UN project called ‘Enhancing the Role of Women in Strengthening Democracy’. “Women have less than 10 percent representation in India’s parliament even though they make up 44 percent of the voting population. We need more women in politics. It has taken 62 long years... Our voices are now being heard,” Kumari said. WPC executive director N. Hamsa said: “We want to congratulate all political parties. We look forward to the passage of the bill in the Lok Sabha now. All parties need to resolve their differences.” Bawa, however, undelined some of the problems. She said that the AIWC had faced many teething problems while training women in rural India over a decade ago when seats were reserved for them in village panchayats. “In many cases, it would be the woman’s husband who made the decisions. But after four years of reservation, women emerged stronger as examples to others in taking decisions.” Quota will impact caste struggle in India By encouraging women’s participation in politics, the historic bill to reserve 33 percent of seats for them in parliament and the legislatures will impact the country’s political scenario, the patriarchal system and the caste struggle in rural India, experts say. Bibhu Mahapatra, consultant of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project on Legal Empowerment, said: “The 73rd constitutional amendment, passed in 1992, gave constitutional recognition to local self governance and reserved 33 percent seats in panchayats for women. This encouraged lakhs of women to enter public life by giving more opportunities to them.” “The Women’s Reservation Bill will have a similar impact. It will also impact the caste struggle. Today, there are questions asked about who is more marginalised within the Dalit community and that is because more women are in the forefront in politics,” Mahapatra told IANS. The bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha after a lot of furore Tuesday. The Lok Sabha, which has seen protests on the issue for the last three days, is expected to pass the bill before it takes a three-week break beginning March 16. Said Kamal Mitra Shenoy, a sociologist at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU): “In the beginning, there may not be much impact on the caste struggle because the more dominant will field their candidates into the political arena.” “But with time, women will definitely be empowered because of the bill as it will have its effect on patriarchy and change the gender dynamics. You won’t just have the wives and daughters of political leaders being fielded,” he maintained. Shenoy said the idea of a quota within quota - that is, reservation for women from backward classes within the women’s reservation - will not do any good. “There is no reservation for other backward classes (OBCs) in parliament, yet there is a lot of OBC representation there. So, reservation within reservation is not really needed,” he explained. Mahapatra said the bill will also encourage political parties to re-invent themselves. “It will have a stimulating effect on the political parties. Parties like the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have very little women’s representation, but now they will have to rope in more women,” he said. Ranjan Sharma, a Delhi-based sociologist, said: “More women would also mean that there will be a sobering effect on parliament. You will most probably not have so much hooliganism. Similarly, it will have a civilising effect on the political parties.” While Shenoy said the actual effect of the bill will be seen after 15 years, Mahapatra opined: “In the next elections, the predictions and calculations will be different because we will not just take into account the SC/ST vote banks, but may be also the inclinations of the women segment.”

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