India’s Parliament Voted and the Legislature’s Going One-Third Female

by Jamie Doak

India’s upper house of parliament voted 186-1 (whoa) to pass the women’s reservation bill which would mandate that women occupy one-third of all seats in the national and state legislatures.  It was passed the day after International Women’s Day and excited cries of “we made it!” could be heard outside of parliament last night from female lawmakers.  It’s pretty cool because activists say that the bill will increase women’s participation in politics and help contribute to the United Nations Millennium Development goals.  

But, obviously, there are some folks that are more than displeased about the bill’s passage arguing that the bill favors wealthy women and encourages powerful men to use their wives and daughters as substitutes.  (Uh, why does that sound familiar?  Oh yeah….  Good old President Grover Cleveland in 1905, ahem, “Women suffrage would give to the wives and daughters of the poor a new opportunity to gratify their envy and mistrust of the rich.  Meantime these new voters would become either the purchased or cajoled victims of plausible political manipulators or the intimidated and helpless voting vassals of imperious employers.”) 

Other critics refer to the bill as anti-Muslim contending that the few Muslim or Dalit (low-caste) men in parliament are likely to be replaced by women who were either non-Muslim or of a higher caste leaving those groups without representation.

We’ll see how it plays out but it’s headed to the lower house where it is likely to pass.  And just for comparison sake: Worldwide, women account for 18.8 per cent of parliamentary members and in the US women make up just 16.8 per cent of Congress. 

Information and image from The Christian Science Monitor

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