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Decades in the Making: Women's Reservation Bill Returns to Parliament Amid Hopes for Gender Equality

New Delhi, September 19, 2023 - The long-awaited Women's Reservation Bill has been presented in the Lok Sabha, reigniting a debate that has spanned over 27 years. This critical piece of legislation, which seeks to provide women with one-third of the seats in the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi and in state Legislative Assemblies, is now under parliamentary discussion.

Union Law Minister Arjun Meghwal introduced the bill at the new Parliament building on Tuesday, setting the stage for an important parliamentary session. The history of the Women's Reservation Bill has been marked by numerous attempts at passage but has faced hurdles in achieving the necessary majority.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reflecting on the bill, stated, "Discussion on the Women's Reservation Bill happened for a long time. During Atal Bihari Vajpayee's regime, the Bill was introduced several times, but there was not enough majority to pass the Bill. Today, God has given me the opportunity to take this forward... Our government is bringing a new Bill today on women's participation in both the Houses... The Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam will further empower our democracy."

The legislative journey of the Women's Reservation Bill began in September 1996 when the HD Deve Gowda-led government introduced it in Parliament. Subsequent governments have attempted to advance it, including the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA regime in 1998 and the Congress-led UPA government in 2008. However, political complexities and demands for reservation within the quota from different groups have caused delays.

The bill's revival in 2023 marks a significant step toward addressing gender disparity in political representation. Currently, women make up less than 15 percent of the Lok Sabha, and in many state Assemblies, their representation is below 10 percent.

The Women's Reservation Bill proposes reserving one-third of seats for women in the Legislative Assembly of the National Capital Territory of Delhi and in state Legislative Assemblies. This legislation is essential for empowering women in the political arena and advancing gender equality in Indian politics.

One of the primary challenges facing the bill's implementation is the existing single transferable vote method used in elections. This system allocates votes to preferred candidates, making it difficult to reserve seats for specific groups. Moreover, the Rajya Sabha does not currently have reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, requiring a constitutional amendment to change the voting system.

In a country where women's representation in politics remains notably low, the Women's Reservation Bill is a crucial step toward achieving gender equality in legislative bodies. As India moves forward with this historic legislation, it is hoped that it will pave the way for greater female participation and empowerment in the political sphere.

The debate surrounding the bill is expected to be lively, as lawmakers from across the political spectrum engage in discussions about the future of women's political representation in India.

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