Breaking Barriers: The Journey to Gender Equality in Indian Politics

Written by: Altamash Khan

India, the world’s largest democracy, has a rich history of women’s participation in politics and governance. The struggle for gender equality and political representation has been a long and arduous one, dating back to the pre-independence era. The roots of women’s political participation in India can be traced back to when pioneering women like Annie Besant, Sarojini Naidu, and Kamala Nehru actively contributed to the freedom movement. Their participation in the Indian National Congress and other nationalist organizations laid the foundation for women’s involvement in politics.

After gaining independence in 1947, India held its first general elections in 1952. These elections marked a significant turning point for women’s representation in the Indian Parliament. The Constitution of India, which came into effect in 1950, granted women equal voting rights, paving the way for their active participation in the democratic process.

In the first Lok Sabha (House of the People) election, 22 women were elected as Members of Parliament (MPs). Prominent among them was Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, who served as the Health Minister in India’s first cabinet. This early progress in women’s representation was significant but still fell far short of achieving gender parity.

Recognizing the underrepresentation of women in the Indian Parliament, the government introduced the Women’s Reservation Bill. In 1993, the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution mandated that one-third of seats in local bodies (Panchayats and Municipalities) be reserved for women. This landmark move aimed to empower women at the grassroots level and encourage their participation in politics.

In 1996, the Indian Parliament passed the 81st Amendment to the Constitution, proposing a similar provision for women in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. The Women’s Reservation Bill sought to reserve one-third of the seats in these bodies for women, a move hailed by many as a step towards achieving gender equality in politics.

Despite the bill’s noble intentions, it faced significant opposition and controversy. Critics argued that the reservation system might lead to tokenism and that women elected under these quotas might be perceived as less legitimate. Political parties also grappled with the question of whether to field female candidates in these reserved constituencies.

The bill faced multiple delays and remained a topic of debate and discussion for years. While it was passed in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of Parliament) in 2010, it has yet to be approved by the Lok Sabha (the lower house) to become law. Political manoeuvring and shifting priorities have further delayed its implementation.

However, on a historic day in 2023, the Women’s Representation Bill finally saw the light of day. After years of perseverance and advocacy by women’s groups, activists, and progressive politicians, the bill was debated, voted upon, and ultimately passed by the Lok Sabha.

The passage of the Women’s Representation Bill was a monumental achievement for Indian democracy. It not only demonstrated the commitment of India to gender equality but also showcased the power of collective action and advocacy. Women from diverse backgrounds and regions came together to demand equal representation in the highest echelons of political power.

The enactment of the Women’s Representation Bill is expected to have far-reaching consequences for Indian politics. It will usher in a new era of greater gender parity, empowering women to participate more actively in shaping the nation’s future. The bill will not only increase the number of women MPs but also create an environment that encourages political parties to field more female candidates.

Moreover, the passage of this bill sends a powerful message to the world about India’s commitment to gender equality and the inclusion of women in decision-making processes. It serves as an inspiration for other countries striving to overcome barriers to women’s political participation.

About the writer: Altamash Khan is a contributing journalist who has completed his Journalism at the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University. He has over half a decade of experience writing on a wide range of topics, from politics and social issues to technology and Brands. In addition to his journalism work, Altamash also works as a Public Relations and Brand Strategist, helping communicate Brand messages to the World. He would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Leave a comment below or reach out to us on social media to share your opinions.