Women's quotas in panchayats and Parliament are a system of reserved seats for women in elected bodies. They are intended to increase the representation of women in politics and to address the gender gap in political participation.
The first women's quota was introduced in India in 1993, when the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act reserved 33% of seats in gram panchayats (village councils) for women. In 1996, the quota was extended to all panchayats in India. In 2009, the Women's Reservation Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha (upper house of Parliament), which would have reserved 33% of seats in Parliament for women. However, the bill has not yet been passed by the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament).
There is a strong consensus among experts that women's quotas have been effective in increasing the representation of women in politics. For example, a study by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance found that the introduction of women's quotas in India led to a significant increase in the number of women elected to panchayats. The study also found that women's quotas had a positive impact on the lives of women and girls in communities, as women elected to panchayats were more likely to initiate policies and programs that benefited women and girls.
The Women's Reservation Bill, now the Constitution (106th Amendment) Act, has received presidential assent.
The bill reserves one-third of the seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for women.
It was passed during a special session in the new Parliament building.
The bill marks a new chapter in India's democratic journey.
It coincides with the 30th anniversary of the constitutional reforms that reserved one-third of seats in panchayats and municipalities for women.
The bill's enactment is contingent on the conduct of delimitation and census.
The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments mandated one-third of seats and office of chairpersons in panchayats and municipalities to be reserved for women.
The reservation system has resulted in over 3 million elected panchayat representatives, with almost half being women.
The expansion and diversification of the representative base of Indian democracy is the most successful element of constitutional reforms.
Many states have enacted laws that reserve 50% seats for women and also instituted reservations of seats for Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
There is a mix of vertical and horizontal reservations in panchayats and municipalities, with reservations for SCs, STs, OBCs, and women.
Women's reservation in local governments has yielded substantive benefits, such as increased investment in public goods and increased women's participation in panchayat meetings.
However, women's reservations have worsened the targeting of welfare programs for SC/ST households and provided no improvement for female-headed households.
A 2008 study found that women leaders perform no differently than male leaders in south India, suggesting that institutional factors are more relevant.
A 2020 study found that constituencies reserved for women in Delhi are less likely to elect OBC women and more likely to elect upper-caste women.
The impact of women's reservation in Parliament and State Assemblies is not straightforward and should have been informed by the experience in panchayats and municipalities.
The present women's reservation law is tied to the conduct of delimitation and census, which do not have a definite date.
The next delimitation exercise is likely to open up fault lines in India's federal relations.
The passing of the Bill suggests that there may be some consensus on implementing women's reservation in the near future.