NEW DELHI: The country seems set to have an army of women politicians. UPA-2 may have failed to deliver
on its promise of 33% reservation for women in legislatures within 100 days but it has kept its word on
empowerment at the grassroots with the Union Cabinet on Thursday clearing a proposal to increase
reservation for women to 50% in panchayats.
The proposal, reported by TOI earlier, aims to amend Article 243D of the Constitution that currently
provides for 33% reservation for women in panchayats. This is proposed to be increased to 50%.
The “women only” seats in panchayats are rotated.
States where 50% women’s quota is already in force has boosted their status. In Bihar, it has seen the
spouses of women heads of panchayats styling themselves as `mukhiyapatis’ in a sybolic
yet significant role reversal.
Panchayats are expected to serve as nurseries for women leaders, preparing them for tasks they
may have to shoulder in case the addiction for politics endures.
It was during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as PM that the idea of decentralising power and empowering women
at the grassroots was mooted. The one-third reservation for women in panchayats came through the
73rd constitutional amendment during PV Narasimha Rao’s tenure as PM.
The move will at one stroke boost the number of women politicians at the grassroots as the experience
of Bihar — the first state to reserve half of the panchayat seats for women — shows — making the a
dministration more gender-sensitive.
Taking the lead in women empowerment, five states — Bihar, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh
and Chhattisgarh — already have 50% reservation for women as states have the power to bring in
amendments in their state laws to increase women’s representation up to 50%.
Rajasthan has also announced 50% reservation that will be implemented in the next panchayat
election in early 2010. Kerala, too, has announced 50% reservation for women in panchayats and
other local bodies.
In Uttarakhand, women have an overwhelming 55% representation in panchayats as many of them
contested even from non-reserved seats and won. But the state works through the UP Panchayat Act
and is yet to have its own law.
With the proposed constitutional amendment, the number of elected women’s representatives at the grassroot l
evel is expected to rise to more than 14 lakh. At present, women account for 36.87% of the
total 28.1 lakh elected panchayat representatives.
I&B minister Ambika Soni said after the Union Cabinet meeting that a proposal to have 50% quota for
women in urban local bodies is likely to be taken up later.
Panchayati raj minister CP Joshi called Thursday’s decision as historic saying it would take
empowerment of women to another level.
All India Democratic Women Association general secretary Sudha Sundararaman said,
“This will facilitate increased participation of women in decision making and strenghten the d
emocratic process. But this measure must be followed up with the passage of the women’s reservation Bill