India: Bill to guarantee seats for women passes key stage

A law giving Indian women a guaranteed third of all state and national parliament seats passed a key vote today.

A law giving Indian women a guaranteed third of all state and national parliament seats passed a key vote today.

The country’s upper house of parliament voted overwhelmingly for the bill, despite a boycott by socialists who felt it did not go far enough.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the 186-1 vote a “historic step forward toward emancipation of Indian womanhood”.

The bill now goes to the lower house, where it is likely to pass.

Members greeted the announcement of the voting result by thumping their desks.

The vote came after socialists blocked the parliamentary debate yesterday and forced the upper house to adjourn twice today. The protesters later boycotted the voting.

The bill to reserve one-third of legislative seats for women has faced strong opposition since it was first proposed more than a decade ago, with many political leaders worried that their male-dominated parties would lose seats.

But socialists’ objection is that the bill was not wide-ranging enough: they would like to see seats reserved for ethnic minorities and people from low castes.

The bill is expected to be taken up the powerful lower house of parliament for voting next week. It will have to be approved by 15 of India’s 28 states before it becomes law.

It is expected to pass since the main opposition parties, including right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and communist groups, already have announced their support for the legislation proposed by the ruling Congress Party.

Arun Jaitley, a leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said even 63 years after India’s independence from British colonialists, women had only 10% representation in the powerful lower house of parliament. They make up nearly 50% of India’s more than a billion people.

Yesterday, angry MPs in the upper house of parliament rushed to the chairman’s seat as he presided over the session, tore up copies of the bill and tried to grab his microphone.

The house suspended seven of them today because of their behaviour, but they refused to leave the chamber, again stalling debate on the proposal and forcing parliament to adjourn twice.

The debate started after they were forcibly removed by marshals.

The proposal is an attempt to correct some of the historical gender disparities in India, where women receive less education than men and are weighed down by illiteracy, poverty and low social status.

In Ireland, 22 women were elected for the current Dáil, making up 13¼% of the representatives.

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