Is the proposed Women’s Reservation Bill (33% reservation) good for India?

polity : Is-the-proposed-Womens-Reservation-Bill-33-reservation-good-for-India -4

Answer by Makarand Sahasrabuddhe:

YES it is as I have also argued elsewhere on Quora.

I like Balaji's answer and the data he produces from West Bengal and Rajasthan (the Raghabendra Chattopadhyay, Esther Duflo, Poverty Action Lab study[1]). The only reason to write a separate answer is that unlike Balaji, I do not think reservation for women is a necessary evil. I merely think it is necessary.

Even with all the problems, the biggest one being that women relatives act as a front for male politicians (Rabri Devi may be one of the biggest examples), I still think it is necessary. We need to start with enforced numbers and work our way up towards genuine equity.

Why do I say so?

The answer lies in the way in which voters look at women politicians. In the same study that Balaji referred to, an interesting insight was reported.

Voters in rural and urban India were asked to listen to two identical speeches – one in a male voice and one in a female voice.  They were asked to state who they found more trustworthy and capable.

  • In places where voters had no experience with women leaders, men invariably said the man sounded more capable and approved of him.

What does this mean?

It means that the patriarchal system that is prevalent in India, does not easily comprehend or accept women political leaders.  The system is loaded against women.  This is not the case only with women. In any rural (or urban) setting, decision making is controlled by a few elite, whatever the political system. I have been in hundreds of community discussions in South Asia and East Africa where only the elite voice was heard. If we wanted to really understand an issue, we had to make extra efforts of ensuring that the voices that were being suppressed had space. These voices belonged to women, the youth, ethnic / religious minorities and in India – lower castes.   If we want true representation of people then we need to create the space – forcefully if necessary.

To continue with the next finding from the study

  • In villages that had been reserved for women, men tended to like to 'female' speech more

What happened here?

Having experienced women leaders, more men recognised that women were capable of implementing good policies and that changed their opinion of women leaders. Reservations not only resulted in better services but also caused a permanent transformation of women in politics.

Long and short – The system works, perhaps slowly but we are talking of social change and not clothing fashion.

  • women leaders do end up spending more money on infrastructure that is closer to people's needs (water instead of roads)
  • women leaders tend to be and / or are perceived to be less corrupt (same study)
  • when the reservations went away from a particular seat (there is a system of rotation), women were more likely to be elected again in open seats. The share of women elected to open seats went up from almost nothing to 13% if that seat had seen one term by a woman leader and to 17% if that seat had seen two terms.

It would be foolish to oppose a system that pulls women up the ladder of power and puts them on the path to political power.

What has been good enough for Panchayat Raj institutions, which actually have a lot of power over things that matter day to day for people, should be good enough for State Legislatures and Parliament.

We have seen what nearly 7 decades of rule by men (elite men at that) has done, may be it is time to see what women can do. They cannot screw it up any more, can they?

[1] The Impact of Reservation in Panchayati Raj

Is the proposed Women's Reservation Bill (33% reservation) good for India?


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