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India’s women’s reservation bill : increasing women’s representation through electoral engineering Sull, Menka

Abstract

The Women's Reservation Bill was originally introduced into the Indian Parliament in 1996. It promised a reservation of 33% for women in all legislatures. Since then, the Bill has been introduced and temporarily set aside three times - the last of which occurred in May 2003. All major political parties have supported the Bill regardless of their ideological stance, yet they have not been able to come to a consensus on the exact nature of the reservation. The central question, then, is two-fold: why have politicians and affirmative action theorists advocated reservations as a means to increase the representation of women? Are reservations a useful policy to pursue? In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to examine feminist and affirmative action theories, comparative evidence on quotas, and the nature of electoral and party politics in India. Reservations have been advocated by parties that have electoral gains to be made; conversely, parties that oppose the Women's Reservation Bill are ones that will likely lose votes and seats. The theoretical and comparative evidence suggests reservations are a powerful and useful tool to increase the numbers of women in decision-making institutions. While there may be some problems associated with reservations, they can act as an important step in breaking the male dominance of legislative institutions, particularly when parties and institutions are not conducive to the election of women. Reservations allow for both inclusion and effective participation.

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