New Delhi: While political parties in India may still be divided on reserving one-third of parliamentary seats for women, a unique, quantitative analysis of the social impact of quotas suggests that such policy action could significantly increase aspirations among girl children as well as their parents for coveting leadership positions, and accessing education and better careers.
The research that was based on a study in West Bengal’s Birbhum district interviewed 8,453 male and female teenagers and their parents in 495 villages between 2006 and 2007. West Bengal implemented a 33% women’s reservation policy in 1998, by which leadership positions were randomly assigned to them.
The results published in the latest issue of the journalScience found that the gender gap in aspirations for their children’s career and education reduced by one-fourth in parents and the gender gap in career and education aspirations closed by 32% in adolescents.
Awaiting nod: A file photo of activists shouting slogans in favour of the women’s reservation Bill outside Parliament in March 2010. The Bill is still hanging fire in the Lok Sabha with various parties opposing it. Hindustan Times
These reductions occurred when comparing responses of parents and children in villages that never had reserved seats with those that twice reserved seats for women chiefs during two elections in 1998 and 2003.
“The decline in the gender gap is entirely driven by an increase in girls’ aspirations, not by a decrease in boys,” said Lori Beaman, an economics professor at Northwestern University and one of the study’s authors. She added that adolescent Indian girls were more likely to be attending school and spending less time on household chores in the villages that reserved political positions for women.
Other authors include Esther Duflo of the department of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Rohini Pande of the Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University; and Petia Topalova of the International Monetary Fund.
“There weren’t any concurrent changes in education infrastructure or career options for young women during this time,” said Beaman. “The changes in behaviour among adolescents can be attributed to the role model effect of the women leaders.”
In July, the Union cabinet cleared a proposal that allows states to increase the number of reserved seats for women, from the existing one-third to half. However, legislation that proposes reserving one-third of seats in the Lok Sabha for women is still hanging fire, with various parties such as the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal opposing the move.
Mohan Singh, a senior SP leader, said his party’s opposition to the proposed reservation in the Lok Sabha had been misconstrued. “At the local level, we had meticulously implemented (reservation) in Uttar Pradesh, including in educational institutes,” he said. “But there are different complexities that work in the Lok Sabha.”
Independent analysts added that even the “role model” paradigm couldn’t be extrapolated across India.
“It’s almost a no-brainer that a greater participation by women could have a substantially positive effect on society,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, political analyst. “But this study—significant and important as it is—can’t really influence political action on the women’s reservation Bill. Key questions, such as the social and economic background of the elected women, over-representation of a particular class, could potentially skew the benefits of reservation.”