With the first budget session of the second term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance or UPA government over (and the Women’s Reservation Bill yet to see the light of day), it would be interesting to take a look at the level of participation of women MPs in this session.
According to data compiled by PRS Legislative Research - a Delhi-based independent research organization, while the average strength of women MPs (% of party total) in this Lok Sabha is 11%, their participation (again as % of party total) in this session fell short at just 8%. Across most parties, participation by women MPs was slightly lower than the party average. However, women MPs of the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP matched their male counterparts.
Among major political parties, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP has the highest percentage of women MPs (as % of total MPs) at 19% but the participation of these MPs in this session was nil. The corresponding figures for Congress are 11% and 9%, for Samajwadi Party 14% and 12%, for Janata Dal (United) or JD (U) 10% and 6% and others 8% and 5%. Only BJP’s women MPs participation matched up to their presence in the House, with both figures at 11%.
Clearly, these statistics reflect how legislative participation of our women parliamentarians - as trite as it may sound -leaves much to be desired.
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But before we pass a judgment on the lack of initiative among women MPs, there are a few points to be considered, as pointed out by experts.
Participation of women MPs in questions and debates (which require individual initiative) depends on how serious those MPs are making a contribution to the parliamentary process. However, their participation in legislative debates or on other debates of national importance is a totally different matter. In these debates, political parties decide who gets to speak for the party and usually, discussions on social issues related to women are allotted to women MPs. A case in point could be the Domestic Violence Bill that was debated in Parliament or the amendment bill that dealt with maternity leave.
While it might well be the first of the two cases, what can’t be denied is that very few political parties actually have women leading their charge in the House. Of course, some names like BJP’s Sushma Swaraj immediately come to mind but they are more of exceptions than the norm. There is an implicit yet unmistakable reluctance on the part of political parties to allow their women MPs to lead debates/discussions on crucial matters, except on issues where they need women as mascots. Unfortunately, even parties led by women (read BSP, Congress) fail on this count.
When even the existing women MPs are hardly given their due, how can we expect political parties to reach a consensus regarding providing 33% reservation to women in Parliament?