Women in Parliament: Gains so far not enough

The Centre was on Tuesday expected to table the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, in the Lok Sabha during a special Parliament session that began on Monday. (Photo: PTI)
The Centre was on Tuesday expected to table the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, in the Lok Sabha during a special Parliament session that began on Monday. (Photo: PTI)


  • While the number of women in the Lok Sabha has grown gradually over the years, India’s relative position in the world has declined. This shows that the rest of the world has improved faster. A 33% reservation could lift India’s stature on this metric.

The long-pending bill to reserve seats for women in India’s national and state legislatures could give a much-needed boost to women’s role in the country’s electoral politics. Women’s representation in the Lok Sabha has increased gradually over the years, but India hasn’t quite kept pace with the progress in the rest of the world, a Mint analysis of data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) showed.

A total of 82 members of the lower house, or 15.2%, are women at present. While the number is dismal, it is a significant increase from just 4.4% in the first Lok Sabha that sat between 1952 and 1957. The figure entered double digits for the first time only in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014).

Yet, India is now among the bottom 25% countries on this metric, down from being in the bottom 40% in 1997. Percentiles, and not rankings, were used for historical comparison since the number of countries in IPU’s coverage was different each year.

The Centre on Tuesday tabled the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, in the Lok Sabha during a special Parliament session. The bill seeks to reserve 33% of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative Assemblies for women. An earlier version of the bill had been passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but it lapsed after the 15th Lok Sabha’s term ended. The bill has got consistent bipartisan support, and passing it was on the manifesto of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of both the 2014 and 2019 general elections.

India’s standing

India currently ranks 141st among 185 countries for which IPU gave data on women’s representation in Parliament as of 1 September 2023. The rank pertains to only the lower chamber in countries with bicameral legislatures. IPU is an international organization of national Parliaments. The overall share of women in Parliaments of its member nations is 26.7%. Fewer than one-third of the 185 countries have 33% or more representation of women in their single or lower house of Parliament, the IPU data showed. The list includes India’s northern neighbour, Nepal (33.1%).

Rwanda tops this list with 61% women in its lower house. Advanced countries such as Canada and the US also have shares lower than 30%. Among G20 countries, India has the second lowest share of women in its lower house, better than only Japan (10.3%). It's worth noting that quotas may have been a major factor behind the successes of higher representation of women in Parliaments of several countries.

State trends

In the 17th Lok Sabha, with the exception of Odisha (33%), none of the major states have even one-third of the parliamentary seats occupied by women. Only one woman holds the office of the chief minister—in West Bengal.

However, at the local levels—in panchayats and urban local bodies—the representation of women is much higher, thanks to the landmark 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution in the early 1990s. While only about 15% women were elected to the lower house of Parliament in 2019, there were more than 44% women in local body leadership as of 2017.

Meanwhile, state legislative assembly elections are also showing improvement in women’s representation, with Nagaland getting its first-ever women members of legislative Assembly (MLA) in its most recent election held earlier this year. However, all the gains have been minor, gradual, and only very recent—and the legislation could pave the way for quicker improvement.

Political parties

During the 15th Lok Sabha, the bill had faced strong opposition from several political parties that had advocated for reservations for backward groups within the overall 33% quota for women. While support has largely turned bipartisan since then, most political parties have failed to field a sufficient number of women candidates election after election.

In recent general elections and Assembly polls of Uttar Pradesh, the state with the biggest elected legislature, the BJP and the Congress have fielded fewer than 15% women candidates, with an exception of the Congress in 2022 in Uttar Pradesh, when it enforced a 40% quota. Political parties have some distance to cover in showing greater commitment.

A 33% share of women in the Lok Sabha would take India to the rank 54th among the 185 countries covered by the IPU list. But remember that if the change happens only in the 2029 general elections, as is likely, other countries would have made gains, too.

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