UPSC Exam   »   Women parliamentarians in India

The Editorial Analysis: A ‘Man’s Parliament Striving for an Inclusive India

 

Women parliamentarians in India: Relevance

  • GS 2: Parliament and State legislatures—structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

 

Woman parliamentarians in India

  • In 1952, when the Indian Republic held its first Parliamentary session, 39 women representatives were part of it.
  • At a time when women formed only 1.7% of the total members of the United States Congress and 1.1% of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, India was leading the way with 5.5% women representation.

 

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Women in Parliament: Status today

  • Despite a woman Prime Minister, a President, and a relatively higher percentage of women parliamentarians when compared to some of the other mature democracies in the past, the struggle with inclusivity remains.
  • The number of women representatives in Parliament is still considerably small.

 

Non- gender neutral actions

  • A closer look at our parliamentary discourse and communication reveals a concerning and disconcerting absence of gender-neutral language.
  • Example: Even after 75 years of independence, Parliament often refers to women in leadership positions as Chairmen and party men.
  • In a compilation of ministerial replies to questions from the 17th Lok Sabha so far for 75 women Parliamentarians, it was found that 84% of the answers that used salutations (sir/madam) referred to women Parliamentarians as ‘sir’.
  • In the Rajya Sabha, the Rules of Procedure continue to refer to the Vice-President of India as the ex-officio Chairman, reflecting the lack of gender-neutral language in the Constitution of India.
  • Moreover, references to inherently masculine pronouns are made over 150 times in the former and 600 times in the latter.
  • In the last decade, there have hardly been any gender-neutral Acts by the Parliament.
  • In its present state, the Constitution reinforces historical stereotypes that women and transgender people cannot be in leadership positions.

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Women parliamentarians in India: Steps taken

  • In 2014, the then Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Meira Kumar, the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha were made entirely gender neutral.
  • Since then, each Lok Sabha Committee Head has been referred to as Chairperson in all documents.

 

International experience

  • Canada has guidelines for using gender-neutral language in all forms of legislation and legal documentation.
  • The Australian government has incorporated gender-neutrality in its drafting Style Manual.
  • The U.K.’s House of Commons declared in 2007 that all laws would be drafted gender-neutrally.

 

Way forward

  • Once the language is corrected, the entire country can focus on the deeper issues of the aspirations and growth of its woman workforce.
  • In the 21st century, when people of all genders are leading the world with compassion, strength and ambitions, the Indian Parliament needs to reflect where it stands.
  • Recognition and correction of past errors through amendments to rulebooks, laws, and the Constitution are just starting points, and must lead to sensitivity, equal treatment, and appreciation for the people of India, regardless of gender.

 

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