India's parliament passes historic women's reservation bill

Bill will ensure one in three legislative seats are held by female politicians

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the bill 'a tribute to the countless women who have made our nation'. Bloomberg
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India’s upper house of Parliament has passed a historic bill to reserve one in three seats in the lower house and state assemblies for women.

The Rajya Sabha passed the women's reservation bill – officially known as the Nari Shakti Vandan Adhiniyam – on Thursday, with all 215 members voting for it.

The bill passed with majority support in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, on Wednesday following eight hours of debate.

It will now be sent to President Droupadi Murmu for her approval before becoming law.

But the legislation is unlikely to be introduced until after 2027, when a census will be carried out, followed by the demarcation of new boundaries for parliamentary and assembly constituencies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the passing of the bill a “defining moment” that would ensure stronger representation and empowerment for women in India.

“This is not merely legislation. It is a tribute to the countless women who have made our nation. India has been enriched by their resilience and contributions,” Mr Modi said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“As we celebrate today, we are reminded of the strength, courage and indomitable spirit of all the women of our nation. This historic step is a commitment to ensuring their voices are heard even more effectively."

The bill proposed that 33 per cent of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha and 1,370 of the 4,109 seats in state legislative assemblies are reserved for female politicians.

It includes sub-reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Schedule Castes are reserved categories for people belonging to a lower caste in the Hindu hierarchy system. Scheduled Tribes are reserved categories for indigenous tribal communities.

The bill was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1996 but failed to win approval. It was put forward again in 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2008.

It was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010 following two days of tense debate, with marshals escorting some opposition politicians during the event. The bill lapsed after failing to make it through the lower house.

It is the first bill to be passed in India's new parliament building, which was under special session until Friday. Both houses were adjourned a day early after the vote.

There are currently 78 women in the lower house, about 14 per cent members. Women account for between 10 and 12 per cent of politicians in state assemblies, the government said.

India, which has a population of about 1.4 billion, has been pushing to increase female participation in government across the country.

Updated: September 22, 2023, 5:59 AM