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BJD’s decision to reserve seats for women is great but it’s half the job done

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Sunday said the Bjiu Janata Dal (BJD) will field women candidates in at least 33% of the 21 parliamentary seats from the state in the Lok Sabha elections, which begins on April 11. The BJD has a record of taking steps to ensure the representation of women in the governance structure: Present CM’s father, former CM late Biju Patnaik, introduced 33% reservation for women in the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) in the state, and in 2012, his son increased this quota to 50% for both panchayat and urban local bodies.

It is, however, important to also keep in mind that Naveen Patnaik has not extended the same policy to the 147 assembly seats in the state, where the BJD is up against the BJP. Still, his announcement does mark progress. At a national level, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has once again promised to get the Women’s Reservation Bill (108th Constitution Amendment Bill) passed in the Lok Sabha if the party comes to power.

This focus on expanding women’s political representation is a positive trend. Other than altruistic reasons (if any), parties are focusing on this segment because women in India are casting their ballots more frequently, and in greater numbers. “Today, women’s turnout has actually been higher than that of men in two-thirds of India’s state elections. This is a remarkable turn of events in a deeply patriarchal, conservative society,” said a 2018 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report. Why is this happening? “That remains something of a puzzle. There is likely a combination of push and pull factors at work: more women want to vote, and institutions are encouraging them more to go to the polls,” the report added.

When credible women candidates are backed by mainstream parties, there is no reason why women voters won’t pick them.

While the BJD’s move is commendable —- it must be emulated by other parties —- reserving seats for women is just half the job done. To strengthen the quality of polity and governance, parties must choose women candidates who have a good track record, not just those who ride on family backing and monetary power. And one important pool of representatives that they must tap is the panchayat segment. There are many women representatives who have done extremely good work at that level despite various structural, procedural and social hurdles. They must be groomed now to be leaders at the assembly/national level.

First Published:
Mar 11, 2019 19:38 IST

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