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India’s parliament passed a landmark bill this week that will reserve one-third of its seats for women in the lower house and state assemblies, a move seen as a critical step in increasing female representation in Indian society, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Both houses of parliament approved the draft law, which is now expected to be signed by the country’s president. Once signed, it will ensure a minimum number of women legislators for a period of 15 years.
The new rules will also reserve seats for women from tribal communities and those at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. However, the legislation will not apply to the upper house of parliament.
Analysts said the bill won’t be implemented in time for next year’s national elections. Instead, its implementation hinges on the completion of the next census, which will allow authorities to revise electoral boundaries and decide which seats to designate for female representatives – a process that could take many years.
Indian officials and women’s rights advocates welcomed the bill, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying it will “usher in an era of stronger representation and empowerment for the women in India.”
Currently, women are underrepresented in India’s national parliament and state assemblies, the newspaper wrote. The country’s female workforce participation also lags behind other major Asian economies, primarily due to factors such as insufficient job opportunities and a traditional societal perspective on women’s roles.
Observers said that the passage of this legislation is expected to have far-reaching effects, such as paving the way for more women to take part in the workforce. They added that this could boost India’s economic growth, as a more diverse and inclusive workforce often leads to enhanced productivity and innovation.
Data from last year showed that just 38 million women had paid employment in India, compared with 368 million men in the country of 1.4 billion people.