India to reserve half of all parliament seats for women

June 5th, 2009 - 3:42 am ICT by John Le Fevre  

Pratibha Patil India’s first woman president, Pratibha Patil, has used the opening of the Indian parliament to announce ground-braking rules that will see woman in India becoming increasingly empowered.

Under legislation to be introduced by India’s newly elected Congress-led coalition government, half the seats in elected village councils and city municipalities will be reserved for women. At present only a third of the seats in village councils are kept exclusively for women.

In addition the government has said it is committed to pressing for radical new laws to reserve a third of the elected seats in parliament and in state legislatures for women.

Patil said the incoming government had also promised that more women would be employed by the central government and that a National Mission on Empowerment of Women will be set up to implement “women-centred” welfare programmes.

Patil delivered her address, amid repeated applause from the largely male MPs, sitting next to Meira Kumar, who has just been elected as the first woman speaker of the lower house.

Kumar, 64, a former diplomat, belongs to the Dalit caste – once known as Untouchables – and was elected on a Congress party ticket from the state of Bihar.

She is part of a record 59-strong contingent of women MPs in the new parliament, but despite making history, they constitute less than 11 percent of the lower house.

Several of India’s political parties, including Congress, are led by women, yet political parties favour male candidates. The proposal to reserve a third of the seats in parliament’s lower house for women has met strong opposition, mainly from leaders of caste-based parties in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

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