India’s parliament passed a landmark bill Thursday that will reserve a third of its seats in the lower house and state assemblies for women, in a major win for rights groups that have for decades campaigned for better gender representation in politics.
A total of 215 lawmakers from the upper house voted in favor of the bill, which was introduced by prime minister Narendra Modi’s government in a special parliamentary session on Tuesday. It was approved by the lower house on Wednesday.
“A historic moment in our country’s democratic journey!” Modi wrote on Twitter after its approval. “With the passing of this bill, the representation of women power will be strengthened and a new era of their empowerment will begin.”
Six attempts to pass the bill, first introduced in 1996, have failed, at times due to strong disapproval from some lawmakers.
In India, the world’s largest democracy of 1.4 billion people, women make up nearly half of the country’s 950 million registered voters but only 15% of lawmakers in parliament and 10% in state assemblies.
Despite being voted through, the implementation of the quota could take years as it depends on the redrawing of electoral constituencies, which will happen after the completion of India’s once-in-a-decade census.
That huge census project was meant to take place in 2021, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and has been stalled ever since.
Nonetheless, the bill’s passage in parliament will be seen as a further boost to Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of national elections next year.
While India has made progress on women’s issues in recent years, it remains a deeply patriarchal country and has some of poorest participation numbers for women in politics.
It has, since its independence in 1947, had one female prime minister. India Gandhi served as the country’s leader twice before her assassination in 1984.
India’s current President, Droupadi Murmu, who was appointed to the position last year became only the second woman to take the seat.