Affirmative Action and Gender Equity

Affirmative Action and Gender Equity


The World Economic Forum’s 17th Global Gender Gap Report, released on June 20, 2023, provides a stark revelation: at the current pace of progress, it will take 131 years to bridge the global gender gap. This chasm stretches even further, to 149 years, in densely populated South Asian countries, including India. This article embarks on a journey to explore the significance of affirmative action, particularly gender-based reservations, and underscores the importance of transforming tightly guarded spaces into more inclusive arenas.


GS – 02 (Issues Related to Women and Children)


Global Gender Gap Report 2023, WEF, Global Gender Gap Index, Gender Parity, Local Governance.

Mains Question:

Examine the argument against gender-based reservations and discuss the role of affirmative action in promoting gender equity. (150 words)

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Affirmative Action
  • Women: Competence and Potential
  • Reservation and the Competence Conundrum
  • A Fresh Beginning
  • Barriers Faced by Women in Leadership Roles
  • History of Women in Leadership
  • Privilege and Leadership
  • The Role of Regressive Views

Affirmative Action:

  • Affirmative action, most prominently manifested in reservations, emerges as a compelling tool to rectify historical injustices and level the playing field for marginalized groups.
  • It hinges on the idea that creating opportunities for these groups is not synonymous with compromising efficiency or competence. It challenges the misconceived notion that it leads to inefficiency or incompetency.

Women: Competence and Potential

  • Women are not inferior to men. Any perceived incompetencies, even if they arise, tend to be transient. These shortcomings can be swiftly overcome when women are granted opportunities for skill development and empowerment.
  • Statistical evidence supports the competence of women, especially in academic pursuits. A higher number of women graduate from colleges compared to men, and they actively join the workforce.
  • However, a trend emerges as one ascends the hierarchy within various domains – the presence of women dwindles that is not an indictment of their capabilities but a reflection of the pervasive dominance of men in leadership positions.

Reservation and the Competence Conundrum:

  • One of the central contentions against reservations is that it would dilute the competence of the chosen candidates. However, this notion is empirically flawed.
  • Data underscores that women often outperform men in academics. Moreover, they are more likely to graduate from colleges and enter the workforce.
  • Paradoxically, when we observe leadership roles, the number of women diminishes. This reduction is not due to a deficit in competence but is an outcome of the prevailing male-dominated landscape.

A Fresh Beginning:

  • The dawn of September 2023 marked a new chapter in India’s parliamentary history. It witnessed the long-awaited passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill, also known as the Constitution (One Hundred Twenty-Eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023.
  • This momentous event was distinguished by overwhelming support from both Houses of Parliament. It symbolizes a groundbreaking step towards creating a more inclusive political sphere.
  • India’s founding fathers might have championed universal adult suffrage, but the role of women in shaping the nation’s political landscape remained notably limited.

Barriers Faced by Women in Leadership Roles:

  • Globally, women confront societal appreciation primarily in supportive and emotional roles rather than in leadership positions. Ambitious women are often met with resistance. The example of Hillary Clinton stands as a stark reminder.
  • Despite her political experience and acumen dwarfing her competitors, the world’s so-called pinnacle of democracy opted for an inexperienced male leader. This underscores the resistance to women in leadership roles.

History of Women in Leadership:

  • A historical analysis of women in leadership reveals a pattern. Few women attained these positions solely through merit, industry, and competence. In most cases, their entry into leadership roles was prompted by the disqualification of men or political expediency.
  • Even in the Indian political arena, women leaders were often chosen because they were considered expendable, yet their innate capabilities defied these initial perceptions.

Privilege and Leadership:

  • Privilege often emerges as a common factor for women who ascend to leadership positions. Women leaders often possess privileges such as higher education, influential mentors or family support, and often hail from upper classes or castes.
  • A potential survey would likely reveal that a significant percentage of women legislators have enjoyed university and higher education, a trend not as predominant among male legislators. These privileges aside, women often require longer journeys to reach leadership roles.
  • Even Indira Gandhi, with her elite background and early political involvement, did not assume the prime minister’s mantle immediately after Jawaharlal Nehru’s demise in 1964. She had to wait until 1966 after Lal Bahadur Shastri’s passing. In contrast, Rajiv Gandhi, her son, ascended to power swiftly after his mother’s assassination. These instances raise the question of whether an ordinary Indian woman, devoid of nepotistic advantages, can secure a prominent leadership role in a timely fashion.

The Role of Regressive Views:

  • The persistence of regressive views on gender equality, held both by men and women, is a significant hurdle. Even progressive individuals, like C. Rajagopalachari, displayed regressive attitudes when opposing Radhabai Subbarayan’s candidacy for a general seat.
  • Mulayam Singh’s claim in 2010 that the previous iteration of the women’s reservation Bill primarily served educated, urban, and elite women exemplifies this regressive mindset. His stance, mirrored by Lalu Prasad Yadav, was less a testament to their concern for women and more a consequence of fear that it would diminish men’s space in the patriarchal realm of elections.

Way Forward:

  • Reservations can be a vital catalyst for closing the gender gap, but they should not be the sole remedy. The present Women’s Reservation Bill marks a commendable first step.
  • It is now crucial to implement this legislation thoughtfully, redefining seat allocation based on the 1991 Census, akin to the approach taken for Scheduled Caste seats by the Delimitation Commission. This should not wait for the next Census and the subsequent delimitation exercise.