The Bihar government recently announced 33% horizontal reservation for women in State engineering and medical colleges.
- While reservation for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) is referred to as vertical reservation.
- Horizontal reservation refers to the equal opportunity provided to other categories of beneficiaries, such as women, veterans, the transgender community, and individuals with disabilities, cutting through the vertical categories.
- Bihar at present has 60% reservation in the State higher educational institutions along the six vertical categories (SCs, STs, EWS and so on).
- The newly announced reservation for women in engineering and medical seats will not be in addition to this, it will instead be distributed across all the vertical categories, including the non-reserved 40% seats open to all.
- For example, if an engineering college has 100 reserved seats for STs, 33 of those seats will have to be filled with ST women.
- Article 15(3) of the Constitution allows governments to make special provisions for women and children.
About Horizontal Reservation:
- Reservation is a form of positive discrimination, created to promote equality among marginalised sections, so as to protect them from social and historical injustice.
- Generally, it means giving preferential treatment to marginalised sections of society in employment and access to education.
- Horizontal Reservation refers to the equal opportunity provided to other categories of beneficiaries such as women, veterans, the transgender community, and individuals with disabilities, cutting through the vertical categories.
- Article 15(3) allows protective discrimination in favour of women.
- Article 15(4) and 16(4) of the Constitution enabled the State and Central Governments to reserve seats in government services for the members of the SC and ST.
- The Constitution was amended by the Constitution (77th Amendment) Act, 1995 and a new clause (4A) was inserted in Article 16 to enable the government to provide reservation in promotion.
- Article 335 of the Constitution says that the claims of SCs and STs shall be taken into consideration constituently with the maintenance of efficacy of the administration.
Dropping out of the workforce:
- This horizontal reservation initiative should be welcomed and adopted across sectors, departments, and States given that India’s female labour force participation (FLFP) rate is consistently declining and is worryingly low.
- World Bank data show that the FLFP came down to 21% in 2019 from 31.79% in 2005.
- As per the Bihar Economic Survey 2019-20, the State’s FLFP rate was abysmal compared to the all-India average.
- Only 6.4% and 3.9% women were employed in the urban and rural areas of Bihar compared to the all-India figures of 20.4% and 24.6% respectively.
- The FLFP rate needs to be treated cautiously though as it doesn’t take into account unpaid work (majorly performed by women) or the role played by social barriers like caste in blocking employment opportunities for women like owning a shop.
- The governments needs to work towards reducing the female and male school dropout rate and ensure quality education at the primary and secondary level.
More jobs for women:
- While the Bihar government has taken some laudable steps for the empowerment of women, the low female literacy rate and FLFP rate are of concern.
- One of the important factors for the low FLFP rate is the lack of employment opportunities for women after matriculation and graduation.
- The India Human Development Survey-II found that women with low levels of education and from rural areas are relatively more active in the labour market compared to women with middle or high school education.
- Therefore, the Bihar government needs to ensure that women don’t fall out of the labour market as they become more educationally qualified.
- One way this can be done is by filling up pending vacancies in the health sector, police force, teaching and other government departments as at least 35% of these posts will go to women.
- The government should also do away with hiring workers on contract and make all the current contractual workers permanent.
- A strong political will is indispensable to find an equilibrium between justice to the backwards, equity for the forwards and efficiency for the entire system.
Way Ahead by the author:
- Evidence points out that increasing women’s participation in the workforce to the level of men boosts the economy.
- In light of this, it is important for the government to make more and more jobs available for women.
- The Bihar government should also extend the engineering and medical quota for women to all institutions of higher education, including private colleges and universities.
- Further, the quota allotted to them can be increased to 40-45%, if not 50%, and the category can be renamed as ‘women and transgender persons’.
Fair and practical ways to help needy person from each community through reservation is possible and necessary.
The process of reservation should filter the truly economically deprived individuals and bring them all to justice.
Revolutionary changes in the education system at the grass-roots level is need of the hour.
Patriarchal control of women and systemic gender discrimination cannot be defeated by government intervention alone. State welfare schemes can go a long way in challenging them.
Other State governments and the Union government should follow the Bihar government’s lead and introduce horizontal quota for women (and in addition, for transgender persons) in higher educational institutions as well as State employment as these measures will go a long way in reducing gender disparity in the country.
In addition, initiatives like reservation of seats, when implemented properly, could become an important driver for improving the FLFP.