New Delhi: Increasing representation for women in parliament is important but the legislative body should also mould its codes, ethics and practices to truly ensure equitable treatment of women, the head of the international organisation of parliaments feels.
Anders B. Johnsson, secretary general of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), also feels that achieving equality without a legal framework is difficult.
The IPU, with 162 member-countries, has been stressing on the need to have more women in parliaments. Johnsson says this would not be possible unless some kind of affirmative action is put in place.
India, a country of 1.2 billion, has a dismal 11 percent of women in the 545-member Lok Sabha and 10.6 percent in the 250-member Rajya Sabha. A bill to reserve 33 percent seats for women in parliament and the state legislatures was approved by the Rajya Sabha in 2010 but has yet to be presented in the Lok Sabha.
The visiting official said that parliaments have to be made a "comfortable workplace" for women.
"We have to make our parliaments a workplace where women can be comfortable," Johnsson told IANS in an interview on the sidelines of a meeting here of women speakers.
"Things like the time of functioning, the language that is used, the facilities that are provided - should all be suitable. The codes, ethics, resources, staff of parliament... all have to be moulded accordingly, because politics and parliaments have primarily been men's business," the secretary general said.
Johnsson said that equitable treatment in parliament is also important and women should not be sidelined in various parliamentary panels.
"There should be equal representation of both genders in every committee. So they can perhaps make a rule that any committee cannot have more than 60 percent members of one gender," Johnsson added.
She said that across the world, the level of representation of women "is not very brilliant as you can see".
"Less than 20 percent of parliamentarians in the world are women. And it took us 25 years to reach here from the time when it was a mere 10 percent," Johnsson said.
As per data compiled by the IPU, 20 percent of members of parliament across the world are women. Region-wise, Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) have the highest representation of 42 percent.
Asia has 18.5 percent women in parliament.
"The point is that this is not acceptable. We need to get more women in parliaments, and we need to have special measures. We would fool ourselves if we say we don't need legislation," Johnsson said.
The theme for the meeting of women speakers was creating a gender-sensitive parliament. Members from the IPU felt the debate "got limited to access" as there are too few women in parliaments to make it gender-sensitive.
"The discussion was to focus on making parliament gender-sensitive, but the issue gets restricted to access because there are so few women in parliament," said Jemini Pandya, Director of Communication at IPU.
Johnsson said there has been a lot of discussion on the Indian women's reservation bill.
"There has been a lot of discussion on it. We have been explained that the government is adopting a bottom-up approach," he said.
India has approved 50 percent reservation for women in panchayats, the local governing bodies.