The long-pending bill to reserve seats for women in India’s national and state legislatures could give a much-needed boost to women’s role in the country’s electoral politics. Women’s representation in the Lok Sabha has increased gradually over the years, but India hasn’t quite kept pace with the progress in the rest of the world, a Mint analysis of data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) showed.

A total of 82 members of the lower house, or 15.2%, are women at present. While the number is dismal, it is a significant increase from just 4.4% in the first Lok Sabha that sat between 1952 and 1957. The figure entered double digits for the first time only in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-2014).

However, despite this progress, India is among the bottom 25% countries on this metric, down from being in the bottom 40% in 1997, a historical analysis showed. Percentiles, and not rankings, were used for historical comparison since the number of countries in IPU’s coverage was different each year.

India’s current standing on this metric puts it at the 141st rank among 185 countries for which IPU gave data as of 1 September 2023. The rank pertains to only the lower chamber in countries with unicameral legislatures. IPU is an international organization of national Parliaments. The overall share of women in Parliaments of its member nations is 26.7%.

The Centre was on Tuesday expected to table the Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-eighth Amendment) Bill, 2023, in the Lok Sabha during a special Parliament session that began on Monday. The bill seeks to reserve 33% of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislative Assemblies for women. An earlier version of the bill had been passed by the Rajya Sabha in 2010, but it had lapsed after the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha, which never took it up for discussion.

The bill has got consistent bipartisan support, and passing it was on the manifesto of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of both the 2014 and 2019 general elections.

Fewer than one-third of the 185 countries have 33% or more representation of women in their single or lower house of Parliament, the IPU data showed. The list includes India’s northern neighbour, Nepal (33.1%).

Rwanda tops this list with 61% women in its lower house. Advanced countries such as Canada and the US also have shares lower than 30%.

In the 17th Lok Sabha, West Bengal (26%) and Uttar Pradesh (14%) had the highest share of women MPs, a state-wise analysis showed.

State legislative assembly elections are also showing improvement in women representation, with Nagaland getting its first-ever women members of legislative Assembly (MLA) in its most recent election held earlier this year. However, all the gains are minor, gradual, and recent—and the legislation could pave the way for quicker improvement.

A 33% share of women in the Lok Sabha would take India to the rank 54th among the 185 countries covered by the IPU list. But remember that if the change happens only in the 2029 general elections, as is likely, other countries would have made gains, too.