The landmark Women's Reservation Bill, formally known as the 108th constitutional amendment, that would reserve a third of the seats in India’s national and state legislatures for women, was finally passed by the Upper House of Indian Parliament. Around the world, 18.8% of national parliamentary positions are held by women, while in India, the rate is 10.8% (59/545) in Lower House and 9% (21/233) in Upper House. This reservation is an extension of the already existing reservation of one-third seats for women in all local government bodies.
For a global perspective, Economix has this nice interactive graphic and link to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) dataset on women's representation in Parliament's across the world.
Supporters of women's reservation argue that women representatives do a better job of reflecting the preferences of all constituents (especially those of the family as a whole). Nancy Folbre has an excellent survey of the literature on the impact of women's reservation.
Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo examined the dataset collected on 265 Village Councils in West Bengal and Rajasthan since mid-nineties (when the one-third seats were reserved) find that "women leaders invest more in infrastructure that is directly relevant to the needs of their own genders". They find that women leaders prefer public investments in water supply (for which they are largely responsible in their households) to those in roads (which they are less likely than men to use).
Radu Ban and Vijayendra Rao of the World Bank examineds the impact of reservation of seats in local governments from South India and find that contrary to apprehensions of such women being token appointments (are appointed by elites, and are poorly educated and aged), these women "leaders are drawn from the upper end of the quality distribution of women". However, interestingly, they find that "female leaders perform no differently than male leaders and are no more likely to make decisions that favor women's concerns". They find that "institutional factors matter much more for women than for men - women perform better than men in situations where they have more political experience, live in villages less dominated by upper castes, and in states where the panchayat system is more mature".
However, Indira Rajaraman and Manish Gupta question the extent to which leaders can influence council outcomes and offer evidence that women leaders respond to the expressed needs of all their constituents.
Rikhil Bhavnani find from electoral results from Mumbai that "the probability of a woman winning office conditional on the constituency being reserved for women in the previous election is approximately five times the probability of a woman winning office if the constituency had not been reserved for women". They therefore argue that aprt from the direct impacts, "reservations work in part by introducing into politics women who are able to win elections after reservations are withdrawn and by allowing parties to learn that women can win elections".
Lori Beaman, Raghebendra Chattopadhyay, Esther Duflo et al find evidence from West Bengal that exposure to a female leader "weakens stereotypes about gender roles in the public and domestic spheres and eliminates the negative bias in how female leaders' effectiveness is perceived among male villagers". Consistent with this progressive social acceptance, they find that "after 10 years of the quota policy, women are more likely to stand for and win free seats in villages that have been continuously required to have a female chief councillor".
Economix points to a graphic of the differential in wages of full-time workers between men and women. Across industrialized countries, men’s median, full-time earnings were 17.6% higher than women’s.
Part of the explanation for this is the fact that at the top of the income scale, the salary gap between equally qualified men and women is still vast. This graph of the median pay across 90 jobs in the US brings this out nicely. This graph (dataset here) is likely to be even more skewed in India.
Even in the developed economies, the more substantive reason for the gender wage gap is not overt discrimination but the institutional and social constraints that women face - different academic and career choices, greater role of family lives on career etc. Such institutional constraints are much more important in developing economies where they include traditional and social instituional constraints. This OECD graphic indicates how India (and otehr countries of Africa, Middle East and South Asia) continues to remain classified as countries with elevated level of discrimination against women in social institutions.
Update 1 (24/3/2010)
In 2002, Norway enacted a law requiring that 40 percent of all board members at state-owned and publicly listed companies be women by 2008.
Since then, Spain and the Netherlands have passed similar laws. Now Belgium, Britain, Germany, France and Sweden are considering legislative measures involving female quotas. And although Germany is also debating such a law, Deutsche Telekom, which is based in Bonn, announced last week that it would voluntarily introduce a quota aiming to fill 30 percent of upper and middle management jobs with women by the end of 2015.
See this NYT debate on quotas for women in company boards.