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Women in Self Governance - Best Practices in Mahila Samakhya: Chapter 6

Women in Self Governance - Best Practices in Mahila Samakhya: Chapter 6

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Published by preethi.krishnan
Case Study Compendium on Best Practices in Women's Empowerment in Mahila Samakhya. Titled " Innovation towards Education for Empowerment - Grassroots Women's Movement." Published by Best Practices Foundation
Case Study Compendium on Best Practices in Women's Empowerment in Mahila Samakhya. Titled " Innovation towards Education for Empowerment - Grassroots Women's Movement." Published by Best Practices Foundation

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Published by: preethi.krishnan on Jan 09, 2011
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Political Empowerment and Participation
Political Empowerment and Participation
1 UNDP (2009), Helping women lead change, http://www.undp.org.in/?q=undp-enhancing-women%E2%80%99s-role-and-participation-governance (last accessed on 31 October 2010)
“Women are very important to a smooth functioning of government and home. They are like one wheel of achariot, and to function well, a chariot needs both wheels.Right now, women are too burdened with the notion of their womanhood. They need to step out of that, they need tohave courage. A Panchayat is helpful in allowing them togain that courage, as it gives them a voice.” 
Anna Hazare (1999).
n spite of the fact that Indian women were active members inpolitics from the early twentieth century, it was only in 1993that their participation at all levels was guaranteed by the 73rdConstitutional Amendment. This provided 33 percent electoralquota for women in local bodies and gave recognition to thesebodies as institutions of self-governance indicating that people'sparticipation is
sine qua non
for realizing the goal of self-governance. Sweeping changes in the rural landscape wereseen as more than one million women from all communitiescompeted to become members of executive bodies of thepanchayats. Despite India having more Elected WomenRepresentatives (EWRs) than all other countries put together 
(UNDP, 2009), their participation is still limited due todiscrimination, lack of access to information, illiteracy, the doubleburden faced by women at work and at home, and mostimportantly, the fact that often women are not seen as politicalentities but merely instruments through whom men can continueto exercise political power.The Amendment gave recognition to panchayats as institutions of self-governance indicating their liberty to decide on local issues of development. The Gram Panchayat is often referred to as thegrassroots level of democracy, and as an institution of local self-governance at thevillage level. Villagerscan both voice their opinion andparticipate in thegovernance of thevillage, especiallythrough the GramSabha. Thus allmembers of a community are provided with the opportunity tohold their representatives to account on all aspects and activitiesof the Gram Panchayat through the Gram Sabha. However, lowattendance and participation in the Gram Sabha, particularly of women, prevents their priorities from being addressed.Therefore, improving women's participation and making themaware of their rights to act and engender local governance anddevelopment was a crucial step for Mahila Samakhya.The state of Uttarakhand provides an interesting picture withregard to the socio-economic and political status of women. Likemany of the northern states, women face high levels of violenceand discrimination. Unlike these states, however, women inUttarakhand, especially tribal women, have established astronghold in agriculture and production due to male migration. Itis perhaps a combination of these factors that allowed women toemerge as leaders in a range of social movements historically.
The “Gram Panchayat” is an electedbody and the primary unit of localgovernance in the Panchayati RajInstitutions at the village level.
Source: The Planning Commission of India
 As early as the 1960s, the Mahila Mangal Dals' (MMDs) struggleagainst alcoholismwas eventuallysuccessful in banningalcohol from fivedistricts of Uttar Pradesh by 1971.Rural women'sparticipation in thesecampaigns laid thefoundation for theenvironmental struggles of the seventies. As a distinctly non-violent grassroots movement, women organized themselvesagainst commercial logging operations that were threatening their livelihoods, by literally hugging the trees, known famously as the
Chipko Movement.Uttarakhand was in the vanguard of states reserving 50 percent
of seats in panchayats for women for two succeeding terms.Despite this, and the fact that women outnumber men in eight outof 13 districts in Uttarakhand, women are still unable to effectivelyparticipate as active members in the panchayats. It wasremarked that, '
therewere two fears whenthe reservation for women wasintroduced, first that it was going to be hard to find enoughwomen ready toleave their traditional roles and enter into politics, and second,that dominant menwould push their female family members into the political arena and 
then control them.' 
Studies showed that women elected in local governance systemsled to the emergence of the '
or 'Chairperson-Husband', especially among younger, new members where
husbands dominated panchayat activities. In Uttarakhand,EWRs were often accompanied by their husbands who wereshadow boxing for the womenfolk in panchayat meetings. Over time, this pattern has changed and women are activelyparticipating as elected members but often have to facedomineering elected male members in these meetings.EWRs, thus, face the dilemma of their husbands either dominating their work, or actively discouraging, or hindering their participation, while at the same time, the community is expectingthem to deliver as elected members. Being new to the politicalarena, an EWR often does not know what issues should beraised, is unaware of her responsibilities, the finances, and lacksthe administrative and technical know-how necessary for effectivedelivery. Illiteracy and lack of access to information are major deterrents to being effective. Further, many EWRs felt that their being in power was a temporary status resulting from reservationthat would end once their five year term was complete. Thus,women need the support of the sanghas, to ensure that their voices are heard in the Gram Sabha.MS used this opportunity to bring women into the political arenaacross several states (Chart 5.1). Mahila Samakhya Uttarakhand(MS Uttarakhand) through its Panchayat Literacy Programme(PLP) for community-based grassroots women had the highestnumber of sangha women entering the panchayats. This initiativewas designed to build a critical mass of women in the politicalarena and through them create this space by ensuring thatwomen's perspectives influence local governance.When MS began its work on panchayat literacy, the environmentwas predominantly male-dominated and hostile, with women
2Dighe, A (2008),
'Women's Empowerment at the Local Level (WELL)
a study undertaken inthe state of Uttarakhand' 
, Commissioned by the Commonwealth of Learning, Vancouver,Canada.3Kazmi, S. M. A (2008),,Uttarakhand reserves 50 percent seats for women in Panchayats.4Redlund, Johan,
'Women in the Panchayats - A study of gender structures and the impact of the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution’ 
,http://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=1332408&fileOId=1332409(accessed on October 31, 2010)5Shamim , Ishrat and Ranjana Kumari (2002),
Gender and Local Governance, A New Discourse in Development 
, Centre for Social Research, New Delhi, India, ,unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/.../unpan038213.pdf (accessed on 1November 2010).
"Gram Sabha" means a body consisting of persons registered inthe electoral rolls relating to avillage comprised within the area of Panchayat at the village level 
Source: The 73 Constitutional Amendment  Act, 1993
“My husband had developed anidentity as a Pradhan husband or ‘Pradhan Pati’. My role was limited tosigning papers and I acted as aPradhan for signatures only. My husband even kept the stamp in his pocket. I was limited to doing household work and felt that given my illiteracy I will never be able to deal with all the paper work involved in my responsibilities as a Gram Panchayat Pradhan.” 
Interview with Vijaya Devi, Gram PanchayatPradhan, Tehri District, Uttarakhand, June 2010.

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