- The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act reserved one-third of all seats in Panchayats for women. As a result, a large number of women were elected as members and chairpersons of Panchayats.
- At national level women as Members and Presidents of Panchayats are about 46 per cent of total elected representatives. In some of the States, their share is more than 50 per cent.
Women Participation in Panchayats: An Assessment
- The Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) conducted a nationwide study entitled “Study on Elected Women Representatives in Panchayati Raj Institutions” in 2008 covering 23 States in the country.
- The study analysed different dimensions of elected women representatives’ vis-à-vis their male counterparts, track record of their political careers over the past three rounds of elections. The main findings of the study are given below:
- In terms of social groups, a large number were from more marginalized groups of society.
- Twenty per cent were illiterate, but the gender gap was significant (women-24% ; men-6%). Economically, Pradhans (president of Gram Panchayat) had a better economic status.
- Reservation facilitated the first entry into politics for 83 per cent of women elected representatives.
- Overall, the quality of participation of women assessed across various dimensions turned out to be reasonably good. As many as 86 per cent of female presidents of Panchayats reported executing the important role of being a local Panchayati Raj functionary.
Impact of Participation of Women
- Women participation in PRIs impacted them positively as 79 per cent of women representatives realised enhancement in their self-esteem, 81 per cent perceived enhancement of confidence and 74 per cent realised their enhanced capacity in decision-making ability, 67 per cent women opined that after becoming elected representatives of Panchayats their respect has been enhanced within family and 82 per cent women opined enhanced their respect in community.
- As many as 72 per cent have reported that they have been actively involved in providing civic amenities and a quite significant number (62%) made efforts in enhancing enrolment of children in schools and reducing domestic violence in the villages.
Main Recommendations of the Study are Given Below
- Enhancement of educational levels of elected representatives,
- Encouragement of joining of younger women in politics,
- Imparting relevant training and capacity building regularly, covering multiple dimensions including rules and regulations, administrative issues, budgeting and finance and the implementation of development schemes,
- Giving adequate honoraria,
- Association of women in various groups including Self-help groups and committees for increasing their visibility in villages.
- Other studies have revealed that women invested more in infrastructure relevant for rural women’s needs like water, fuel, roads while their counterparts invested more in education.
- Another empirical study showed that villagers are less likely to pay bribes in Gram Panchayats with the office of chairperson reserved for women.
- Studies show that greater female representation in the local level government system has ensured reporting of crime against women at a greater number.
The Task Ahead
- The MoPR has brought out the roadmap for the Panchayati Raj (2011-17) – An All India Perspective, in which a number of steps are suggested for empowerment of women.
- These are given below.
- Linkages with SHGs in all levels of PRIS.
- Leadership training programmes for elected women representatives.
- Peer-to-peer and horizontal learning from success stories.
- Sharing good practices and exposure visits.
- Mahila Sabhas may be encouraged to facilitate women’s concerns and be raised on priority basis in meetings of Gram/Ward Sabhas.
- Separate quorum for women participation in Gram/Ward Sabha.
- Besides these, the following are also some important suggestions for effective participation of women in Panchayats.
- Mobilisation of women into their own collectives for better outcomes. The Kudumbashree network in Kerala provides a successful example in this regard.
- Devolution of powers and authority to Institution of self-government.
- Reservation for women in services.
- The Constitution has enabled women to be instrumental in deepening decentralised governance through PRIs.
- Studies revealed that women have contributed positively in the delivery of goods and services to masses. They could play their role in a more effective way, if the suggestions given in the paper may be put into practice.
- Panchayats should function as institutions of self-government meaning thereby that they at least enjoy triple Fs (clearly defined functions, adequate funds and sufficient functionaries) at their level.