Local Governance: (Re)presenting Women

According to a recent A. C. Neilsen ORG MARG survey, the approximately 10.5 lakh women in panchayati raj (village level governance) have gained significant influence in key decision-making.  In fact, the report has also found that a larger proportion of women have risen to local governance positions within the panchayati raj:

The survey, conducted across 24 states and likely to be tabled in Parliament in early April, also emphasises that of the overall 28 lakh male and female panchayat members across the country, 80,000 women sarpanchs (chairpersons) have been elected to positions of responsibility.

This transferrance of governing power into the hands of women is significant, as, according to the study, female panchayat members tend to be concerned about key issues such as “dealing with the effective functioning of the midday meal programme, health and sanitation, and potable drinking water.”  In fact, the Hunger Project has even gone so far as to call this “transfer of power” the “greatest social experiment of our time.”

In response, states such as Bihar and Sikkim have extended reservations for women within the panchayati raj to 50%.  Problems persist, however, as women still face backlash from their families and communities, and must combat illiteracy during the course of their tenure.  Complementary employment and literacy programs are necessary in order to further maximize on the impact of women’s rise in local governance.

Source:  OneWorld South Asia

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