- Describe how women are using the local self-governance as a platform to steer grassroots democracy and women welfare.
Over the last 2 decades, the gender landscape in rural India has slowly changed bringing women to the cusp of powerful social and political revolution. To empower women is the greatest impediment to universal progress. Though Indian women enjoy Constitutional equality, deeply entrenched stereotypical norms, illiteracy and socio-economic subjugation thwart their freedom. Bereft of much social agency or political power, they could not control resources or direct decision-choices that are important to their lives.
In 1993, India introduced the Panchayati Raj (73rd Constitutional Amendment Act) as a means of village self-governance (Gandhi’s vision), which is close to the ideal of direct democracy. It has helped in developing and strengthening the basic infrastructure that satisfies the needs of the grassroots people. It serves as a bridge b/w the central government’s policies and services delivered at the block & village levels.
PRIs and women : the space for women which PRIs provide has dramatically increased the political representation of women in local governance and has spurred the success of grassroots women empowerment. Its immediate impact on gender balance will have long-term effect of changing perceptions about women’s leadership potential and capabilities.
There were initial reservations about whether women can handle their new role as representatives of grassroots democracy. The contention was that disadvantaged & politically-inexperienced women would be overruled and manipulated by their male counterparts. Yet, women are gradually overcoming this deep-seated cultural resistance. It has been experienced that women are not just equal to the task, but better orient public goods towards the preferences of women. There is perceptible opening in the political space too with women setting standards for demographics & social indices. These women have slowly learned to climb the political pole and are actively exploring other options available to them as citizens.
Women are changing governance, evident in the issues they chose to tackle – water, alcohol abuse, health, domestic violence, etc. Many rural women are using the PRIs as opportunity to make politics less cumbersome & corrupt. The presence of female leader has significantly increased the aspirations of young girls & women, besides improving educational outcomes for adolescent girls, which will improve the labor market over time and help to bridge the ratio of male-female working populations. Women are also influencing the delivery of public services.
Thus, women are challenging the traditional village elite male setting by defying social codes to become powerful aspirational symbols & role models.
However, there still remain domination of discriminatory practices against women. Several factors constrain the effective participation of women leaders. The patriarchal culture sees women neither as political entities nor allow them to develop that potential. Lack of basic familiarity with political governance & absence of legal literacy too comes in its way. Still, it should be remembered that women empowerment is a journey, not a fixed point yielding to simple policies. India has certainly set a stellar example by reserving seats for women in local governance. It sets an example of how a country can successfully empower its women politically, economically, and socially.