Women empowerment

Q. “The reservation of seats for women in the institutions of local self-government has had a limited impact on the patriarchal character of the Indian Political Process.” Comment.

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A million women have been elected at the village, block and district levels, following the 73rd Constitutional Amendment which reserved 33 percent of seats in Panchayati Raj Institutions for women. The process of decentralization has provided representation but representation has not always led to their participation in the Indian political process.

Patriarchal Character of Indian Political Process

▪️The practice of “Sarpanchpatis”: The effective political power and decision making are wielded by husbands or other male relatives of elected women representatives. This makes the intended empowerment of women through reservation infructuous.

▪️Rubber stamps: Most of these women are just rubber stamps with the men in their house- can be the husband, father or the son – running the show. They also work as proxies for rural elites hence restricting their autonomy.

▪️Lack of exposure of women themselves to politics and the absence of any experience in exercising their political responsibilities hinder their participation. Since most women are illiterate and do not have any training of handling technical issues and financial deals, they have no option but to take assistance from male family members.

▪️Stereotypes and traditional norms: This relegates women to the domestic sphere and dissuades them to engage in public affairs. Caste and class factors also play a key role that restrict women to take leadership roles.

▪️The burden of household responsibilities, purdah (veil) system, etc adversely affect their performance.

However, there have also been many positive impacts of women representation:

▪️Women have done considerable development work on the ground, for example, women sarpanch of Dhani Miyan Khan Gram Panchayat in Haryana built a training centre for women and ensured that every village child went to school.

▪️Elected women representatives are also more accessible than their male counterparts who are often not around.

▪️It has been seen that though women lacked confidence initially but exposure to local politics gave them new confidence to take independent decisions and not become a proxy of male candidates.

▪️There has been a marked improvement in social development parameters such as education and health where panchayats are led by women.

Way forward

▪️Capacity Building of Elected Women Representatives (EWR) and Functionaries of PRIs: This would prepare women to discharge multiple roles, enabling them to raise local priorities to the planning process.

▪️Strengthening women’s groups and building networks: Formation of women’s forums and networks to develop a sense of solidarity amongst the women.

▪️Institutionalisation of mechanisms to strengthen the capacity building of EWRs to better understand and perform their functions.

▪️Mobilisation of community and strengthening the processes of constituency building to enable women to better articulate their voices and participate in the electoral process.

The reservation of women at the local level has had various social and developmental impacts like promotion of nutrition, sanitation drive, behavioral changes, etc. Also, women are more aware of their rights now which could be seen in women voters outnumbering men voters in states like Bihar. However, women’s participation in politics in a true sense is still to be realized. Their participation in the political process is a matter of human right and a key in deepening our democracy. It would also help India in realizing the SDG-5 (Sustainable Development Goal) that aims to end gender inequality in all forms.

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