The transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress. Indian women haven’t always had much by way of social agency or power whereby they could formulate strategic choices, and control resources and decisions that affect important life outcomes. This , however, hasn’t stopped them from elbowing past certain patriarchal structures to powerful effect. The introduction of Panchayat Raj in India with a strong space for women has been a landmark signpost in global democracy. It is a very a big point of extending economic and political opportunity equally to women and has set in motion a massive exercise in social engineering unprecedented in today’s ‘world system’. The conservative framework of rural India got an opportunity to break out of its shell of stagnation. Whereas in Western democracies it took long struggling years for a suffragette movement to win adult franchise for women, it was a shorter journey in India. Women are slowly overcoming deep seated cultural resistance and are trying to achieve developmental goals which were either unachievable or much harder to achieve.
There are some 250,000 village councils, or Gram Panchayats, in India. The councils choose which public goods to invest in — from drinking-water facilities to roads — and where to put them. They implement welfare schemes and public jobs programs, and decide who will benefit. As elected members of local government, the power these women have is real. This includes the power to decide both the direction and pace of local development and also to administer and monitor the implementation of those decisions. .
Development experts now widely recognize women’s role as critical to economic progress, healthy civil society, and good governance, especially in developing countries .Over the last decade, as India has expanded its social safety net and increased investments in rural infrastructure, the financial stakes of village elections have risen. The demographic makeup of those elected has a strong space for women. This is n large part a result of the constitutional requirement that a certain fraction of council head positions, or Pradhans, be reserved for them. The election of villagers from historically disadvantaged groups particularly women poses a major challenge to the traditional elite, who are used to controlling council resources.
There were several reservations whether women would be able to handle their role .The contention was that politically inexperienced and otherwise disadvantaged women would simply be overruled or manipulated by their spouses or other powerful local interests. This is not the case at all. Experience has shown that women orientate their public-goods provision more towards preference of women, namely more water and roads in West Bengal, and more water but fewer roads in Rajasthan.
We have to remember that all women, regardless of their marital status, need access to education, good jobs, and support for domestic duties. To address poverty and gender issues we need to change social dynamics, and this won’t happen without women’s involvement in the economy.For India to realize its full potential, equal participation of vulnerable populations particularly women must be advanced, giving them greater access to and control over the resources and benefits of development. For this to happen, significant changes in systems at the societal and household levels are necessary. In villages, panchayats have turned into training grounds for women who had been excluded from a role in village politics for millennia. Women have catalyzed change in large swathes of rural India.This is despite the fact that female leaders had low literacy levels and socio-economic status, and little experience, ambition or political prospects until they assumed leadership positions.
According to a study conducted by the UN Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) with over 3000 elected members of the Gram Parishad (GP) and qualitative data on select themes collected from three districts, women are moving towards leaderships roles in the Panchayati sphere, both through, reserved and unreserved seats. The study also notes that elected women have different issues as compared to their male counterparts and focus not only development but the sociological issue. These women, who have successfully challenged the traditional village male elite, were the aspirational symbols for new India.
Several women who started their political careers as self-described “rubber stamp” are now asking questions about budget allocations. However, the path they have trodden after the initial euphoria of winning the elections has not been easy. They have been prey to narrow social taboos. A lot of women undaunted by these odds have displayed exemplary performances as leaders Today, Lata is an advisor to other women. The queasiness is gone and she has now taken the village stage. . She and the other 30 women of the village have even managed to chase the local liquor shop out of their village. They walk about proudly in their uniforms – identical saris that they bought out of the money they pooled together. Contrast them with their appearances just a year ago – a group in discolored rags.
Lata Mandle’s humble story, at first, strikes little interest in a passerby. However, played out over and over again in markets, slums, barrios, and villages .it shines as a compelling and inspiring story of resolute perseverance, of the power of the human spirit, and of the dignity of so many people struggling to escape the enduring grasp of poverty.
The heroic stories of tenacious women scripting tales of success are great signs of a brighter tomorrow. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a step .Truly, there is change in the air. Though not dramatic, not a headline grabber, it is a slow and quiet transformation that is underway in remote and far-flung villages.
One inspiring step has a tendency to raise the sense of possibility in others — say, the passionate ones who dream of being active change agents. A lot of good programs got their start when one individual looked at a familiar landscape in a fresh way. They were brave enough to embrace the fierceness of the truth and tried to express it in some new way. They are the ones who lead change and define ways of making people look afresh and work out new ways for solving problems that have defied solutions for ages. They empower people to take the right step on the right ladder.
Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decade .He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org