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Worldwide millions of women   have traditional responsibilities as food growers, water and fuel gatherers, and care-givers. In South   Asia, women make up   make up 43% of the agriculture workforce in developing countries and account for around 66% of the world’s subsistence livestock keepers. Women secure clean water for drinking and cooking; they are familiar with non-timber forest products (medicinal plants and alternative food sources); and in many countries they play a major role in managing natural resources for their families’ and communities’ wellbeing. .

India has been the crucible for one of social democracy’s most innovative experiment .In an effort to increase women’s participation in politics in   1993 constitutional amendment mandated that a randomly selected third of leadership positions at every level of local government be reserved for women. This policy experiment dramatically increased the political representation of women at the local government level through quotas. This is the lowest tier  in a three-tiered system of local government  and is known as village council, or gram Panchayat, which is responsible for the provision of village infrastructure—such as water supply  ,health centre ,schools , ,local  government offices —and for identifying government program beneficiaries.

The hope is that such a quota system, beyond its immediate impact on gender balance among leaders, will have long-term effects on women’s status in society by changing perceptions of their leadership capabilities and shaping beliefs about what they can achieve

More and more countries are seeing the wisdom of decentralization. Local control of local programs are  better able to mobilize public support ,more responsive in meeting local needs, more flexible in meeting local conditions, and However, decentralization is not easy. The skill levels in impoverished communities can be very low. And, in countries where democracy has been established in a top-down manner, a feudal mindset may still prevail; both the government and the people may not be aware that government should be accountable to the people – not the other way around.

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. Panchayats are a gift of a seismic reform, a long hard campaign to decentralize power from the states to local elected bodies known as Panchayats, cutting out much of the bureaucratic cancer altogether The rise of Indian women as Panchayat leaders is a spectacular achievement given that India has one of the worst records with respect to the way it treats the female sex. By creating empowered female role models, the new democratic model has led villagers to visualize more equal aspirations for their teenage sons and daughters and to reduce their daughters’ domestic chores and increase their schooling. The weight of the evidence indicates that governance makes a difference but is not the sole determinant of economic growth.

The most important feature of good local governance is participation. People not only vote every few years; they have direct voice in decision-making and governance through citizen committees, public forums, and voluntary action campaigns.  It is clear that women’s leadership in Panchayats is transforming India. The presence of a women leader in the village significantly increased parents’ aspirations for themselves, their daughters and also improved educational outcomes for   girls, which can improve labor market outcomes for women over them

Several women who started their political careers as self-described “rubber stamp” are now asking questions about budget allocations and priorities .These women, who have successfully challenged the traditional village male elite, are the aspirational symbols for new India. For them the posts of village heads offer the only real opportunity to bring change to their communities. When these seats are coupled with new skills – from public speaking to resource management – they are better prepared to negotiate the political space that has opened for them.

According to Harvard’s Prof Rohini Pande, girls raised in villages with a female leader spent less time doing domestic chores, and – importantly – were more likely to score higher in school exams than girls from other villages. Test scores for boys remained roughly the same.

Parents in villages with a female leader were more likely to say that they wanted their daughters to receive more education, marry later, and have more career opportunities available to them. Prof Pande adds: “The question is: is it the teenage girl who sees [the female leader] as a role model and changes her mind? Or is it her mother who sees [the female leader] and brings home the message ‘This is what you can be’ to her daughter?”

Political parties have encouraged destructive political competition, the consequences of this can easily spiral down to individual households because of intense political mobilization at the grassroots. The directive that Panchayat elections are not to be fought on the basis of political party affiliations has been discarded for all practical purposes,   Elections determine who has the power, not who has the truth. Women aspirants bear the worst blows of this abuse. But it will finally be the women again who will hold to the truth as best as they will see it, even if it suffers political defeat.

The heroic stories of tenacious women scripting tales   success are great signs of a brighter tomorrow . Women’s empowerment isn’t just a part of development. It’s really the core of development.     Empowerment is not something that happens one time. Overturning cultural and social mores is no easy task. But making empowerment an important component of social programmes can unconsciously and meaningfully alter social perceptions and mindsets. Truly, there is change in the air. Though not dramatic, not a headline grabber, it is a slow and quiet transformation that definitely is underway in remote and far-flung villages. Quietism has its own unique appeal and strength..Women who so far had been diffident and withdrawn are gradually shedding their earlier reticence and stepping out of the four walls of their homes to acquire an identity of their own.  The surge is rippling at   multiple levels. We need to remember that women’s empowerment is a journey, not a fixed point that yields to simple policies.

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 decades .He can be reached at moinqazi123@gmail.com

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Women representation in rural self- government not only increases the assertive power but also the welfare of the village or bloc as a whole. Rural areas are the backbone of the country and women know problems of the villages more closely than men. Since their awareness of the problems is more, they can tackle the situation more effectively.