The 73rd and the 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts, 1992, through which self-governance at local level was introduced in the form of a three-tier system of Panchayats at the village, intermediate and district levels and Municipalities in urban India, reserved one-third (33 per cent) seats for women both in reserved and unreserved categories and also in the offices of the chairpersons on rotation basis. These two amendments eased women’s entry in politics and their empowerment as women got included in the governance and policy making process and there are lakhs of women who got elected to panchayats and municipalities due to the reservation
People who were initially pessimistic about the inclusion of women in the position of power argued that women would be forced to serve as dummy candidates for their husbands or there will be a situation of proxy representation by any of their male family members and as a result women would be unable to exercise their powers. “There are many cases where women were controlled by men but in the majority of the cases they fought and asserted for their rights. There was and still is a need to extend the reservation to assemblies and the parliament to ensure a bigger role for women”, says Shabhnam Hashmi, Indian Social Activist.
When the 73rd and 74thConstitutional Amendments were introduced, a very strong signal went out to the entire world from a developing country that not only equality of women but also justice for them is a key agenda of the nation. According to the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, elected women representatives have to face many challenges in their line of work as it is a process of social change, and social change does not come about easily.The initial struggle was the lack of knowledge among the elected women about the Panchayati Raj Act and Rules, and also the factor of illiteracy. Other problems included the lack of expertise in political administration, gender prejudice from predominantly male staff who work in the system, restrictions around women’s mobility, non-conducive work environments, and elected women being represented by their male relatives (as proxy or stand-in representatives) in all decision making processes.
“During a general assembly session last year on September 30,I got to know that 6 lakh women in our country are on the leadership positions in one role or the other in the villages, that means not only as sarpanch but also as Zila Panchayat Adhyaksh, this number is more than women population of many nations. But when the 73rdAmendment came, it was seen that out of 50 per cent women only 10-15 per cent women who strongly opposed but 35 per cent still had to act as a rubber stamp for their male family member. The transition phase for every situation has to come and it approximately came from 2005 to 2016, and in these years especially in 2014, 2015 and 2016 when there were panchayat elections in different states of India, it was found that approximately 25-28 per cent of the women had started to take a hold over their panchayat responsibility. This clearly indicates that the transition period is over, and women have now understood that if they have been elected to a position there are certain roles and responsibilities they need to fulfil towards that panchayat. Working in a panchayat is not only about infrastructure development but also about its overall development. Especially in these times like of the coronavirus pandemic, the social empowerment, women empowerment are needed and financial aspects need to be taken care of and also a woman who is in a leadership position is needed and can work against that lopsided system which doesn’t allow the daughters and daughters-in-law to grow, to bring a better change in the society”, says Bhakti Sharma, Sarpanch, Barkhedi Abdulla Village, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
There have been various steps taken by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj to address the problems faced by elected women representatives and to smoothen their functioning, including, the construction of gender-friendly infrastructures, such as panchayat ghars or panchayat offices equipped with toilets that women can use; a team of computer literate, accountants, and junior level engineers to help the elected women in the administration of their duties. Also capacity building and awareness programmes are conducted, not only for elected representatives, but also for government functionaries who work at the village, block, and district levels for the Panchayati Raj Institutions. Model guidelines, along with manuals for the preparation of the Gram Panchayat Development Plans have been developed. These guidelines help elected women representatives to list their priorities and to formulate the village development plans accordingly.In partnership with the United Nations, The Ministry of Panchayati Raj has mobilized more than 100,000 elected women representatives, public officials, and grassroot workers across the six largest states in India using innovative tools and models such as the MahilaSabhas (Women’s Forums).
Undoubtedly the 74thAmendment has also given women access to decision-making positions and has broadened the local democratic base, but it doesn’t mean that it has improved their active participation in urban governance. There have been many challenges in the effective participation of the elected women representatives in Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) including lack of political awareness and experience; male dominance in decision-making at party level; lack of knowledge about the municipal acts, rules and regulations; husband performing all the municipal functions of the elected women representatives and political interference in the functioning of ULBs. But over the years, the situation has improved and to a very large extent, the amendment has been successful in its role of empowering the women in our nation. The clear representation of this was the Uttar Pradesh Civic Polls 2017 where 7 women candidates were elected for 16 mayoral positions that is almost 50 per cent representation and Ms Samyukta Bhatia became the first female mayor of Lucknow after 100 years and created history.
Wherever there is a woman Corporator, Mayor or aZilaPanchayat Member, the tendency of women approaching them is greater as they get a better platform to share their grievances and in that particular area all the women also get empowered. When I was a chairperson of Standing Committee of South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), at times there were decisions to be made on women and children related issues specially and as a woman candidate there was a better understanding of the subject so could take policy-making decisions on them.Whenever there is a woman candidate involved in the policymaking, decision making process, she works on its better execution as she herself has faced those situations or problems. Once a female candidate wins an election, in the span of 5 years she does get to know about the administration, her constitutional rights and doher job on her own and there is no one who is working on her behalf. Women participation in our country and other South Asian countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh,Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Maldives has been there but they couldn’t get a chance in elective politics because of the lack of reservation. And after the 73rd and 74thConstitutional Amendment, women are gettingrepresentation in elective politics and they are becoming a part of policy-making process and today the success rate of these amendments is 75 per cent, said Shikha Rai, Councillor, Greater Kailash.
According to UN Women’s Progress of World’s Women: Access to Justice, 2011-12, On an average, women hold only 7 percent of ministerial positions and 15 percent in national parliaments in all the 9 countries of the South Asia region. In countries like Iran and Sri Lanka – women have as low as 3 percent and 6 percent share respectively, in ministerial positions and 3 percent and 5 percent share respectively of women in parliament.In India, they have a share of 10 percent and 11 percent respectively in ministerial positions and the national parliament.Less than half of the South Asian countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan) have a Constitutional quota for women in their National Parliaments.Nepal’s 2007 Interim Constitution ruled that women must have at least 33 percent representation, paving the way for an increased role for women in politics.
Women have been facing obstacles to their political participation all over the world but there are various success stories where women have become the change maker and led from the front.
Case Study of Chhavi Rajawat, Former Sarpanch, Soda Village, Jaipur, Rajasthan
Ms Rajawat, is the first woman Sarpanch (elected head) with an MBA and the youngest Sarpanch in India,serving the village called Soda in Rajasthan since 2010. She had quit her career in the corporate sector to become the sarpanch of her ancestral village in Rajasthan at the age of 30. She used to visitthe village to spend time with her grandfather, BrigadierRaghubir Singh, who held the position of a Sarpanch for three terms until 1990.In 2010, the situation completely turned around, when Soda was hit by a severe drought and the agricultural village which depends majorly on monsoon continued to face difficulty. The groundwater had become unfit for consumption and was causing several health hazards in both children and adults and a few villagers approached her. It was then MsRajawatdecided to take over the charge and created a well-thought-out strategy that covered areas like water, sanitation, electricity and roads.With her experience in corporate sector, she could partner with the right stakeholders to get the job done. From construction of toilets to electricity supplies to proper roads to proper schooling facilitiesfor female students, she made sure that the villagers led a healthy and quality life. She also got the State Bank of India to open a branch in Soda to make sure everyone in the village had a bank account. It was done with an objective to promote financial literacy in the village and make people self-sufficient. She also convinced corporates like Mahindra & Mahindra, as well as Coca-Cola to work on some projects to uplift the village.Under her dynamic leadership, Soda completely transformed from being called a backward village to now a ‘model village’. Ms Rajawat has earned worldwide recognition for her continuous efforts to transform society. She has been elected as an Aspen Fellow, and also co-chaired the World Economic Forum (WEF) India Summit 2012. She received the title of Young Global Leader by WEF in 2012 and also won the Yuva Award.