From Reservation to Participation

31 Dec 2009


To ensure increased reservation of women in local governance institutions translates into more effective participation, the report highlights the importance of training and presents successful strategies based on experience from 10 states to mobilize and build capacities of women.

The 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution of India provide the legal basis for direct democracy at the local-level, both in rural and urban areas.

The amendments stress the need to bring people belonging to marginalized groups into the political process by reserving seats for women and for people belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SC)1 and Scheduled Tribes (ST)2. It is envisaged that by mandating not less than one-third of the seats for women in local government bodies, the governance process at the local government level will reflect the voices of women and the concerns and issues that confront them. This has resulted in 247,115 elected Panchayats (locally elected self government bodies) in the country, which contain more than 2.8 million elected representatives. Of these elected representatives, more than 1 million are women3.

However, this aggregate figure tells only part of the story. While representation is adequate (as per the norm of one-third of all seats) participation is less than adequate. While it is relatively easy to legislate representation, it is more difficult to create conditions suitable for participation. Experience indicates that representation does not automatically lead to participation.

A number of factors limit the active engagement of women in the political sphere. First, deeply entrenched stereotypical norms relegate women to the domestic space, with severely restricted engagement in public affairs, an area largely dominated by men. Second, caste and class restrictions and the patriarchal system and mindset pervades the political space provided to women. Women are still not recognized as political entities and their perspective is seldom seen as integral to the design and delivery of services. The third factor is the lack of exposure of women themselves to politics and the absence of any experience in exercising their political responsibilities. Low literacy levels, absence of education and limited or no exposure, all lead to a lack of confidence and many women are unable to comprehend the true spirit of decentralization and recognize the opportunities that it provides.

Factors such as these, that deter the effective participation of women, led to the initiation of the project Capacity Building of Elected Women Representatives and Functionaries of Panchayati Raj Institutions by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR), Government of India and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) India, from 2003 -2008. One district each of the10 selected states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh) was chosen. Specifically, the project aimed to:

• Build capacities of Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) for effective functioning and setting of women’s agenda.

• Institutionalize mechanisms to strengthen capacity building of EWRs to better understand and perform their functions.

• Mobilize community and strengthen processes of constituency building to enable women to articulate their voices and participate in the electoral process

The project activities were implemented through Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to harness their expertise in mobilizing women and creating awareness of issues at the grassroots level. For each of the 10 states, one CSO was identified based on the demonstrated work experience on local governance issues in that area.

The capacity-building project focused on EWRs and panchayat functionaries. One district in each of the 10 states was chosen by the respective organizations

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