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Why Does Women’s Participation Matter In Local Governments?

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By Inbarasan K G, General Secretary, Institute of Grassroots Governance & Gurusaravanan M, Chairperson, Institute of Grassroots Governance

In the Indian scenario, reservation for women in Assembly and Parliamentary elections is still a myth due to the continuous lapsing of Women’s reservation bill (108th Amendment bill) in the parliament. Hence, the political participation of women was minimal. But their participation in local government elections was comparatively high due to the one-third of reservation accorded in the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Act, a path-breaking reform for India’s Governance.

The presence of women in local governments provides a major scope for women to engage in the politico-developmental decision-making process. This breaks the existing stereotypes of women’s roles in our society. Women participation in local government delivers gender equity and ensures gender justice in society.

Women’s Political Participation In Tamil Nadu

Based on the infographic prepared by Institute of Grassroots Governance, one can see the real scenario of women participation in Tamil Nadu from Parliament to Village Panchayats. In the Rajya Sabha, out of 18 MPs from Tamil Nadu, not even a single woman was representing. In case of Lok Sabha, only three women MPs were present out of 39 MPs from Tamil Nadu, which is very less. In the present 15th Tamil Nadu State Legislative Assembly, 9.4% are women MLAs i.e., 22 out of 234 are women.

In the recent local government elections held in December 2019, around 56.33% are women, indicating that 50% reservation of women paved the way of utilizing the leadership positions in the Village Panchayats. Here, 5421 out of 9622 elected village panchayat presidents are women.

Let us now hear from a woman Panchayat President who inspires many other village Panchayat Presidents with her transparent and accountable work for her village development.

Power Of Women-Led- Panchayat 

Mrs Poornima Rangasamy is a first time elected Women Village Panchayat President from the Uthukuli Panchayat Union, Tiruppur District working as an efficient Village Panchayat President with her 1.5-year-old baby. Basically, she migrated from the nearby town Bhavani to this village after her marriage.

Before contesting in the election, one fine day, she met an old lady crying in a road-side where she enquired about the reason and came to know that a government official in her village is asking for a bribe to process the Old Age Pension.

This incident majorly motivated her to contest in the village Panchayat President election to eradicate such corrupt practices that exist in her Village Panchayat. She had the handholding support from her brother and husband even before the elections to learn about the general administration after which she got elected in the Village Panchayat.

The interesting aspect is that 2019 was the same year when she even got a voter ID for the first time and fought the election and won. Initially, she could see the developmental gaps exist in her village and thought of doing the needful things for people and the overall development of her own village panchayat.

Her main source of income is through livestock rearing where she works daily for two (2) hours in the early morning and (two) 2 hours in the late evening.

In the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) scheme of the village panchayat, she found the wrong utilization of benefits by the beneficiaries by same members of the family even after the completion of 100 days. She appointed a group of educated women to avoid the corrupt practices in the MGNREGS scheme.

She also conducted a separate Gram Sabha meeting with all the people so that the functioning of MGNREGS with clear cut accountability could be ensured. She also updated most of the village developmental activities on her Facebook Page to promote transparency in her Village panchayat administration.

In another incident, she complained about the Village Administrative Officer (VAO) in the Chief Ministers Special cell who had not been cooperative in giving the First Marriage Certificate for the poor women in the Village Panchayat for availing the benefits of financial support for their marriage. After that, action has been taken up by the government in a week’s time and the concerned official has been transferred.

Even during the COVID-19 Scenario, the Panchayat President gave her own money to the sanitary workers, economically weaker sections and also did other charity work through her own income.

Women And Good Governance

The infographic shows that the huge potential of women in local government can bring socio-political transformation in Tamil Nadu and instil the spirit of good governance at the grassroots. There is a general opinion that women are a proxy candidate at the local government level. That’s when stories like that of Mrs Poornima provide greater hope for the women community.

Plenty of issues pertaining to women are unnoticed and unsolved where a Panchayat President like Mrs Poornima can do a meaningful intervention to solve these issues.

Apart from this, other women Panchayat Presidents also face a lot of problems, especially women Panchayat Presidents from Dalit communities who face caste-based discrimination. This is why the participation of women matters in local government, where more and more women should come forward and uphold their rights meaningfully in their respective Village Panchayats.

Seeing the importance and need of empowering the women panchayat presidents, Institute of Grassroots Governance recently initiated a project titled “Strengthening Young Women Village Panchayat Presidents of Tamil Nadu” especially to identify the needs of the young educated female Panchayat Presidents in their villages and to empower them to handle the socio-political barriers faced by them in Panchayat administration.

Created by Institute of Grassroots Governance

Women Participation in Local Government Matters?

On this International Day of Democracy, Team IGG has come up with a report titled “Analysis on Demographic status of Elected Village Panchayat Presidents of Tamil Nadu 2020” as one of our efforts in strengthening grassroots democracy of Tamil Nadu. In this report, one can also see the participation of women in every district.

To read the complete report, click here.

Featured Photo Source for representational purposes only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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