The 50% political reservation for women in the state will bring more than 1.3 lakh women to the forefront of local governance. This will mean that much-ignored issues like toilets for women, female mortality, water supply, better maternal health and education for children come to the forefront and government policies could become more ‘gender responsive’.
On Wednesday, the Maharashtra state legislature passed a legislation to give more power to women – by increasing their quota from 33% to 50% in local self-government bodies in the state. The bill will be cleared next week.
As per the survey done by the National Platform to Promote Decentralisation (NPPD), an organisation providing e-knowledge on Panchayat Raj institutions, Maharashtra will see a record 1,30,734 women in local bodies following this bill with 1,859 women in municipal councils, 981 in zilla parishads, 19,161 in panchayat samitis and more than 1.14 lakh women as grampanchayat members.
In the Mumbai civic body, 114 of its 227 corporators will have to be women.
“The move is extremely encouraging and a decision was long overdue. Involvement of women at the grampanchayat level will see grass-roots schemes of irrigation, water supply getting implemented more efficiently as such issues are dearer to women,” said minister of women and child welfare Varsha Gaikwad.
Gaikwad adds that this move will also encourage younger women to participate in governance and create new leadership.
However, others argue that this move may lead to more ‘paper tigers’. “Women from politically powerful families replace men from their families. So, it is actually the men who run the show,” said BJP legislator Madhuri Misal.
Misal’s view is endorsed by a majority of politicians in the state off the record. Political sources said at least half the seats reserved for women will be occupied by kin of local leaders. For instance, existing men corporators who find their constituency reserved will field close relatives from sisters to wives from their seat.
NCP MP Supriya Sule said in the long run this would not make a difference. “Now women will at least step out of the kitchens at the grass roots. After the 33% reservation, many politically connected women entered the field, but now there will be a cadre of independent women politicians.”
She, however, sounded a cautious note. “Don’t expect sweeping changes immediately. Many of these women need training and exposure to do justice to their roles. But, in the long run, we will see a more egalitarian society.”
Surendra Jondhale, head of the political science department, Mumbai University agreed.
“This was true when the 33 % bill came in but now women have become more confident. Capable women have begun overpowering such political powerhouses and claiming their right,” he said.