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Reservation fails to give women a voice

According to a new survey, the route to empowerment of women through Panchayati Raj institutions has several stumbling blocks, reports Chetan Chauhan.

india Updated: Apr 08, 2008 01:11 IST
Chetan Chauhan

The route to empowerment of women through Panchayati Raj (PR) institutions has several stumbling blocks a survey has shown. Caught in household chores, a majority of the women in PR institutions have little time to shoulder the responsibilities for which they were chosen.

Ironically, better-educated women steer clear of PR institutions, a new survey has found.

A survey on women in PR institutes in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh has found that most women are only figurative members of the panchayat. It's the men in their families who wield actual power. “The actual responsibilities were being shouldered by their family members, like husbands or father-in-laws. This indicates that women representatives have not gained their rightful place in the panchayats,” the survey conducted by Centre for Social Research and National Commission for Women said.

Indicating that women were not even empowered within families, the survey found that not even a single woman representative owned land or a house in her name. The families of about 66 per cent of these representatives owned more than 20 acres of land.

Another interesting finding of the survey was that only women from the poorer families and those who not highly-educated were coming to the Panchayati Raj institutions. Fifty-nine per cent of the women in PR institutes in Gujarat had primary-level education.

“Richer and more educated women in both states have stayed away from PR institutions,” the survey said.

In the absence of more educated women, the PR institution heads from the lower income groups and the marginalised sections of the society had to fight caste bias against them. "People in the village as well as the bureaucratic set up were biased towards these women, especially in Himachal Pradesh," the survey said.

Election of women at the gram panchayat level was more out of compulsion than choice. All the women interviewed in Gujarat and Himachal were first-time entrants, meaning most of them were getting elected from seats reserved for women.

In the Panchayati Raj institutions, about 33 per cent of the seats are reserved for women. The seats are reserved for women in rotational basis.

“While the reason for becoming a PR member by a large segment of women representatives (61.6 per cent) was reservation of women, only some women (24 per cent) mentioned they had done so because of their interest in social work,” the survey said.

Ranjana Kumari, director CSR, said that unless 33 per cent seats for women are reserved in legislatures and the Parliament sound participation of women at the grass roots level would be difficult. She urged the UPA government to bring in the legislation for reserving seats in legislatures and Parliament for women.