Panchayats have been the backbone of grassroot democracy in the Indian villages since its beginning. Gandhi had aptly favoured the panchayati raj and his dream got translated with the passage of the Constitution (73rdAmendment) Act, 1992 (or simply the Panchayati Raj Act), which introduced the three-tier Panchayati Raj system to ensure people’s participation in rural reconstruction in general and that of women in particular. It came into force with effect from April 24, 1993.
Provisions for women in the Act
- The Act provides for the reservation of not less than one-third of the total number of seats for women (including the number of seats reserved for the SCs and STs).
- Further not less than one-third of the total number of offices of chairpersons in the Panchayats at each level shall be reserved for women. This would be rotated among different Panchayats at each level.
Role of Women in Panchayats
- Participation in election: The Act provides for the reservation of not less than one-third of the total number of seats for women. It is an attempt to ensure greater participation of women in election process directly and indirectly. It would be the nursery of creating women politicians for national politics. Even the participation of common women citizens in various activities such as attending Gram Sabha meeting, etc. has reportedly increased (68-78 percent).
- Participation in rural development: Women are actively participating in rural development as per their capacity right from labourers to policy- makers.
- Participation in decision-making: The participation of women as elected as well as non-elected members are rising due to reservation for women. It acts as pull factor for women to participate in meeting. They give their suggestions for various works and problems faced by them.
- Agent of social revolution: Women are acting as an agent of change in the society and raising voice against injustice and atrocities.
- Reducing corruption and violence: Due to women representatives nexus of officers and male elected representatives are breaking, which has a direct impact on reducing corruption. The role of local muscle power has substantially reduced due to active participation and awareness of women about their rights and power.
- Reduction in violence against women: Domestic violence has substantially declined due to women pradhan or surpanch. These women representatives take pro-actively take up such violence. The victims also feel free to share their grievances to women representatives.
- Reduction in violence against Dalits: The dominance of upper caste patriarchs are substantially declined, hence the shackles of caste is subsiding.
- Practising participatory democracy: Growing participation of marginalised section in general and women in particular, is transforming our democratic setup from representative democracy to participatory democracy.
Difficulties faced by women representatives in PRS
- Political intervention in the functioning of Panchayats.
- Women act as proxies for men.
- Husband’s intervention of elected woman in her functioning.
- Lack of political awareness among the women in rural areas.
- Negative public opinion regarding women’s leadership capacity.
- Illiteracy or low standard of education among the women in rural areas is a stumbling bloc.
- Lack of training courses especially for women representatives.
- Dominance of elected male members of the Panchayat.
- Politically motivated violence against women have seen an increase.
Suggestions for effective participation of women in Panchayati Raj System
- Political parties intervene in the election and functioning of Panchayats, creates hostile environment for the women contestants and women representatives. The government should take a strict action in such an intervention of political parties and elections should be conducted free and fair.
- In rural areas political awareness among the women is negligible. It is the duty of the state government and local administration to educate the women about the political issues and create awareness among them.
- Special training and refresher courses for women representatives should be conducted from time-to-time. It gives them confidence and creates political awareness and power.
- Government should make special provisions for the women representatives and give them more powers as compared to male counterparts and educate them about their powers. It helps them to work efficiently and effectively.
- There should be a provision to give honour and financial rewards to the women members for their exemplary works.
- The rotation term of reserved seats should be made after every atleast 10years. It would help women representatives to fix their feet in the panchayats.
- With the establishment of PRIs in our country a woman gets an opportunity to prove her worth as a good administrator, decision-maker or a good leader. The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 is a milestone in this regard. It provides women a chance to come forward.
- This experiment is proving to be a big success particularly by providing opportunity to women to come out of their houses and participate in administrative and political field.
- However, in many areas of our country this system has been captured by some elite people. The government should provide extra financial, administrative or political assistance to women for the success of the provision of the Amendment.
- Government should encourage research and development in effective implementation of provisions of 73rd amendment.
We must remember that empowerment as a process is slow but self-perpetuating. Providing women with opportunities and support systems (such as reservations & other affirmative action) has the potential to put into motion a sustainable process for a change in gendered power relations allowing them to slowly but steadily break the shackles of existing boundaries.