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Women Panchayat leaders are slowly emerging from the shadow of their male counterparts, to truly take charge. Although patriarchal societies are slow to change, here are some positive stories.
Our village Panchayat Raj is the cornerstone of self-governance. It addresses matters of importance such as education, health, agriculture, transport and communication, sanitation and general welfare of the village and the Sarpanch or leader along with the other Members and Gram Sevaks, represent the voice of the village.
Yet for decades, women have been declined participation in the Panchayat. Nor do we often find women Panchayat leaders, taking a stand and decisions on behalf of the village, since ingrained patriarchal attitudes often making it hard for women to function autonomously at the grassroots level.
However, with the 1993 Constitution amendments, 33% of certain seats and key positions within the Panchayat were reserved for women. This has brought in a positive change with many women now taking over the reins as the Sarpanch. With time and experience, many women panchayat leaders have now taken their villages ahead on the path to progress.
Here are a five such women women Panchayat leaders, who have brought about numerous positive changes to the village they have headed as Sarpanch.
Chhavi Rajawat is reportedly, the youngest person to hold a Sarpanch office. Chhavi may seem to be yet another jeans clad youngster. But this young woman quit her corporate job to help develop her village Soda, 60kms from Jaipur. Better water and rain water harvesting, solar power, paved roads, toilets in every home and a bank, the tiny village of Soda today speaks volumes of Chhavi’s initiatives, making it a better place. In an interview with the Hindustan Times, she said, “Out of the total 900 houses at Soda, toilets have been constructed in 800 houses”. Chhavi has also addressed a conference on poverty at the United Nations, held in New York.
When the quiet homemaker in Khankhandvi stepped out of the threshold of her home, she broke all stereotypes to become the village’s first Sarpanch. Meet Vandana Bahadur Maida, Madhya Pradesh’s first woman panchayat leader, who has fought all odds to be elected as the Sarpanch of the village council.
It wasn’t a smooth start for this mother of three. Strong patriarchal norms in the sleepy village prevented Vandana from stepping out of her home. Yet, fighting a step at a time, she took that bold step to stand up for the local elections of the village council, where her husband was a member. Vandana superseded him to be elected as the Sarpanch and there was no looking back after that.
A dynamic leader, Vandana has delivered her promise to the village by taking it on the path of development. She has built bridges, a school in Khankhandvi so that children in the village don’t end up discontinuing education, addressed sanitation and water shortage issues, and health and livelihood problems of the village.
Nauroti Devi has never been to a school. Yet today, this Dalit woman uses the computer to handle the administration of the tiny village of Harmada in Ajmer, Rajasthan. In fact, she has even trained many including the panchayat secretary and womenfolk of the village on the usage of the computer.
Years ago, Nauroti Devi worked as a daily wage laborer and that’s where it all begun. She led the mobilization of 700 laborers to ensure payment of minimum wages. Soon she was an active member of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangatan which laid the foundation for the RTI act of 2005.
As the Sarpanch of her village, Nauroti Devi’s initiatives are noteworthy. A burial ground used for years as a dumping ground was cleared with a well protecting wall around it. A health centre was built on the land which for years had not been used for the purpose. What’s really noteworthy is that when she finished her five year term she left behind a surplus of Rest 13 lakh in the panchayat account.
Nauroti Devi has travelled across borders to countries such as China, Germany and the USA.
At the age of 28, Arati Devi, a former investment banker and MBA holder, became the youngest woman panchayat leader at Ganjam district in the state of Orissa. A nominee of the Rajiv Gandhi Leadership Award of 2014, Arati Devi has initiated the benefits of the Public Distribution System in her village. The people of Ganjam now avail provisions such as wheat and kerosene at subsidized prices. Arati also has run a major literacy campaign for women where signatures, instead of thumb impressions were recorded for official applications. Apart from these initiatives, she has also revived traditional folk art in the village.
Arati was recently a part of the International Leadership Programme in the US where she spoke about state government functions, government transparency and accountability.
Meena Behen is the first woman Sarpanch, Vyara district in Gujarat has seen. All of 65 years old, the village has an all-women Panchayat board too. Meena Behen was a part of the same patriarchal society which seldom allowed women to step outside their homes or speak in front of men. But fighting the odds, Meena along with her friends, with help from the self-help group (SHG) of World Vision India, stood up to become confident leaders. The panchayat of Vyara, with its all-woman members, addresses issues of the village collectively. The team has built road accessibility to the village, helping pregnant woman who otherwise would find it difficult to visit the nearby district hospital. Government schemes were effectively utilized for the people of the village and over 30 houses were built for the poor in the village.
This dynamic all women panchayat is raring to go with a plan to build a government hospital in the village.
Suppression of women’s political rights has been existent for long in our patriarchal society and the seat of power at the grassroots level governance has been held by men. Yet, many such women panchayat leaders today, across the country, are breaking stereotypes and bringing about positive changes, setting an example for the future generations to come.
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