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The 73rd Constitutional Amendment paved the way for women and other
marginalized social groups in India to exercise their political rights
in local self-governance and participate in grassroots politics.
Introduced in 1993, it stated that no less than one third of the seats
in the panchayats (village councils) should be reserved for women,
including those from Scheduled Castes and Tribes. It also ruled that in
each panchayat the number of seats allotted to Scheduled Castes and
Tribes should be in proportion to their representation in the local
Although in theory women and other socially deprived groups now have a
political voice in the panchayats, there are still a number of barriers
that hinder their effective participation in local governance:
Lack of political knowledge: Marginalized peoples are often unaware that
they are entitled to seats in the panchayats. They are unfamiliar with
the election process and do not know how to nominate a candidate or how
to go about voting. Some aren't even aware that they are eligible to
Lack of training and education: Most panchayat members from marginalized
groups are illiterate and have had little opportunity to develop the
skills required to carry out their governance duties. As a result, their
powerful colleagues often do not recognize them as leaders and fail to
listen to them in meetings or involve them in decision-making.
Lack of confidence: Women and lower caste elected members are usually
too afraid to talk in front of, or contest the opinions of, the
economically powerful higher castes that dominate the panchayats. In
most instances husbands of elected women carry out all their official
duties on their behalf.
Lack of participation: The presence of women and lower caste
representatives at panchayat meetings is often merely of token value.
They are made to sit on the floor at the back of meetings while the
upper castes take centre stage.
Intimidation: Women and other marginalized people have faced threats,
malicious propaganda and violence both while they are contesting
elections and after they are elected.
To promote the active participation of women and other politically
voiceless groups in local self governance, encouraging them to make use
of it as a forum to discuss their problems and issues.
To put pressure on the government to effectively implement existing laws
designed to transfer power to the panchayats.
To develop the capacities of the panchayat elected representatives to
manage the local governance by themselves.
To initiate micro-level planning in the panchayats which addresses the
needs and aspirations of the people.
Raising people's awareness of the importance of participating in the
Gram Sabha (the village general assembly) and of fulfilling the
expectations of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment.
Conducting training sessions with women and other socially marginalized
panchayat members to strengthen their leadership qualities and provide
them with the skills and information they need to carry out their duties
Enabling panchayat members to make development plans that address the
specific needs of their villages. In particular, making sure that women
and other socially marginalized groups contribute to this planning
Holding workshops that give elected members the opportunity to interact
directly with government officials and to present the practical problems
they face working in the panchayati system.
Initiating campaigns, advocacy and group networking to strengthen
women's role in the panchayat processes.