Much has been said about women elected representatives in panchayats. A common picture is that of women representatives functioning as proxy candidates under the close supervision of their ‘guardians.’
At the same time, there are many women representatives who have taken bold initiatives and become successful. They have not only set an example for male dominated society but also demonstrated that changes are taking place slowly.
In Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts, 123 women, before being elected, were either housewives or doing some odd jobs. However, after winning the Gram Panchayat elections, they are ready for a transformation of their Gram Panchayats, courtesy Jana Shikshana Trust’s initiative to empower women Gram Panchayat members and their awareness and leadership training for the members.
When the Gram Panchayat elections were announced, the Trust carried out a programme to strengthen women through electoral process to highlight the importance of voting and need to participate in the elections. With the motivation from the Trust, about 200 women contested the Gram Panchayat elections in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts. Of which 123 women won the elections.
Speaking to City Herald, Trust Directors Sheena Shetty and Krishna Moolya said that under Strengthen Women Through Electoral Process, they created an awareness among women in taluk and cluster level, who in turn created awareness on Panchayat Raj system among sthree shakti members and their neighbourhood women. “In the pre election campaign, we could reach out to 2,240 women with the help of 275 women in taluk-level and 758 women at cluster-level. Of the 123 women elected, 44 are from Udupi taluk, 37 from Bantwal taluk and 42 from Mangalore taluk.”
The training for the women included singing songs, participation and sharing experiences and also screening of a film ‘Namma theermana.’ Those who underwent training, in turn returned to villages and spread the message on the Gram Panchayat raj system, facilities and schemes available from the government.” In fact, a mass awareness jatha was also organised to create an awareness on the need to exercise franchise at Katpady, Kurnadu, Balepuni and Naringana. Pamplets, banners and handbills were distributed among the voters, they said.
With the help of Trust, women Gram Panchayat members of Dakshina Kannada and Udupi have initiated the first step towards networking into a force to make use of the facilities provided by the government. Sugrama— a Elected Gram Panchayat Women Members Federation has been formed to transform villages into model villages. The trust has selected Bantwal, Mangalore and Udupi taluks on a pilot project, which later will be extended to other taluks. “The first meeting was convened to know the dreams/aspirations of the members and the reason for contesting the Gram Panchayat election.”
They said: “We will be working on the mode of training for trainers. Selected 30 members will be given training, who in turn will spread the information among other members.” The members will work for the utilisation of funds, to monitor the projects, inspect the progress and ensure total sanitation in villages. They will also motivate the people to participate in the Grama Sabhe, enrolling villagers for the job cards under MGNREGS. The training aims at empowering women as active members in the process of village development.
“Our ultimate aim is to reach out to all women in the Gram Panchayats and involve them in the process of development,” they added.
Vedavathi of Bajpe says, “I contested the election for the first time and was elected as the Vice-President of the Gram Panchayat. The training given by the Jana Shikshana Trust was motivating and informative. I do not have any experience in Gram Panchayat.
However, training made me literate in Panchayat Raj system. I will work for the development of Bajpe Gram Panchayat. As we have decided to give priority to cleanliness, door-to-door collection of waste will be started from next month. Our aim is to make Gram Panchayat a model gram panchayat in the district.”
Sridevi of Badagubettu said: “In the beginning, I was feeling shy to contest the election. With the motivation from the Jana Shikshana Trust, I contested the election. They had instilled strength and helped to ward off fear in me and face the problem boldly. There are several problems in my ward in 80 Badagubettu Panchayat. After I underwent motivational training, I in turn created an awareness among SKDRDP SHG members, Navodaya SHG members and Sthree Shakti Sangha members in my village on the need for exercising franchise and taking part in the development process of villages.”
Bharati of Chennaithodi says “We have lot to learn in Panchayat Raj. Women are always neglected in Gram Panchayats. Many a times, male members come in the way of a developmental works. I did not have any knowledge on Panchayat Raj Act. But the leadership training helped gain confidence. I am also planning to unite women and start a SHG wherein the saved money can be utilised for the health of women members.”
Florine Fernandes, a Kuppe Padavu Gram Panchayat member who underwent leadership training said the training helped her develop personality. “I was not aware of the facilities available from the Gram Panchayat nor the schemes for the people. The training educated me on the Panchayat Raj system and which also helped in solving the problem of a Anganwadi centre which was in news for the last 10 years.”
She said “the Anganwadi centre in Kuppepadavu was functioning in a rented building for the last 10 years. Though a building was sanctioned to Kuppepadavu, the work on the building was half completed. However, after speaking to the Gram Panchayat officials and Secretary, the work on the building has started now. When I realised that the building does not have a toilet, I met the engineer and the officials, who in turn have agreed to complete the building by Independence Day.”