50% reservation to women in rural bodies
● Recently, the Haryana Assembly passed a Bill to provide 50:50 reservations in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) for men and women candidates and rotate the seats between male and female representatives after each term.
● According to the amendment, seats will be reserved for women and men on the basis of even-odd numbers. In the village where a woman sarpanch will be elected once, in the next term, the village will have ‘other than a woman’ as sarpanch. It may even include a transgender.
50% reservation to women in rural bodies will ensure women’s equal participation in decision making in local government. Critically Analyse.
● Women’s equal participation in decision making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account.
● There is a huge gap between men and women in political activities beyond voting.
● Article 15 (3) to the Constitution of India empowers the State to make special provisions for women. However, to make use of the potential of women and also to empower them, the 73rd Amendment Act 1992 (73rd CAA) for the first time provided one-third of reservations for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and thus ushered in a new era of women’s participation in the local governance in India.
● Article 243D of the Constitution of India introduced through the above-mentioned 73rd CAA provides that one-third of the total number of seats and offices of the Chairpersons in PRIs at each level shall be reserved for women.
● Although 73rd CAA provides for only 1/3rd reservation for women in PRIs, more than 19 states have raised the reservation of seats and offices of chairpersons to women to 50%. Efforts are on to increase the reservation from 1/3rd to 1/2 all over India.
Achievement of Women in PRIs:
● Women in PRIs were dismissed as proxies of their husbandsand other male members of their families and at times as proxies of elites in the village. However, many women elected representatives have made their mark in bringing positive changes in their areas.
● Because of the increasing awareness among women of their potential, they are slowly gaining the confidence to overcome social stigmas.
● In many states where women-led anti-liquor movements, the support for these can be traced back directly to Panchayati raj institutions where women held key positions.
Challenges before Elected Women Representatives (EWR):
● Patriarchy: Many EWRs continue to work as a rubber stamp for their family members and also at times as proxies of rural elites. Their male co-workers show insensitivity and refuse to cooperate. The burden of household responsibilities, purdah (veil) system and domestic violence negatively affect their functioning.
● Caste System:Hierarchical caste system in rural India makes it difficult for women from SC and ST communities to function independently and effectively.
● Lack of Cooperation from Line/Sectoral Departments: EWRs, particularly the first-timers, find it very difficult to deal with officials of block/district administration and of line/ sectoral departments.
● Inadequate Capacities:The majority of EWRs enter into public life for the first time and do not have enough knowledge and skills to handle the affairs of panchayats. Lack of education also puts constraints on EWRs.
● Rotation of Terms: The policy of reservation for only one term and rotation of reserved seats and posts of chairperson also hinders consolidation of leadership qualities among EWRs as it takes time for them to learn the skills of handling and negotiating various conflicting interests within the panchayat.
Criticism of 50% reservation to women in rural bodies:
● Opponents argue that it would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit.
● It is contended that this policy diverts attention from the larger issues of electoral reform such as the criminalisation of politics and inner-party democracy.
● Reservation of seats in Parliament restricts the choice of voters to women candidates. Therefore, some experts have suggested alternate methods such as reservation in political parties and dual member constituencies.
● The rotation of reserved constituencies in every election may reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.
The Initiatives of Government:
● The Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) commissioned a Study on elected women representatives in Gram Panchayats.
● For capacity building of ERs of PRIs, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR) has been making continuous efforts by launching and implementing various schemes like Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Yojana (RGSY); Panchayat Mahila Evam Yuva Shakti Abhiyan (PMEYSA); capacity building component of Backward Region Grants Fund (BRGF). These schemes also have strong components of the capacity building of EWRs.
● National Capability Building Framework (NCBF) of the MoPR has recommended customized training programmes based on training needs assessment.
● To put a curb on the cases of proxy attendance by relatives of women EWRs, States have been advised to issue orders that the officers, in whose presence such meetings are held, should be proceeded against departmentally.
● The Government of India may revive the proposal to amend Article 243D of Part IX of the Constitution to increase reservation for women in Panchayats from existing one-third to 50% across the States. This proposal may also contain a provision to provide for rotation of reserved seats in Panchayats for a minimum of two terms instead of one at present.
● Recruitment of women as panchayat secretaries at all three levels of PRIs will also create a comfortable working environment for EWRs.
● Governments may also provide an additional honorarium to EWRs particularly from marginalized communities. Because they have to work for their livelihoods in addition to carrying out daily household chores, they find it difficult to devote the necessary time to manage the affairs of panchayats.
● Imparting functional literacy to illiterate EWRs every year will enhance their capacity and boost their confidence. In addition to training and exposure visits, arrangements should be made to have few women mentors. These mentors may be sourced from trained SHG leaders, women ex-Sarpanchs and social activists.