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Local Self Governance & Panchayati Raj

The entire gamut of activities undertaken in course of the years towards improving women’s capacity in governance in Panchayati Raj and its noble endeavor of providing holistic and comprehensive training to the Panchayat members is mentioned below-

With a firm belief in the vision of decentralization and in the efficacy of devolution of powers, we decided to positively engage with the Panchayati Raj system in Bihar, especially in the context of the historic decision of the State Government to provide 50% reservation to women in Panchayat elections.

Our ultimate aim is to reach out to all women in the Gram Panchayat and involve them in the process of development.

The creation of FORUM – PANCHAYAT WOMEN POWER CONNECT (PWPC) & Presentation of Women Charter Issued on: 7th day of July 2006-An initiative of Equity Foundation

The idea for empowering the women Panchayat workers through the establishment of an interactive FORUM of Women Panchayat Representatives was conceived by Equity Foundation. The activities designed for the FORUM-Panchayat Women Power Connect (PWPC) would help to develop strategies to empower the women as leaders.

The objective of the FORUM (PWPC) is to provide a platform to the Women PRIs to share their real life experience as leaders; how do they perceive 50% reservation for women in Panchayat elections to create awareness among the women leaders regarding their roles and responsibilities as PRIs; and finally to analyse the impact of women’s participation in Panchayati Raj-A phenomena of their hyper-visibility or invisibility?

The compilation of recommendations in the FORUM based on past and future  expectations of women Panchayats representatives would serve as a Charter of elected women representatives for the dos and don’ts in the Panchayati  Raj system, thus bringing the agenda of women Panchayats workers into public policy making. A Charter of demand was placed before the State Government to demonstrate the political will and to implement the demands within a reasonable time frame in order to strengthen the genuine grassroots and people participation in the state of Bihar

Training PRI members has emerged as a critical requirement to establish good governance at the grassroots. The Organisation has a strong networking with elected women PRIs from all parts of Bihar and we are fully capable of conducting training through assembling a host of elected women representatives. Till date Equity Foundation has trained approximately 5000 EWRs from different parts of the State. Besides this, we have a very efficient team of Trainers at the local/regional and national level with strong qualification and communication skills.

The Organisation has worked on a 2 years Advocacy project for PRI in 10 Panchayats of Biddupr block of Vaishali district with the support of Center for world solidarity (CWS). The title of the project is ‘Capacity Building of women Panchayat Raj Elected Representatives for creating vibrant democratic constituencies of civil society’. This project has created a great impact on the EWRs.As a result they are attending meetings and trainings more regularly. They are becoming more assertive in putting forward their views and suggestions. They have become more vocal. The project is specially focusing on strengthening the women PRIs in contesting election through creating a violence free zone. The Organisation on its own initiative has been successful in motivating the PRI members to conduct 3 Gram Sabha and 3 Gram Kuchehry. This was historical as no Gram Sabha and Gram Kuchehry had been organised since the Panchayat election 2006.

Equity Foundation has attempted to adopt a process of actual activism and deep involvement in sectors of sustainable development, gender justice and women empowerment. The organisation has tried to create an understanding of rights and duties of women elected representatives as a political leader and understanding their role in local self governance.

Capacity building exercises and the strengthening of relationship of elected women representatives were critical elements in the transformation of many EWRs from passive, non-participating members to confident, active and responsible members of the community. Women who had so far been largely silent in public began to share and voice their concerns. Now they are asserting their rights.

Efforts to bring women’s issues to the forefront of the agenda of gram Sabhas and Panchayat meetings have been successful.

When the Panchayat elections for 2011 were announced, the Organisation carried out a programme to strengthen women through electoral process to highlight the importance of voting and need to participate in the elections. In the pre election campaign, we could reach out to all the women in our target areas. With the motivation from the Equity Foundation, 100 women contested the Gram Panchayat elections in Gaya and Vaishali districts. Of which 75 women won the elections and 9 Mukhiyas were re-elected.

The status of Dalit women in Bihar is particularly low because of a lethal combination of feudal, caste and patriarchal oppression. The Dalit women especially bore the brunt of the combined effects of these three kinds of oppression and they had it hard put to secure their honor. Literacy is very low at 33.1 % and 59% report having suffered from domestic violence. The crimes reported against women are also quite high in number. Their representation in legislative bodies is very low and their participation in the work force is only 21%.

The organization is working to create space for policy dialogue, and horizontally with the local administration, the state level bureaucracy, the Dalit community, the elected representatives, media and so forth. Undoubtedly much of this stems from the paradigmatic shift towards ‘good governance.’ It manages to engage in building human capital, creating social capital through building associations of women, either through user groups or help groups, in support at the local level through Resource Centres in filing, voter awareness, information dissemination, create access to government benefits etc. It also works to create alternate spaces and courses of action.