Gender Equality and Governance
Over the past decades, there have been significant measures taken by the government of India towards gender equality particularly on women’s participation in governance. The 72nd and 73rd Constitutional Amendments of 1993 ensured one-third reservation for women at the Panchayat level. Additionally, the National Policy for the Empowerment for Women is focussed on ensuring ‘mainstreaming of women’s perspectives in all development processes, as catalysts, participants and recipients. Wherever there are gaps in policies and programmes, women-specific interventions would be undertaken to bridge these.’ Further, in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, a new draft of the National Policy for Women (2016) was unveiled to create ‘a society in which, women attain their full potential and are able to participate as equal partners in all spheres of life’. Although these policies were and continue to be critical efforts, there have been various challenges that have impeded fidelity in their implementation. For instance, there is evidence that despite the reservation of seats in Panchayats, women often serve as nominal heads with their husbands taking control instead. In rural India, particularly in the villages of Central and East India, these challenges are further exacerbated by abject poverty and an intersectionality of hierarchies especially in tribal, dalit and other historically marginalised communities. A girl child born in rural India is two generations behind her sister in urban India and this gap continues in her life-time.
There is significant opportunity in leveraging the Self-Help Group (SHG) Movement that was taken to scale in 2000s and adopted by the government as the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM). Currently, there are 65 million SHGs under NRLM that has built social capital and increased incomes. There are strong evidences to show that these platforms can be a huge advantage in activating womens’ agency through increased representation in local governments. In the 2020 local body elections in Kerala, out of the 21,854 members elected as representatives, 7,058 (32.3%) are active members of Kudumbashree 1. Moreover, most studies reveal that women in local government pay particular attention to addressing the needs and interests of women whether this means investing more in water, nutrition or children’s education2. However, in the poorest 100,000 villages, such a transformation continues to be stifled. This gap can only be bridged through gathering evidence on the aspects of active participation of women especially in decision-making processes3. There is also an urgent need to analyse the various institutional structures that constraint agency outcomes like property ownership. There is also a need to look at pathways which address the material, the cultural and ideological dimensions underlying gender justice in all development pathways.