In a sign of increasing involvement of women in local governance, elected women representatives (EWRs) constitute 45.6 per cent of total Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) representatives in India, per a RBI report.

In the 32 States and Union Territories (UTs), out of 3,187,320 PRI representatives, 14,53,973 were women, per the Report on Finances of Panchayati Raj Institutions.

“With women making up half of the population, attaining equal representation is not solely a matter of fairness but also an essential requirement for efficiency,” the report said.

As of September 2021, 22 States and UTs have enacted provisions entailing a 50 per cent reservation for women in their respective State Panchayati Raj Acts. This has led to an increase in the proportion of EWR in PRIs across the country, RBI said.

The Constitution guarantees women’s involvement in PRIs by stipulating a minimum one-third reservation for women in both the total seats filled by direct election and the positions of Panchayat Chairpersons.

Furthermore, the positions of Chairpersons within the Panchayats, whether at the village level or any other tier, are to be reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and women in a manner determined by the State Legislature.

It is stipulated that the number of Chairperson positions reserved for SCs and STs at each Panchayat level within a State should closely align with the proportion of the population of these communities to the total State population.

Additionally, it is mandated that no less than one-third of all Chairperson positions at each Panchayat level must be reserved for women.

“Studies have shown that when women are involved in local governance, policy areas such as education, health, and child welfare often improve. Women leaders in local bodies have been instrumental in initiating and implementing policies that benefit children, families, and the underprivileged…

There is a positive and significant correlation between increased women’s participation and improved outcomes in local governance…,” RBI said.

Referring to various studies, the report said women elected to political positions tend to allocate resources towards goods that cater to the specific needs of local women.

For example, they prioritise drinking water and roads over adult education centres in West Bengal, and drinking water over roads in Rajasthan.

Local-level governance has positively impacted health outcomes in Bihar, including child mortality rates, institutional birth rates, and rates of safe deliveries.

A statistically significant relationship between women’s reservation in political roles and health outcomes has, however, not been established.

An increase in the representation of women in politics is associated with a notable increase in women’s access to antenatal care, adherence to iron supplementation during pregnancy, and giving birth in government healthcare facilities rather than at home.