D Murali

Women in local governance

Updated on: May 11, 2011
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One of the essays in ‘ Varieties of Activist Experience: Civil society in South Asia, ' edited by David N. Gellner ( www.sagepublications.com ), is titled ‘Can women be mobilised to participate in Indian local politics?' by Stefanie Strulik.

Looking at the political trajectories of those women who are not merely elected to panchayat bodies but succeed in getting a foothold in local politics and manage to shape local governance, the author finds that the majority of such women have been members or even founders of local women's groups long before they were elected as representatives for their panchayat. This suggests that the interaction with fellow members of local women's groups is of significance for its role in drawing women into local governance.

Local group

The essay cites, as example, the case of Bimla Devi in Himachal Pradesh. Bimla's first contact with a local women's group was in her twenties, a couple of years after her marriage, begins the narrative. “She was encouraged to join by an educated older woman from a neighbouring village who wanted to educate and organise women through the newly established Mahila Mandals scheme. Bimla benefited from various governmental and NGO training programmes, became a ‘multiplicator' founding new groups in surrounding villages, honed her organising skills, contested the panchayat election in 2000, and won. After her election, Bimla continued to work closely with her friends from the women's group, informs Strulik. “Together with her fellow group members, they share views of local governance and then strategise and plan together how these things should be achieved.”

The author recounts that the villagers' initial reaction to her different, ‘typically female' working style was to make fun of her and to tell her repeatedly that ‘This is not the way politics is done.' However, with time, the opposition subsided, since Bimla managed to have development funds sanctioned, adds Strulik.

Educative compilation.


Published on May 12, 2011

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