India’s Honorable Minister of Panchayati Raj and Tribal Affairs, Shri V. Kishore Chandra Deo, has commended a joint government-UN Women programme to empower women in local government.
“Changes can be brought about effectively and equitably at this basic level,” he said at a recent two-day meeting on promoting women’s political leadership. “As far as I know, few projects have put such emphasis. I am happy that the Government of India and UN Women have positioned the issue at the right level.”
The Minister addressed senior officials of panchayati raj (local government) departments who, along with UN Women, are implementing the programme. It now operates in six states — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Rajasthan — focusing on two districts in each.
The programme helps local women cultivate leadership skills and learn to exercise their rights by publicly articulating their concerns, whether the issue is domestic violence or access to public services. Supported by trained facilitators, each district holds at least 100 community meetings a year dedicated to discussing development and gender equality.
“We need to ensure that women can play an effective role as leaders without facing discrimination or violence, and that their concerns of economic, social and physical security are reflected in the action agenda of panchayats and municipal bodies,” said the Minister.
“Our programme focuses explicitly on the potential of panchayats to promote gender equality,” affirmed Anne Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director for UN Women in South Asia. “Women are not being trained to deliver for the panchayats. The panchayat is instead expected to deliver for women by focusing on issues central to their lives.”
All states in India have 33 percent reservations for women in panchayats; some even reserve 50 percent of seats.
The Royal Government of Norway has committed USD 11 million to the women’s empowerment programme. Other UN Women partners include the National Institute of Rural Development, state institutes of rural development, panchayati raj departments, the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, The Hunger Project and the International Centre for Research on Women.