DEVELOPING GRASSROOTS WOMEN'S LEADERSHIP

IN GOVERNANCE

Prema Gopalan, SSP Mumbai, India
April, 2000

INTRODUCTION

Swayam Shikshan Prayog - SSP means self learning initiative. SSP is a voluntary organisation based in Bombay, India. SSP partners with community women's groups and networks on multiple issues - credit, livelihoods, housing and infrastructure, basic services. Women's groups are usually organised around savings and credit. Through information and capacity building, SSP facilitates scaling up of innovations by women's groups and communities. Within districts, a community alliance of elected members and women's groups supports the participation of grassroots women in local governance and planning.

SSP's work with Panchayati Raj institutions began five years ago with the women voters campaign. We are at a threshold where elections to the Gram Panchayats, local self-governments in Maharashtra. This presents an opportunity for women's groups to participate in the "agenda setting" process. Women's collectives have an opportunity to articulate gender concerns such as credit, violence, health, education etc. Similarly, it is expected that women's groups will directly participate in the electoral process. SSP sees itself using this opportunity for looking back, building women's skills for agenda setting and creating a supportive environment through information and training on a large scale.

SSP'S PERSPECTIVE AND WORK ON ENGENDERING GOVERNANCE

The 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution of India provided the impetus for women to enter formal political spaces. This has presented a tremendous opportunity for grassroots women's participation in planning and development. Despite the large numbers of women in local governing bodies, however, gender issues are not addressed and women continue to be marginalised in local decision-making processes.

SSP's work on Panchayati Raj began with a campaign for women's vote in 1995. This was followed by training for 22,000 gram panchayat members in 1997. This goal was to create new institutional arrangements that would respond to the needs of women through partnerships with mainstream institutions.

SSP's intervention on engendering governance focuses on getting all the actors - government officials, women's collectives and elected members - to participate in learning and dialogue forums. These learning and convergence efforts are grounded in local reality, using local resources persons, local resources and skills. An essential ingredient of the process is that other key actors recognize capacities of women's collectives to play key roles in development.

Today, the Sakhi Panchayat (an alliance of women's collectives and elected women members promoted by SSP) represents a new kind of leadership. SSP together with the alliance works towards transforming gram panchayats to become accountable and transparent, training elected members on legal issues, advocacy on devolution of power and resources, and finally building an informed and active constituency.

We would like to share some importance insights on how women's participation and leadership by an alliance of elected members with the support of women's collectives is changing the face of local governance.

Fostering grassroots democracy through mass participation of women, strengthening women's political leadership, building skills and capacities to participate in planning and local governance are some of the ingredients of the strategy. Women's collectives have emerged as the gate keepers of good governance.

Re-configuring women's role in communities

SSP's ongoing efforts include:



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