The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments in India provided the impetus for women's political participation and leadership in governance. Through the reservation of seats for women members, the Amendments made it mandatory for women to make up one third of all local self governing bodies. In addition, an enabling policy environment was provided for democratic participation in governance through the devolution of powers and the handing over of resources to local self governments.


It is in this context that SSP initiated a capacity building exercise in two rural districts in the state of Maharashtra with over 22,000 elected members. The goal was to create new institutional arrangements and would respond to the needs of women through partnerships with mainstream actors, in this case community - state partnerships.


The learning and convergence approach was grounded in local reality, using local resource persons, local resources and skills. Participation of State officials and planners was an essential ingredient of the process because while women's capacities
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to participate in governance had to be built, it was essential that other key actors
recognise women's capacities and the potential for a mutually beneficial partnership.


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


Women are undertaking the following roles in relation to local governance:

        
Participation: Women are participating in village assemblies or gram sabhas in large numbers,                demanding greater accountability from elected members.
        Monitoring: Women's collectives are monitoring functioning of basic services and 
             infrastructure; education, health and social support programs.
        Community Ownership: Women are mobilizing communities around village development issues. As
               a result of the sense of community ownership, community contributions and tax collections in              areas such as drinking water have increased.
        Feedback and Consultation: Women and elected members participate in dialogue platforms at              block and district levels to give feedback to local officials.
        Information and networking Through information dissemination and networking women's              collectives ensure that local communities are well informed on entitlements and resources for              development.


The essential elements of this strategy on en-gendering governance are:

        Community concerns of the poor, such as credit, housing, health and education affect women               acutely and must therefore be seen as gender issues.
        Women's concerns are acknowledged when a critical mass of women are able to articulate
             their priorities within an institutional framework.
        Alliance building between women in local/national government and grassroots women's collectives
          is crucial to the transformation of governance agendas to include women's concerns.


Women's intervention in planning and decision-making can become the basis of community state partnerships. For this institutional actors need to be educated on how grassroots women and communities can participate in development .


Similarly women's capacities to access resources, to undertake gender and community audits and to design community alternatives need to be built.


Capacity building of grassroots women in local governance means -
       Participation in civic fora,
       Access and control over resources,
       Planning and management of services.


Thus, there are two main challenges to promoting women's political participation. The first has to do with overcoming barriers that restrict women's participation in the existing planning apparatus. The other involves building women's capacities to ensure that they add value to planning and development processes.


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