Empowering Panchayati Women-Sushasini

thumbnailSushasini, christened so in the year 2008, functions as the Panchayat Knowledge Centre, supporting women elected representatives to establish their rightful position as leaders of the village, responsible for overall and inclusive development of the entire village community including the most marginalized groups. Its overall aim is to politically empower the rural women through Panchayati Raj Institutions; and create an environment for greater transparency and accountability in the village development process”.

Sushasini has been working in a concerted and focused manner with WERs elected in the village PRIs as a consequence of reservation of 33% seats for women in Kutch, collectivizing and empowering them, advocating on their issues from the block to the state level and beyond as well, enabling women to claim their political voice in a society where they are discriminated against and face challenges of even not being allowed to be born.

The interventions by Sushasini have been consistent over the years with the primary aim of creating an enabling environment for WERs to fulfill their responsibilities and impact the decentralized governance system. With each election to the village panchayats, a new cadre of women representatives gets elected. The last elections were held in December 2006 and since January 2007, with support from PHF, Sushasini began its outreach to the newly elected WERs across 6 blocks of the district. The process began with establishing contact, building rapport, winning over their confidence so as to bring them in public and motivate and inspire them to fulfill their responsibilities in the Panchayats. Over the years approx. 31% of WERs (numbering over 500) have been brought together on one platform, the Gram Shasini Manch.

thumbnail Capacity building of these representatives has been undertaken by various tools like workshops and training sessions, exposure visits within and outside Gujarat, regular monthly meetings at the block level, district level sammelan every year with participation of approx. 350-400 women representatives as a method for learning, sharing and building solidarity.

The other main interventions are Information Centres at the block level, disseminating information on various issues like PDS and ration cards, individual benefit schemes like widow pension, old age pension, disability support, housing schemes etc. as well as land rights for women, violence against women etc. Data for 2008 shows that approx 1800 rural families have benefitted from information support from the PICs. Other means of information dissemination adopted in the last few years are grassroots campaigns on issues like people’s participation in Gram sabha etc., material production and dissemination like regular publication of Panchayat Mitra, educational material like posters and pamphlets on issues like budget etc.

thumbnail Advocacy initiatives, on issues of women as representatives and on issues of development and good governance have been taken at every possible occasion. Representations have been made on issues developmental works of the villages, on non-functioning of schemes in the region, on PDS stocks and its distribution, on concerns of BPL families etc. at the block and district level. Memorandums have been presented at the State level to various concerned officials. Networking with other likeminded NGOs in the District and State has also been undertaken so that there is some pressure on the bureaucracy and they become accountable.

Lecture series, around 8-11 lectures annually, on issues related to democracy and people’s participation, good governance in PRIs, various developmental schemes etc. has been a regular feature. Efforts are made to ensure that the relevant official is present at the meeting so that accurate information is given to the ERs and other people and in turn, they also get to hear about the concerns and problems faced by the people.

The main strategy of Sushasini is formation of collectives, Manchs, now called Gram Shasini Manch, of WERs at the block (Taluka) and federating them at the district level.