Gender Discrimination in Panchayat Raj Institutions of Tamil Nadu: A Descriptive Study
Local governance and gender equity is recognized worldwide. It is aspired to have development that ensures equal participation by both gender with access to control of resources to bring an integrated sustainable growth and prosperity in the society. This is not happened often and not realized in practice. The implementation of gender equality has different results in different places. All are aware that every citizen both men and women have rights to take part in the policy making government bodies of their own country. The women’s political empowerment and their autonomy and the improvement of their socio-economic condition. The political prominence of women are essential for the achievement of apparent and responsible governance in all areas of human life. The present study focused on gender discrimination as perceived by the elected women representatives in village panchayats of Tiruchirappalli district in Tamil Nadu, South India.
Keywords: Elected Women Representatives, Local Governance, Panchayat Raj Institutions, Gender Discrimination and Gender Bias
Sociologically the word gender refers to the socio-cultural definition of man and woman, the way societies distinguish men and women and assign them social roles to perform in our society. The differences of sex and gender was introduced to deal with the general tendency to attribute women’s subordination to their physical structure and anatomy. By ages it was believed that the different characteristics, the social roles and status accorded to women and men in the society are determined by sex, that they are natural and not changeable.
As soon as a child is born families and society begin the process of gendering them. The birth of a son is celebrated, the birth of a daughter is filled with pain; sons are showered with love, respect, better food and proper health care. Boys are encouraged to be tough and outgoing; and girls to be home bound to do household works and become shy. All these differences are gender differences and they are created by our ancient society.
Gender inequality is a form of inequality which is distinct from other forms of economic and social inequalities and stems from pre-existing gendered social norms and social perceptions. Gender inequity has adverse impact on development goals as it reduces national economic growth. It hampers the overall wellbeing because blocking women from participation in social, political and economic activities can adversely affect the society in large. Many developing countries like India have displayed gender inequality in education, employment and health. It is common to find girls and women suffering from high mortality rates and vast differences in education level. India has witnessed gender inequality from its early history due to its socio-economic and religious practices resulting in a wide disparity between the position of men and women in the society.
The word gender refers to differences between men and women that are learned. It is not fixed but determined by social and cultural values. This means that gender differences between men and women vary across countries and regions and can be changed by education, Policy interventions. The question needs to be looked at from the perspectives of equal opportunity for men and women. Countering negative impact of gender based occupation segregation and enabling access to fruits of development.
Therefore, the notion of `gender’ and its associated roles and expectations are not determined biologically but depend on socialization and upbringing process. This means that gender differences between men and women vary across countries and religions and can be changed by education, training and policy interventions. This refers to factors need to be looked at from the perspectives of equal opportunity for men and women, countering negative impact of gender based occupational segregation and enabling access to fruits of development.
Gender Bias in Panchayat Raj Institutions
The Indian society’s unique social structure is an oppressor of women in almost every sphere of life due to its denial of equal status to them. The patriarchal system of the society forces women to be confined to the four walls of their homes largely engaged in the household chores. There are various social hassles which still pose a hindrance to the identity of women. Although the Panchayat Raj system is an important tool for transforming women into equal partners in the process of development, the elected women still face a lot of resistance from the males.
Women are not allowed to participate in decision making process and more than eighty percent of the elected women admit that decisions are made by the male members, who ignore suggestions from the women members. In addition, the other major factors that affect the performance of women members are their illiteracy, non-recognition of their usefulness by the male members and lack of assertiveness among them due to social and psychological restrictions.
Although there are some cases of women coming forward to make their presence felt as potential workers in Panchayat raj system, women have to go long way in achieving a dignified and acceptable identity for themselves.
Gender Equity and Decentralization
Women’s movement world over began to argue for gender equity vigorously after 1970’s. Declaration of International Year of Women and Decade of Women led to more focus on gender equity and development. There was growing awareness that since government matters, women must be a part of it.
The Report of the Committee on Status of Women in India, 1974, reported that since 1911, the condition of Indian women has worsened. Gender disparities were evident in employment, health, education and political participation. The new wave of decentralization in 1990’s, through 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments gave 33.33% representation for women in local governments. This was seen as a road to political empowerment and gender equity. This gave opportunity for a large number of women to enter into local governments and to be a part of decision making body. Democratic decentralization is a form of governance that expands participation of subordinate groups and is responsive to their interest. It is critical for women as a subordinated group not only because of the proximity of local government to the lives of ordinary women but because the lack of democracy in gender relations excludes them from participation in governance and the consideration of their interest in the business of governmental decision- making.
The Committee on the Status of Women, 1974, recommended reservation for women in local governments. Few Committee members objected to this as it will reinforce separate identity for women. Lotika Sarkar and Vina Mazumdar in favour of the recommendation said that, equality of opportunities cannot be achieved in the face of the tremendous disabilities and obstacles which the social system imposes on all those sections whom traditional India treated as second class citizens. The application of the theoretical principle of equality in the control of unequal situation only intensifies inequalities because equality in such situations merely means privileges for those who have them already and not for those who need them. Equality of opportunity cannot be achieved as there are obstacles in the social system. Decentralization with affirmative action was accepted as a means towards gender equity and political empowerment.
State has to provide more opportunity for gender equity measures. Gender advocates argue that the extent that decentralization creates opportunities for women to exercise more control over design and provisions of services and the management of resources it may benefit. Good number of women competing with men in local politics, forwarding gender related agendas is looked as a way towards gender equity.
Reservation of Seats in the Panchayats for Women
As per the provisions in 73rd Constitution Amendment, women have come forward to occupy their seats in local governance and started to demonstrate their capacities and abilities to hold such positions and fulfill the mandate of their constituency. With every local body elections, women have been able to enlarge their representation to more than 33 per cent prescribed and reserved for them in the amendment.
Raising reservation of women in Panchayat Raj Institutions
The Indian government has raised reservations for women in all tiers of the panchayat raj system from 33 % to at least 50%. The Union Cabinet, presided over by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, cleared a proposal to amend Article 243(D) of the Constitution for this purpose on August 27, 2009.
Minister for Panchayat Raj C P Joshi, who has been directed to draft a Bill to include the amendment, said the Bill that encouraged greater participation of women in the public sphere, would be moved in the next session of Parliament. The urban development ministry is expected to initiate a similar proposal soon, to enhance women’s representation in urban local bodies.
Nambiar (2001) in his study of ‘Making the Gram Sabha Work’ noted the difference utilities in organizing the Gram Sabha. Majority of women reported that they were not informed or invited to the meetings. While other were hesitant in participating in meetings in the presence of a large number of elder members. However, they have to forego their day’s wages or household duties just to identify beneficiaries as to convey what the gram Panchayat would do in the future.
Palanithuri (1997) in a case study ‘New Panchayat Raj System at Work: An Evaluation of Tamil Nadu’ reported that they were not informed or invited to the meetings in male headed Gram Panchayat. Women members have always projected the issues relating to women. It is common that the husbands of the members used to accompany them (women) when they come to attend the meetings.
Vijayalakshmi V. (2002), in her working paper on Gender, Accountability and Political Representation in Local Government, examines complexities of political representation of women’s interest in the panchayats in Karnataka. She argues that women’s interests are not an issue in the panchayats due to factors like lack of effective participation, absence of consolidation of gender specific concerns.
According to Vijayanti (2000), empowerment is a process whereby women become able to organize themselves to increase their own self reliance, to assert their independent right to make their choices and control their resources, which will assist in challenging and eliminating their own subordination. Empowerment is also a process of awareness and capacity building leading to greater participation, a greater decision making power and control.
Significance of the Study
Women are an integral part of our nation’s social structure. Their role is very prominent in our society on account of the fact that they perpetuate human race and are significant contributors to nation’s socio economic progress and for their family. Notwithstanding, women are subject to gender discrimination, ill-treatment and all types of abuses. In most cases they have been confined to the four walls of their houses and to do domestic work to the patriarchal society.
Scope of the Study
The present study is done to understand the gender discrimination experienced by the elected women representatives in the study area. In this study the focus of attention has been mainly to secure responses from women’s representatives of panchayat system with specific emphasis on their perception regarding the discrimination related to gender in the gross root panchayat raj institutions.
Objectives of the study
- To understand the socio-demographic background of the elected women representatives to Gram Panchayats of the area under study.
- To study the work environment of elected women members in Panchayat Raj Institutions.
- To examine the gender discrimination experienced by the elected women representatives of gross root Panchayat Raj Institutions
- To study the gender related issues and difficulties faced by the elected women representatives of Gram Panchayats.
- To suggest suitable measures for the effective contribution of women in Gram Panchayats.
The main purpose of the study is to know the socio-demographic background of the elected women representatives and their perception of gender discrimination. It is also intended to understand the prevalence of gender bias in the Panchayat Raj Institutions, hence the researcher has adopted descriptive research design for this study.
The universe of the study comprised of elected women representatives of village panchayats in the 14 blocks of Tiruchirappalli district (in Tamil Nadu, South India) numbering 1,303.
In order to collect data, Multi-Stage Random Sampling was adopted. At the first stage, out of 14 blocks in Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, South India., 4 blocks were selected using Simple Random Sampling i.e., Lottery Method. At the second stage, from the 4 blocks elected women representatives of Village Panchayats were sampled (224) using proportionate stratified random sampling method. Hence, the sample size is 224 (66.66%).
Self prepared questionnaire to assess the socio-demographic background of the elected women representatives and their perception of gender discrimination.
Limitations of the Study
The researcher did have some limitations. They are as follows:
- Study conforms itself to the region of selected geographical area.
- Some women did not cooperate and their responses remained partially unrevealed.
- Some of the women were afraid and hence, at the time of interview they refused to express their genuine responses.
- Some women were suspicious of the intentions of the investigator and they did not respond properly.
Analysis and interpretation
Table No. 1: Distribution of the respondents by their Socio-demographic characteristics
31 – 40
41 – 50
Hr. Sec. School
Type of Family
Below Rs. 5,000
Rs. 5,001 – 10,000
Above Rs. 10,001
Member in Self Help Group
From the above table, it is seen that most (35.3 %) of the respondents are from Manachanallur block, Majority (54%) of the respondents are from the age group of 41 – 50 years and 47 % of the respondents have studied upto primary standard. It is also seen that majority of the respondents (67.4 %) are from nuclear family set up, 70.1 % of the respondents reported that their family monthly income falls between Rs. 5,001 – 10,000, 68.8 % of the respondents reveal that business is their source of income and 79.9 % of the respondents are having membership with local Self Help Groups.
Table No. 2: Distribution of the respondents by their Panchayat Raj Institution Profile
No. of times contested in local body elections
No. of times elected for local body
Reason for contesting in Local Body Elections
Affiliation to Any Political Party
The above table reveals that majority (68.3 %) of the respondents have informed that they contested first time in local body elections, further 80.8 % of the respondents reported that they were elected first time for the local bodies. Most (41.5 %) of the respondents informed that self-interest was the reason for contesting in local body elections and 62.5 % of them reported that they are not affiliated to any political parties.
Table No. 3: Distribution of the respondents by their Perception on Gender-Related aspects
Family Support in Discharging Duty
Influencing other family members
Helps in Need
Doing all work on their behalf
Assessed by Govt. Officials
Feeling of Security
Ability to discuss PRI matters with male members
Spouse dominating their decision-making process
Ability to attend family meetings and functions with family members
Discriminated being Women
Ability to manage household and PRI Work
Reasons for reservation for Women
To increase women’s participation in Politics
To increase the percentage of women participating in PRI
To increase Women’s Self Esteem
To attain the aims and objectives of PRI
To increase women’s Involvement in Social Work
From the above table it is evident that 44.2 % of the respondents reported that their family members are providing full support in discharging their duty as local body member, 89.7 % of the respondents informed that govt. officials offer help in local body related works, 82.6 % of the respondents reveals that they feel secured while discharging their duties in block development office. And 56.3 % of the respondents are able to discuss local body related matters with male local body members, 50 % of the respondents informed that their spouse are not dominating in local body decision making processes. 58.9 % of the respondents are able to attend family functions and meeting with family members, 50.4 % of the respondents have opined that they were discriminated in gender aspects, 58 % of the respondents are sometimes able to balance household work and elected representative’s work and 38.8 % of the respondents opined that increasing the women’s participation is politics is the reason for reservation for women in Panchayat Raj Institutions.
- Most (35.3 %) of the respondents are from Manachanallur block,
- Majority (54%) of the respondents belong to the age group of 41 – 50 years and 47 % of the respondents have studied upto primary standard only.
- Majority (67.4 %) of them are from nuclear family set up, 70.1 % of the respondents reported that their family monthly income falls between Rs. 5,001 – 10,000,
- Majority (68.8 %) of the respondents reveals that business is their source of income
- Majority (79.9 %) of the respondents are having membership with local Self Help Groups.
- Majority (68.3 %) of the respondents informed that they contested first time in local body elections,
- Vast majority (80.8 %) of the respondents reported that they elected first time for the local bodies.
- Most (41.5 %) of the respondents informed that self-interest was the reason for contesting in local body elections
- Majority (62.5 %) of them reported that they are not affiliated to any political parties.
- Most (44.2 %) of the respondents reported that their family members are providing full support in discharging their duty as local body member,
- Vast majority (89.7 %) of the respondents informed that govt. officials offers help in local body related works,
- Vast majority (82.6 %) of the respondents reveals that they feel secured while discharging their duties in block development office.
- Majority (56.3 %) of the respondents are able to discuss local body related matters with male local body members,
- Most (50 %) of the respondents informed that their spouse are not dominating in local body decision making processes.
- Majority (58.9 %) of the respondents are able to attend family functions and meeting with family members,
- Majority (50.4 %) of the respondents opined that they were discriminated in gender aspects,
- Majority (58 %) of the respondents are sometimes able to balance household work and elected representative’s work
- Most (38.8 %) of the respondents opined that increasing the women’s participation is politics is the reason for reservation for women in Panchayat Raj Institutions.
Gender training: A gender perspective is crucial if the paradigm of human development is to break out of its current impasse. A gender perspective means recognizing that women stand at the crossroads between production and reproduction, between economic growth and human development. They are the workers in both spheres – those most responsible, and therefore with most at stake, those who suffer the most when the two work at cross – purposes and those most sensitive to the need for better integration between the two.
The implications of this understanding are:
- The need to engender the political process by integrating a gender-perspective at the highest policy levels and by strengthening women so as to enable them to hold economic and political policies and systems accountable.
- The collective need to uncover, research, support and strengthen the economic alternatives (policies, programs, models, experiences) that women have themselves created, and those which link economic activity and human.
Hence gender sensitisation and training mean supporting the development of women’s potential to lead creative, useful and fulfilling lives. This is possible by transforming gender relations for the development of both women and men.
Mere quotas and reservation of seats for women will not ensure the absence of gender discrimination among the elected representatives of village level in Panchayat Raj Institutions. Educational background, patriarchal values, lack of experience, responsibilities at home, restricted access and control over their income and other resources, restrictions to public spaces and insensitive legal system are keeping the women stay away from gender discrimination in grass root level Panchayat Raj Institutions.
To overcome these discriminations and gender bias, certain gender awareness trainings for both male and female elected representatives in all tiers of Panchayat Raj Institutions. Strong legal provisions should be made which mandates a minimum quorum of women in every panchayat level decision making meetings and Gram Sabha meetings. Such acts of positive coercion will help women to change their perceptions about themselves and to gain a sense of empowerment and to take part in the gender equality in local bodies. The researcher also recommends that the Government should provide specific gender sentisation programmes to all local body elected members especially officials who handle them.
A good promotion of gender awareness through gender sensitization training all elected members, legal provisions, government policies, advocacy and lobbying, social action and self-awareness among rural women will eventually result in elected women representatives becoming part of the mainstream panchayat raj power sharing and gender equality in decision-making forums like rural local bodies.
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