With recent announcement of allocating 50% to reservation for women in all local bodies in the state, the fifth convention of panchayat presidents held the discussion of the challenges faced by the women in the panchayat government. Though women were given powers, when they get elected as panchayat president, they become puppets in the hands of the men in the family, who take most decisions on governance.
Focusing on women empowerment, Qudsia Gandhi, IAS, former chairperson and MD, Power Finance and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited, says, “During the British rule, collectors were assigned in each district to manage the district operations. Now that we have the Panchayat Raj, it needs to have the power. Among the 29 sectors handled by the Zilla Panchayats, education, primary health care (PHC) and roads should be given prominence. Many panchayats schools are slowly coming under the purview of the government, as authorities assume panchayat people are not educated. In primary health care, women panchayat presidents should monitor whether medicines reach the right people. And regarding roadways, roads in panchayats are not laid properly and taken care of.” Continuing along the lines, V Vasanthi Devi, former chairperson, Manonmaniyam Sundaranar University and TN Women’s Commission, says, “Dalit women are also given importance now as they work towards being successful. There were days when women didn’t know the power of being a panchayat president but later worked on helping the people who voted for them. The biggest issue anyone in power faces all over the world is corruption. Women should be trained to help people with the funds allocated to them.”
The panchayat presidents of various districts spoke about the failure of devolution of 29 powers to the panchayat, financial crisis, intervention and control of state government in the panchayat administration, gender discrimination against women panchayat presidents and caste discrimination and untouchability practices on Dalit panchayat presidents.