Workshop on Panchayati Raj
Population First (PF) organized a day-long workshop for the members of Gram Panchayats of 46 villages that it intervened under Project Thane. It was held on May 22, 2009 at the Panchayat Samiti Office hall, Shahapur. Ms. Pradnya Shinde, CSR, Ambuja Cement Foundation conducted the workshop.

Ms. Shinde gave a background to the institution of Panchayati Raj and its importance. She spoke in detail about the Gram Sabha, the role of the gram sevak etc. The methods of drawing people’s participation in the village development were discussed with the attendees. The lack of opportunities to gain knowledge on the subject was evident by some of the participants’ feedback that this was their first exposure to the subject of Panchayati Raj. The success of the workshop was evident when some participants said they were now motivated to make a difference to the village development process thanks to the information they received.

PF organises Mahila Gram Sabhas in Shahapur

The focus of Population First’s (PF) interventions under the AMCHI project has been to increase the demand for effective services, thereby improving service delivery and making the providers more accountable. We have been successful in doing this particularly in the fields of health and education by motivating youth and women’s groups in the villages.

During our field work, we realized that women’s issues hardly ever come to the fore as they are not allowed to speak in public. Our Constitution has provided a public platform to discuss the issues faced by women in the form of Mahila Gram Sabhas. While it is mandatory to organise a Mahila Gram Sabha before each general Gram Sabha, this was seldom being practiced in any of the Gram Panchayats where we work. We felt that this is key to solving the issues concerning women and hence we decided to work with the women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and youth groups to organise Mahila Gram Sabhas in 11 villages under six Gram Panchayats between August 11 and 14, 2009. We ensured this was done in time for the Indian Independence Day on August 15, which is when the general Gram Sabhas are called. The following Gram Panchayats were selected– Gegaon, Bhavsa, Alyani, Apta, Nandgaon, Mohili.

Mahila Gram SabhaWomen turned up in large numbers to participate in the Mahila Gram Sabhas. The PF team had organised games and entertainment to ensure their attendance.

For the first time the village women were given a platform to raise their concerns and speak about the problems faced by them.

To ensure women’s participation in large numbers, the team held fun competitions and races for women and gave away prizes to the winners. The Mahila Gram Sabhas were planned so as to disseminate information and allow discussion on subjects like health, cleanliness and unauthorised encroachment and the various central, state and Zilla Parishad schemes like Navsanjivani Scheme, Maharashtra Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MREGS), claims received by Village Forest Rights Committee and the publication of the list of beneficiaries.

The PF team oriented the participating women on their right to voice their concerns at the Mahila Gram Sabha and participate in the decision making process. On an average more than 50 women participated in the competitions and Sabhas. They questioned and sought information from the Gram Sevak and Gram Panchayat members on issues like water, roads, education etc. and demanded the presence of women representatives in various village level committees. In some Sabhas, they could not properly articulate their concerns and had to be educated by AMCHI team members on the procedures and preparations needed for speaking in an official meeting. For most of the Panchayats, it was the first Mahila Gram Sabha that was ever conducted.

Kamal Chenne of Gegaon village said, “We are discussing our issues for the first time in a Mahila Gram Sabha. Earlier men did not let women speak and women were scared of expressing their opinions. Now women will start speaking in front of men.”

Sheela Tai of Newra village said, “We will be present in larger numbers for the August 15th Gram Sabha and present our views on various issues. We will also organize a Mahila Gram Sabha before the next general Gram Sabha on 2nd October.”

Most of the Gram Sevaks extended their cooperation in conducting the Sabhas, patiently answering questions and sharing information. However, the Gram Sevak of Bhavsa-Tansa Group Gram Panchayat refused to hold the Mahila Gram Sabha in spite of the village women demanding it. The women are contemplating further action at the Panchayat level regarding the matter.

Our intervention has been very successful in making more than 300 women of nine villages realize their rights and providing them the skills to exercise them. They have been empowered to organize and participate in such meetings where hitherto, only men have been the decision makers. The AMCHI team is planning a few more similar initiatives to help these women organise and participate in the Mahila Gram Sabha. We are convinced that within no time they would be able to do the same on their own.

Under our village development campaign- Amcha Gaon Amchi Shaan, Ramabai Ambedkar Gat SHG members from Dehna village under Dolkhamb PHC, decided to take up the subject ‘Strengthening of Mahila Gram Sabha’. The members of this SHG visited every possible household in their village and spoke with the women folks about the significance and importance of Mahila Gram Sabha and prepared a list of issues concerning women which required attention. They pooled in 500 rupees to meet traveling and other expenses incurred during the campaign. All the hard work done by Rambai Ambedkar self help group brought 110 women out of their houses to attend the Mahila Gram Sabha which was held on 14 November, 2012 and about 115 women participated in another Mahila Gram Sabha which was held on 26 January, 2013. All the issues which were discussed at individual level were discussed during the meeting. The women belonging to Baudhh caste group came to know during the meeting about their entitlement to get utensils from government under certain scheme and decided to claim it from the Anganwadi worker. Another important issue raised was about the scarcity of water in the village in spite of having several bore wells in the vicinity -they also expressed their concern about the difficulty in accessing these wells due to the weeds grown around the bore well. The Gram Sabha assured them that bore well would be repaired at the earliest and will be available for use thereafter by clearing the weeds surrounding the bore well – Panchayat sanctioned Rs. 10,000 immediately for repair work.

Mahila Gram Sabhas have become a regular feature in some of our project villages where our AMCHI team is working and has resulted in increased participation of women in the main Gram Sabha as well.