Mahila Sangathans: A Way to Empower Women

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Anjali Makhija, Group Leader, Capacity Building Center

Government initiatives for inclusive development have always stressed on ensuring active participation of women in various spheres of governance. To promote participation, the 73rd constitutional amendment reserves one-third seats in Panchayats for women. It calls for participation of women in the village political arena. Further, under the Right to Education Act, 2009, School Management Committees (SMCs) are formed to manage the activities of school with 50% of women members. The members of Village Health Sanitation and Nutrition Committees (VHSNCs) formed under National Rural Health Mission are mostly women.

However, despite all these efforts, the representation and participation of women in spheres of governance has remained insignificant. In India, women largely play the role as defined by their husbands or fathers. Various factors such as patriarchal norms and culture, lack of education and awareness among women, restricted mobility, financial dependency, etc., are responsible for this. As a result, women are inhibited from actively participating in the affairs of Gram Panchayats, Gram Sabha and other village-level institutions.

Creating Sangathans (women collectives) is an endeavor to impart confidence among women representatives and strengthen their bargaining power. The sangathans give them a platform to come together, address common problems and contribute to the development of their respective villages.

Sehgal Foundation has facilitated five such sangathans, one in each block of Mewat district of Haryana. Each sangathan consists of 25-30 members, including members of Panchayats, SMCs, VHSNCs and some key village women. The sangathans are provided training to further impart knowledge and skills to other women. Each sangathan has its own name and decides on issues that they want to address. These are Ekta (unity) in Taoru block, Ujala (brightness) in Punhana block, Roshni (light) in Nuh block, Hara Bhara (green) in Firozepur Jhirkha block and Mahila Shakti (women power) in Nagina block.

The sangathans recently participated in a Mahila Sangathan Sammelan (conclave) on June 24, 2014. Over 125 women from Mewat participated in this Sammelan. It provided them an opportunity to interact with other women and learn from sangathans of other states. The sangathans will engage in a dialogue with government officials for effective implementation of government programs in their own villages.

Going forward, Sehgal Foundation will impart training to the sangathan members on provision of toilets under Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, participation of women in gram sabhas, addressing problems of drinking water, leadership programs and others. The capacities of the sangathans will be built to develop micro plans, and alliances will be created with other sangathans across states. Women in these sangathans will come together to share their achievements and aspirations in annual Mahila Sangathan Sammelan. This sharing will instill confidence within the members and provide them exposure.

It is envisaged that the sangathan members will be able to undertake development of their villages by implementing projects, such as construction of toilets. They will initiate efforts to improve education in schools while addressing drinking water and sanitation problems. Women leaders will emerge from these sangathans and will serve as role models in Mewat.

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