Impressing upon political parties to take note of discrimination against women from the Dalit and backward communities, scores of women panchayat council representatives on Friday demanded quota within quota in the Women's Reservation Bill.

They were participating in a day-long conclave organised by ActionAid India here. Over 50 of them were from Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

“Yes, in theory women are equal to men. But even stepping out of home can lead to reactions and barbs. I got elected on a reserved seat and that revealed the power this gives one to work for the community,” said Raunaq Khatoon from Bihar.

The conclave focused on sharing testimonies about challenges of patriarchy and caste discrimination each woman faced when she decided to become a member of the village council. Most ranked the struggle to exercise power independently as the most difficult in their journey in grassroots democracy.

“Being a woman from the Dalit community proved a great challenge in finding support within the panchayat. But I did not give up,” said Sarvati Devi, panchayat pradhan of Jamlapur village in Uttar Pradesh.

“Our engagement with community women informs us that this achievement would just be the first step towards effective participation,” said Professor Babu Mathew, country director, ActionAid India.

“Looking at how women's participation in Panchayati Raj institutions has unfolded over the years, there is a need for the blanket 33 per cent to be broken down.”

A member of the Gramin Vikas Samiti, an ActionAid partner in Bihar, said “the struggle against patriarchy and poverty will be a much harder and longer one.”

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