What does gender representation mean to Panchayati Raj guaranteed by the Constitution? How critical is the woman panchayat president as a conduit of State welfare to the weakest link of the populace in a village? How far is democracy deepened and lives bettered, when a woman panchayat president takes her role seriously?
Over 150 women panchayat presidents reckoned with these questions during a 75-minute-long interaction on what their roles meant, organised at the initiative of Collector K. Shanthi to mark the Independence Day celebrations. Perhaps for the first time, the women panchayat heads found their pride of place often erased by their male relatives.
“Your signature as the panchayat president to provide drinking water, an overhead tank, or light up a street in the remotest village of Theerthamalai is the precursor to the administrative sanction granted by an all-powerful District Collector. The District Collector’s administrative sanction awaits your signature to provide that specific welfare benefit,” said the Collector, underlining the critical role of the woman panchayat president, who is often run down as a token figure or a rubber stamp for the man.
“Speak to the gram sevika, visit the anganwadi, the local elementary school, make it a routine habit that every government official knows you by your name. Ask them what they need,” urged the Collector. Citing ways on how their daily open interaction can help the village, Ms. Shanthi said, “planting a drumstick tree and a papaya tree in an anganwadi can go a long way in curbing anemia. You could do that.”
The vicious cycle of school dropout among girls, child marriage, early, multiple pregnancies, male preference; domestic violence, crime against women and children, and abandonment of senior citizens were all interlinked, she said.
The interaction, then, entailed an overview of various welfare schemes that the panchayat heads were themselves unaware of, yet were responsible for guiding through the beneficiaries in their villages.
S. Anitha, District Revenue Officer, speaking on “Women’s Equality and equal rights to property for women” urged the women panchayat heads to pay equal wages for women sanitation workers same as for the man.
“Give equal wages as they come from your panchayat funds. As panchayat presidents, tell your girls that they will get equal share in property just as the sons,” said M. Manjula, Project Officer, Samagra Shiksha.
Citing that only 37% of girls go on to pursue higher education, she highlighted the Moovalaur Ramamirtham Ammaya Higher Education assistance of ₹1,000 for girls to pursue higher education in the State. “As panchayat presidents, you can take these schemes to them to guide them to study further,” Ms. Manjula said.
District Social Welfare Officer Jansi Rani underlined the schemes for girl child and family planning such as deposits favouring girl children-only families. It was incumbent upon the panchayat presidents to be aware of these schemes in order to identify the beneficiaries.
“How many of you visit your office, sit on your seat every day? Enough of you being sidelined by men. Take your place in the gram sabha, hoist the National Flag with pride,” urged the Collector calling upon women to speak up. “You don’t need the flair of language. Just speak with clarity in short sentences. Own your position. Years later, when you see the street light, or a overhead tank, you will feel proud it was done during your tenure,” the Collector said.