All women village meetings – building better lives in Andhra Pradesh

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It is late morning in Bodhuvalasa village in Andhra Pradesh, and almost 200 women have left their daily chores to take part in today’s Mahila Sabha, an all women village meeting. The Sarpanch (head of village council) calls the meeting to order and requests the women to bring up issues or challenges they are facing.

The Mahila Sabha is an all women village platform for planning and decision making at the Gram Panchayat level, supported by UN Women and Norway. In rural India where the men traditionally has acted as the decision makers, the Mahila Sabha has created a space where all the women in the village can exercise their voice and be active participants of grassroots governance. Having such a meeting space allows them to have their issues brought up at the Gram Sabhas (village council meetings).

Mahila Sabhas has been made a mandatory prior to the conduct of a Gram Sabha with the implementation of a UN Women programme in Andhra Pradesh. The Mahila Sabhas has successfully facilitated dialogue on the rights and entitlements of rural women, generated awareness about public services and assisted women in communicating their demands as well as difficulties to the Panchayat (village council).

At the Mahila Sabha in Bodhuvalasa lack of access to government employment- and health schemes were lively discussed. Several women got up and explained to others what schemes are available and how to benefit from them. Bodhuvalasa village has recently been declared an “open defecation free” village, and the women proudly explained the initiatives taken by the community to reach this goal. Issues faced by birthing mothers, lack of access to toilets and clean drinking water and broken roads has been solved after the start of Mahila Sabhas. “Problems faced by women are usually identified and worked out better by women” one of the villagers shares.

Self-help groups also function successfully in this village. “We are 107 members who together have borrowed money and bought a harvester, our income has increased significantly,” one of the women proudly explained. Having a meeting place for women in rural India on the initiative of the government has been very beneficial to this village, where today they have public toilets, access to clean drinking water and very well maintained roads.

The Norwegian Embassy supports the implementation of Mahila Sabha’s through UN Women’s work in Andhra Pradesh. UN Women has a partnership with Andhra Pradesh Institute for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj on Gender Responsive Governance.