There is an increased focus globally to get women into public life and leadership positions. In India we see this this through an increasing number of quota systems for women. Today 33% of the seats in Panchayats are reserved for women, and 20 states has voluntarily increased this to be 50%. A decision that empowered large numbers of rural women all over India.
Yesterday, on the International Women’s day, the Royal Norwegian Embassy organized a seminar discussing effects of women in local politics in India.
Speaking at the seminar, Joint Secretary Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Mr Kushwant Singh Sethi said that there are today currently 1,2 million female panchayat leaders across India. “Their active participation in local governance may be a gate opener to bring important issues up to a national level”. Former Chairperson for the National Commission for Women Ms Lalitha Kumaramangalam emphasized the importance of training of women in local politics, as education and encouragement is key to empower women. She further pointed out that women needs to help women: “Men are very good at mentoring men, we women need to stand together - women also need mentors!
The seminar ended with a debate, moderated by Ambassador Kamsvåg.
Rita Sarin, Director of The Hunger Project in India, an NGO working to empower women in local democracy, pointed to the importance of including women in local politics to make things change. Explaining that women often prioritize more important social topics, such as building schools and toilets, Sarin said: “I have not met a single female leader that has built a liquor shop”.
Professor Vegard Iversen from IIM Ahmedabad summarised the literature and discussed own research focusing on whether women political leadership of Gram Panchayats in Andhra Pradesh results in more efficient administration and less corruption. While the literature suggests that women leaders perform at least as well as men, an important exception is for their first year in office where the study by Iversen and co-authors shows that women leaders in reserved seats perform worse than others. This underscores the importance of capacity building for newly elected women leaders.
The academic findings together with the grassroots leaders and the government’s perspective led to a lively debate moderated by Ambassador Kamsvåg. The seminar sparked many interesting questions, and we look forward to see how India will move towards female leadership in the future.