In Villages Women Hold The Reigns


If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman

-Margaret Thatcher

If we want to bring a truly transformative gender revolution, we must remember that all women, regardless of their marital status, need access to education, good jobs, and support for domestic duties. Although transforming long-held laws, beliefs and practices may be difficult, it is the only way to keep price tags off women and ensure that they have dignity as well as true economic agency. . The weaker bargaining position of women gives an upper hand to the male counterpart in any decision-making within the household. By putting financial resources in the hands of women, institutions can help level the playing field and thereby promote gender equality

Providing women with more and better opportunities to fulfill their social, economic, and political roles is now deemed so essential for reducing poverty and improving governance that women’s empowerment has become a development objective in its own right.

The key levers for change, from the ground up, are clearly female education and women’s access to income. Top down, women’s leadership—at the local and the national level—is also important.

A very heartening development is that elected women heads of village councils are now gaining control and several of them are now able to bring about visible development. Most of these women are part of the social capital produced by the self help group movement. . A typical Indian SHG consists of 10-20 poor women from similar socio-economic backgrounds who meet once a month to pool savings and discuss issues of mutual importance Indian SHG consists of 10-20 poor women from similar socio-economic backgrounds who meet once a month to pool savings and discuss issues of mutual importance. This phenomenon of “regular meetings” appears to be an important enabling force which gives the woman courage to “lean in”, in multiple household and community settings.

On a walk through the quiet lanes in October, past herds of snoozing water buffalo and carts pulled by teams of oxen, Rani pointed to the village hand pump she had gotten fixed. She showed off the new brick lanes, electrical poles and street lights installed on her watch and checked on the progress of a new community hall, being built for 90,000 rupees.

And Rani has lobbied state officials for a medical clinic. She watched helplessly as five of her seven children died of diseases she only vaguely understood — a curse that she believes might have been avoided had there been a convenient, reliable place in the village to take them for checkups and vaccinations. ”The officials have promised to help,” she said. ”But they have done nothing yet.”

Rani herself says she has learned how to operate as a pradhan in her year-and-a-half on the job. She has gone to meetings in state offices she never knew existed, watched as other pradhans raised their voices to win more resources, then followed their example. ”I have gained a lot of confidence,” she said. But she has not tried to do it alone. She relies on her 10-year-old son, Vikram, to read documents aloud, his finger tracing the lines of script as he haltingly says the words. She sends her husband to speak on her behalf to village men. She asks the Brahmin elementary school teacher for advice about how to deal with officials

But people from within and outside the village say she is an honest woman who has done a good job. ‘She’s stupid, she’s illiterate, she doesn’t listen to anybody,” he said, angrily poking the air with his finger. At dusk one evening, a group of low-caste women gathered in a lane to heap calumnies on Rani. ”We want land and houses!” they shouted angrily, and ”She has not given them to us!”Rani replied wearily that 12 Government-financed houses have been built for low-caste families, but there is no money for more. ”And we don’t have land in the village to distribute to the landless,” she said .An old drunkard and toothless man volleyed back. Men volleyed back.” Women should be confined to the household and men should be village heads,” he said one afternoon, as men crowded around, drawn by the raucous harangue of this almost toothless old man. ”The work of a woman is to cook the food and clean the clothes.” ”The Government has turned power upside down,” said Alam Singh, a Brahmin farmer who was village head before Rani took over. ”The Government is making these people sit on top of us. We are the rulers, but now she is ruling.”

An M.I.T. economist, Esther Duflo, looked at India, which has required female leaders in one-third of village councils since the mid-1990s. Professor Duflo and her colleagues found that by objective standards, the women ran the villages better than men. For example, women constructed and maintained wells better, and took fewer bribes. Yet ordinary villagers themselves judged the women as having done a worse job, and so most women were not re-elected.

If we cast a fresh look at the development landscape we find a compelling message. Lasting change comes about so slowly that you may not even notice it until one day people and Individuals don’t want to be taken care of – they need to be given a chance to fulfill their own potential .If we can inspire people around the world to think differently about what it means to be poor, then we will have made a real impact. When we design solutions that recognize the poor as clients or customers and not as passive recipients of charity, we have a real chance to end poverty

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decade .He can be reached at [email protected]


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