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IPS (2005.9.10): Women are Naturals at Grassroots Governance

By Nitin Jugran Bahuguna

DEHRADUN, India, Sep 10 (IPS) – The picturesque Himalayan state of Uttaranchal is leading the rest of the country in taking advantage of legislation that reserves a third of all elected seats in local bodies for women.

No longer satisfied with playing second fiddle in local leadership, women in this state now occupy a full 45 percent of seats in its panchayats (rural local bodies).

“Our aim is to raise women’s representation even further to 50 percent in the next five-yearly round of elections in 2008,” said Gitanjali, a trainer at the Rural Litigation and Empowerment Kendra, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works with communities in Uttaranchal — and trains women who are leaders in local government.

For centuries, panchayats formed the basic units of governance across the sub-continent, but their importance was undermined by centralised rule brought in during the British colonial period that ended with independence in 1947. [more]