Home > 

Amplifying Women’s Voices: India’s Panchayati Raj System as a Platform for Female Empowerment

India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ruchira Kamboj, recently cast a spotlight on the significant advancements made in the domain of women’s leadership within India’s grassroots governance mechanism, the Panchayati Raj system. She proudly stated, “India prides itself on a unique system of rural governance known as the Panchayati Raj—an emblem of decentralised power at the grassroots level,” highlighting the strides made in the empowerment of women through direct democracy.

During a side event at India’s #CPD57, titled “Localizing the SDGs: Women in Local Governance in India Leads the Way,” Kamboj spoke about the system’s decentralised structure which facilitates an inclusive and active participation from all residents of a Panchayat via the Gram Sabha. This defining characteristic distinguishes the Panchayati Raj from typical municipal governance models seen globally, positioning it as a beacon for inclusive decision-making.

An immense leap towards gender equality was realized with the 1992 constitutional amendment which mandated that at least one-third of the seats in local governance should be occupied by women. This historic mandate was a giant leap for equitable female representation in decision-making processes at the local level. Kamboj celebrated this progressive step but also noted the further advancements in this area, revealing that 50 percent representation has been achieved in 21 states across India. Presently, out of over 3.1 million elected representatives, more than 1.4 million are women. This remarkable increase is emblematic of a broader societal change where the roles of women in governance and development are recognized and cherished.

Kamboj outlined the careful alignment of local planning in the Panchayati Raj system with the localisation of sustainable development goals, especially with an emphasis on empowering women. The initiative has led to transformative impacts, embedding gender considerations into developmental planning and addressing women’s needs and priorities, leading to more inclusive and sustainable outcomes.

Applauding the endeavors of women leaders in surmounting conventional barriers, she drew attention to their revolutionary contributions in enhancing education, healthcare, sanitation, and livelihoods. Women at the helm of Panchayati Raj institutions have catalyzed significant social and economic transformations by incorporating their unique perspectives and experiences to tackle societal and economic challenges.

However, women in leadership roles also face numerous challenges. Recognizing this, Kamboj underlined the importance of supportive legal frameworks, comprehensive capacity building, and cooperative partnerships to promote gender equality. India’s experience, she stated, offers invaluable insights and learnings on advancing and sustaining women’s leadership.

As Kamboj concluded her address, she called for a renewed commitment to bolstering women’s leadership in local governance, a pivotal force in achieving gender equality and sustainable development goals. Invoking the timeless words of Mahatma Gandhi, she highlighted the boundless strength inherent in women.

India’s approach to women’s empowerment at the local government level thus stands as a testament to the nation’s dedication to promoting gender equality and empowering women leaders. The Panchayati Raj system, with its unique structure and inclusive ethos, continues to pave the way for the vital role women play in shaping the future of their communities and the nation at large. With ongoing efforts and a focus on addressing the challenges that remain, India aims to further strengthen the voices of women in governance and continue to be an example for the world in leveraging the transformative power of inclusive leadership.