Deepening Democracy through strengthening decentralized governance in Kerala with focus on Gender justice (since 2013)
Our experience of several years convince us that, supporting and orienting the elected members as well as motivating the community will go a long way to make the Panchayat Raj system work effectively. In the last 15 years, whenever we have supported and helped the processes with appropriate tools like study of status of women, resource mapping, supporting the functioning of Vigilance cells on violence against women, we have found great acceptance.
The patriarchal society in Kerala never raises voice against violence on women and incidents of harassments on women are in a high rate. The vigilance cells are one of the most effective mechanisms for stopping violence against women and thus making Panchayats gender friendly. In the present situation there are very few such cells are active in the State. This is because many Panchayats do not have clear idea about the mechanism. More over many do not have the gender sensitivity to deal cases and plan and implement strategies to stop violence against women. Panchayats need hand holding in all these processes.
The foundation of grassroots governance is the village assemblies or gram sabhas. These are formed constitutionally. Over the years conducting of gram sabha (ward Sabha) has become a routine affair. Now, after 20 years of decentralization, the people’s enthusiasm to be present for village assembly meetings lessened and the elected members are left to make arbitrary decisions. Planning also happens without a broader vision of development. Kerala has a very fragile eco system and if village planning is just based on economic progress without taking into consideration of larger issues of gender, disabilities, water, energy management, climate change etc. very soon we will move to a catastrophic situation. Now we have Ayal sabhas in each ward as the smallest unit of local governance. Handholding support to the leaders of these Ayal sabhas and the elected representatives will result in dynamic and meaningful discussions contributing towards local planning.
In this context, in Kerala, we started an initiative in 2013 with the support of Hanns Seidel Foundation, India to strengthen democracy through deepening the decentralization process. Our focus will be on gender justice and civic education.
We continue the process of making selected panchayats gender friendly in 2017 also. We had started this process in 2013 in 3 Panchayats in Trivandrum and continued in 3 Panchayats each in Kasaragod and Malappuram districts in 2015. Last year we had interviened in 4 more Panchayats in Malappuram and three Panchayats in Kollam. This year we have upsacaled the programme to state level by conducting seminars in all districts.
The Panchayats we are working in 2017
in Kasaragod : Madikkai
in Malappuram : Puzhakkattiri, Angadippuram and Elamkulam, Koottilangadi, Thazhekode, Moorkkanad, Mankada
in Kollam: Perinad, Nedumpana, Karavaloor
The major activities in these panchayats include building up of ‘Resource team’ in each Panchayat, strengthening Jagratha Samithis and Grama sabhas, exposure visits etc.
Some of the Panchayats, got inspired by the district lelvel seminars contacted Sakhi for follow up activities in their individual Panchayats. Thus we are supporting Edavaka, Noolppuzha and Muppainad Grama Panchayats in setting up Gender Resource Centre (GRC), strengthening Jagratha samithi and conducting Women’s Status Study.