Thanks to gender budgeting in the Indian government, 33% of national and state funds have to be utilised in a way that benefits women. One third of seats at local and national level are reserved for women.
Each village, or panchayat, has around 15-17 elected representatives who govern the village. Elected through public vote, they meet every week, and take responsibility for deciding the allocation of funds, and making decisions on issues such as health care, and access to drinking water. They have the mandate to summon the police, should the need arise.
However, despite the law requiring one third of a village’s elected representatives to be women, what more commonly happens, is that men put forward their wives for election, and after their wife is elected, the men go into the office and take on the role of elected representative for the panchayat.
Panchayat women needed to be persuaded that it was their role and responsibility to go to office. Global Concerns India Director Brinda Adige began by talking to the women in a language that they would understand. Many of the women feared that they were not capable of making decisions at local representative level for their villages. Brinda advised them, that if a woman can manage her home on a small budget, making sure that there is always food on the table, no matter how little money she has, then she is well-equipped to manage her village. Brinda explained to the women that if they continued to allow their husbands to go to the office in their place, that their husbands could be prosecuted.
Brinda now holds training sessions for elected women representatives. To begin with, she discusses issues that affect the women on a daily basis. Only after several training sessions does she start talking about equality and rights, and larger issues that may be affecting their communities.
In one training session, with elected women representatives from two panchayats, Brinda began discussing the issues of child trafficking. She asked the women if there was trafficking going on in their villages. They all said no.
Yet when probed, and asked whether children ever disappear from the village, or whether parents are approached with job offers in the cities for their children, she got a different response. Some women admitted that there were cases in which children are taken away to work in hotels or garment factories, but that no one really knows what they are doing.
The women watch a documentary film about children who have been trafficked into the sex industry, in Mumbai.
Following the session, women say that they are encouraged to question what is going on in their villages, and as elected representatives, to question the government about what they are doing to combat child trafficking.