Three decades have passed since women’s empowerment received a significant boost with the introduction of 33 percent reservation in local self-government bodies, later increased to 50 percent. In this span of time, Madam Sarpanch, The Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) have not only traversed a remarkable journey but have also solidified their pivotal role in nation-building from the grassroots.
Breaking Free from Chains
Over the past thirty years, EWRs have broken free from familial and social constraints. They’ve transformed from timid and teary-eyed individuals, often controlled by men, to assertive and independent leaders capable of making their own decisions. They have shed the image of being ‘goongi gudiyas’ (speechless dolls) and have emerged as formidable forces, channelling their inner Durgas when necessary.
Empowering Numbers in Maharashtra
As per data from the Maharashtra Rural Development Ministry, Maharashtra boasts around 28,000 Gram Panchayats, 352 Panchayat Samitis at the taluka level, 14,000 Madam Sarpanches (Madam Presidents), 17 Zilla Parishads (across 35 districts, excluding Mumbai), and an impressive count of 125,000 EWRs out of a total of 250,000 representatives. These numbers underscore the significant presence and influence of women in rural governance.
The Role of Grassroots Movements
Ulka Mahajan, the Founder of Sarvahara Jan Andolan (Raigad) a prominent grassroots activist, emphasizes the role of various movements in the state that have contributed to women’s empowerment. These movements have increased women’s knowledge, exposed them to governance, highlighted their capabilities, and encouraged them to become vocal leaders.
A Promising Future
The journey of EWRs in Maharashtra over the past three decades has been one of remarkable progress, transformation, and empowerment. As these women continue to shatter stereotypes, break barriers, and advocate for their communities, they pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future. While challenges persist, their determination and resilience assure us that the struggle for women’s empowerment will endure and thrive.
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