UN Women celebrates Women’s Political Empowerment Day

Date: Monday, April 25, 2011

New Delhi - Junpo Jugli, Chairperson of the Changlang Zilla Parishad (District Committee) in Arunachal Pradesh is a firm and resolute woman. Due to these very traits, people from her district have elected her for almost a decade.

In 2006, intense pressure by senior officials of the Rashtriya Rifles could not make this veteran and inspiring leader back down. Her reason and stand was against two soldiers who had raped a 12-year old girl from her constituency. She refused an out-of-court settlement and got the soldiers court-martialed. Consequently, the company moved out.

For her leadership and determination, Junpo was conferred the Outstanding Panchayat Leader Award of 2011 during the 18th Women Political Empowerment Day celebrations in New Delhi on 25 April 2011.

The matter-of-fact Jugli, however, underplays her achievements. “ I am in this position because my village people, including the men, urged me to stand for elections. If women don’t get these opportunities, then how will they ever come forward and ensure a better place and position for other women?” argues Jugli.

Organized by UN Women, the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) and UNDP, the Women Political Empowerment Day celebrations brought together almost 500 other elected women leaders from all over India. Many of them hailed from the five states where UN Women works to build their skills and confidence.

UN Women’s Response

In the states of Orissa, Karnataka, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, UN Women and its partners encourage more women like Junpo to stake their claim in local governance and elected bodies.

In partnership with The Hunger Project, UN Women assists women in Gram Sabhas (village bodies) and encourages women to become more vocal leaders in Panchayats (local governance bodies). This in turn helps them assert themselves on a variety of issues from physical violence against women, and locals budgets and plans.

Building Leaders

From the tribal Gajpati district in the eastern Indian state of Orissa comes Sochara Karzi. Not only is she a Dalit but she is also an unmarried leader, and was first elected from a general category women’s seat. Besides these symbolic achievements, she has many other accomplishments to her name.

In over two decades in local governance, she has ensured that almost 4000 farmers got free maize seeds, 200 people received jobs cards under the National Rural Employment Gaurantee Act, 500 acres of land were planted with mango trees, 3000 people gained access to fresh drinking water and 200 people received pension under the government’s old age pension scheme.

“Becoming a woman sarpanch (village body head) has built my confidence to talk up, to work, to get things done and discuss issues with officials from all over,” asserts Karzi.

Different Experiences

Since reservation for women in local Panchayat election was first declared, three sets of elections have churned out almost 10 lakh women elected representation, an unprecedented figure even globally.

At the plenary of the Celebrations, the Minister of State for Rural Development, Ms. Agatha Sangma pointed out that the real impetus for change in India lies at the gram panchayat level and therefore women must at the heart of it.

While the rules are the same, the experiences of women from across India are varied. 25-year old S. Ambika from Karnataka is young, educated and outspoken, but Rukmani Devi from Rajasthan, the second Outstanding Panchayat Leader for 2011, is illiterate and till last year spent much of her time behind a veil.

Despite the superficial differences, they both share many common ideals and are passionate about making a difference in their communities.

Sangeeta Yerpude, a sarpanch from Madhya Pradesh, clinches the argument for promoting women elected representatives. “Women understand the struggles of other women and know what needs to be done. Seeing a woman sarpanch, other women get motivated to come forward and participate in the gram sabhas. As they become leaders and speak up, their confidence increases and they get opportunities to step outside of their house,” she says.

For their villages and communities, these women leaders are the change-makers.