Policymakers urge for greater participation of women in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act

Recommend the promotion of all-women work sites, training of women supervisors and mandatory gender audits

Date: Monday, December 3, 2012

For immediate release

Lucknow - In a major push for women’s rights, activists called for the greater participation of women in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the world’s largest pay-for-work programme. National Advisory Council Member Ms Aruna Roy urged policymakers to safeguard the Act. “While the national average for women’s share in MNREGA is 55 per cent, in Uttar Pradesh it remains 18 per cent, which is one of the poorest levels of participation. Unless the impact of MGNREGA is analyzed from women’s standpoint their participation will continue to remain low,” she said during her keynote address at the National Consultation on Women and MGNREGA organized by Gender at Work and UN Women at Yojna Bhawan.

The implementation of the Act has been mixed. Some states like Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have made considerable gains for women. Others like Uttar Pradesh are still lagging far behind, especially in the participation of Dalit women. “Seven years after the introduction of the Act, many states are still neglecting economic roles for women by failing to ensure that women get one-third of MGNREGA jobs,” said Arundhati Dhuru, Consultant for Gender at Work and Uttar Pradesh Advisor to the Supreme Court Commissioner’s on the Right to Food.

Reflecting on the macroeconomic scenario, Aasha Kapur Mehta, Professor, Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) said: “Individual women and men, and not households, should be entitled to guaranteed employment, as per constitutional principles. Expanding this right beyond 100 days is the way forward to address chronic poverty in rural India today.”

The participants shared experiences from Uttar Pradesh Rajasthan, Bihar, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh to show how women’s participation could be increased. Various successful field experiences were shared, including a Gender at Work and UN Women project, Dalit Women’s Livelihood Initiative, which was implemented in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

As a result, participation of Dalit women working under MGNREGA increased from 62 per cent to 97 per cent. Bank accounts in women’s name increased from 47 per cent to 70 per cent. “The world’s largest pay for work programme has to deliver to women. This project supported by UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality has shown us how much potential there is within MGNREGA to create positive conditions for women’s employment,” said Anne F. Stenhammer, Regional Programme Director, UN Women South Asia Office.

In Lalitpur district, Sahjani Shiksha Kendra has trained Dalit women as “mate” or worksite supervisors. “When we began our work, everyone said women would not be able to do the job of a mate. But our training programme and on -the-job support has shown otherwise. 16 of the 22 trained mates have found work. We think the government should upscale this intervention to all the districts of Uttar Pradesh and invest in training women,” said Meena from Sahjani Shiksha Kendra.

Musahar and Muslim women were also included in Varanasi district. “These groups are extremely disadvantaged and have not been able to access the benefits of MGNREGA due to biases within the system and community. Our survey found that 700 Musahar families did not have job cards. We managed to get cards made for all of them, and get work for many Muslim women,” said Nandlal from Lok Samiti working in Varanasi district.

An all-women worksite was another innovation – almost 100 women came together to build a pond in Chitrakoot district. “The all- women’s worksite has been very successful. Women were involved in all stages of the work. 140 women got more than 60 days of work each, this had a tremendous impact on their economic status,” said Pushpa from Vanangana.

The consultation was attended by 150 senior activists, government officials, and policy makers from across the country. Speakers included Aruna Roy, NAC member; Nikhil De, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan; Annie Raja, General Secretary, NFIW; S.M. Vijayanand, Additional Secretary MoRD; Rajeev Kumar, Principal Secretary, MoRD, Govt. of UP; Sarada Muraleedharan, COO, National Rural Livelihoods Mission; and Rashmi Singh, National Mission for Empowerment of Women.

They recommended the following solutions:

  • Building awareness about the Act through women’s groups and movements
  • Individual entitlement for women, not household-based
  • Expansion in the number of days guaranteed
  • Promotion of all-women work sites
  • Mandatory gender audits
  • Training women as ‘mate’ supervisors

These recommendations will be further debated during a dialogue on December 4th, which will be attended by Shri Jairam Ramesh, Honorable Minster Rural Development, Government of India; Arvind Singh Gope, Honorable Minster Rural Development Uttar Pradesh; Aruna Roy, National Advisory Council member; and Jean Dreze, Prof. Govind Ballbh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.

Media inquiries:

Arundhati Dhuru: 09415022772/ Madhavi Kuckreja: 9984616000/ Sabrina Sidhu: +91-9818717522, sabrina.sidhu@unwomen.org