Women in rural India are always at an added disadvantage due to low literacy levels and socio-cultural norms characterized by inequitable access to resources. This automatically translates into reduced self-esteem and poor levels of confidence. Coupled with this, a general deficit of self-understanding and limited or no existence as separate individuals without being imbibed by patriarchal norms further worsens the situation for women.
All these factors together deter their participation in matters of local governance, be it in village-level institutions like gram panchayats, school management committees, among others, or in monitoring delivery of public services in their villages.
The concept of a Women’s Leadership School (WLS) was developed with the aim of identifying and fostering the capacities of women community leaders, so that they are empowered at individual and collective levels to participate effectively in matters of village development.
WLS is a capacity building and collective action platform for women leaders at the grassroots, namely active community members, women elected representatives of local institutions, members of self-help groups, frontline health workers such as anganwadi and ASHA.
Here women leaders learn about themselves, gender equity, confidence building, participation in local institutions such as gram sabha, gram panchayat and school management committees, and community monitoring. The “learning by doing” methodology of training in a yearlong training program equips women leaders with information and skills to participate in the functioning of local institutions and government programs.
The training guide will be useful for women leaders at the grassroots who face the challenges of patriarchy, a deficit of information and skills, and a lack of opportunities to articulate their voices. We hope that community-based organizations and nonprofit entities working in 662,000 villages of India will find it useful and integrate it into the activities or projects they do in these villages.
Any of the sessions of WLS can be picked up by the organizations working in different sectors to train, as the some of the themes (such gender equity, confidence building, participation in local institutions) are relevant for all sectors. This will help to create thousands of women leaders at the grassroots who are keen to develop their villages and improve their well-being.
This training guide consists of carefully selected sessions that are primarily developed to enable creation of leadership qualities among women community leaders at individual and collective levels.
Session 1 on knowing each other and building perspective of village development, makes women community leaders acquainted with each other and enable them to identify available community resources and scope to improve them for holistic village development.
Session 2 is designed to empower women to know about their village, analyze the existing problems, and design appropriate solutions to address the same. The session aims to develop a detailed understanding of the gram panchayat (village council) through use of Participatory Rural Appraisal tools like social mapping and a problem and solution ranking matrix.
Session 3 again focuses on generating self-awareness among women community leaders so they can identify their likes and dislikes, strengths and weakness outside the ambit of patriarchal dominance.
Session 4 talks about the importance of enhancing self-confidence and public speaking skills among women leaders so they can articulate their views in larger gatherings that include male members of gram panchayats, government officers, among others.
Session 5 emphasizes conflict resolution and aims to make women community leaders aware of popular methods of negotiation, so they can take a stand for themselves without hampering relationships.
Session 6 is designed to help participants identify the stereotypical gender characteristics associated with men and women and examine how those affect women’s roles and relations in the family and community. The session is designed to inspire women community leaders to reflect on their own assumptions regarding gender roles and relations in the family and community.
Session 7 attempts to make women community leaders aware of the gram sabha and its role in gram panchayat development, and to motivate them to participate in the same so that their development needs and priorities receive adequate attention.
Session 8 is designed to motivate women community leaders to participate effectively in gram panchayat. It highlights the factors that influence the participation of women leaders in gram panchayat.
Session 9 intends to make women leaders understand the importance of preparing gram panchayat development plans and engaging women collectives and self-help groups effectively in the process in order to make the planning inclusive of women’s needs and priorities.
Session 10 aims to enable women leaders to activate the school management committees, most of which remain dormant due to poor awareness about the roles and responsibilities of the members, especially women.
Session 11 addresses knowledge gaps regarding good nutrition and hygiene-related practices among women community leaders so they are able to analyze their own nutrition and sanitation situation. The session motivates them to reflect on the potentials and problems with their choices in order to actively decide on adopting a nutrition and hygiene-sensitive lifestyle.
Session 12 with the aim to improve overall delivery of public services, attempts to establish the importance of knowing about the main provisions and existing gaps of key government programs in their villages and encourage women community leaders to actively monitor implementation of these programs.
The full training guide is attached.
About the authors
Vikas Jha is Principal Lead, Local Participation and Sustainability, S M Sehgal Foundation, Gurugram. He has a PhD from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and a post graduate diploma in Policy Studies from the University of London.
Debika Goswami is associated with S M Sehgal Foundation as Senior Program Lead, Local Participation and Sustainability for the last seven years. Prior to this, she has experience of working with organisations like PRIA, Digital Green and Udyogini. A post graduate from University of Calcutta and University of Roma, La Sapienza, Debika is passionately involved in designing and implementing programs for improving governance in Indian villages, with specific focus on the rights of underprivileged sections of the rural population.