The need to federate is a natural outcome of THP trainings and has become the most effective next step needed by elected women representatives. As shared by THP Partners and the team on the ground, “Prior to THP trainings, women were not participating effectively on the ground, hence there was no question of them wanting to know the financial and physical reality of their PRIs (Panchayat Raj Institutions). The moment they became aware of governance related issues and their rights during trainings and follow-up meetings, they feel the need to form associations in order to add a body of voices to their concerns. Not only this, as effective leaders, women want to address their concerns and resolve them.”
EWRs identity is both as an elected representative of her community and as a women in public spaces. It is with this multiple identity, that post WLWs, when EWRs start work in their respective constituencies and try and negotiate their way through the very hostile local government machinery, they face immense challenges. In various follow-up meetings EWRs have repeatedly talked about various hurdles like accessing information about disbursement of resources by the panchayats, allocation of resources based on the needs of the community, lack of information about processes that can empower them like knowledge about government policies, negotiating skills and experience of other EWRs who have had successes in meeting various challenges. Not all these challenges are governance related. Some EWRs face formidable socio-cultural pressures of prevalent patriarchal mindsets, restrictions on mobility and gender based violence amongst other obstacles during the course of their work.
However, during WLWs and follow-up workshops, there was a realization amongst EWRs that as individuals their voices are scattered, but as an enlightened group they can protect and represent their own interests in an effective manner through collective bargaining and do grassroots based advocacy on issues of participatory and accountable governance. Subsequently, with adequate inputs, EWR federations can be a collective voice for influencing public policy at the district and state level.
While the need to form EWR federations is very clear, there are considerable challenges that THP faces with regard to the structure, functions and in-depth conceptual clarity on federation building. To address some of the existing challenges, various systematic efforts will be made in 2009. This will include process documentation, reflecting on and evaluating current processes that are underway towards federation building and understanding effectiveness of federations as dynamic and robust associations that influence public policy and act as change agents. Steps that will be taken in 2009 towards this effort are as follows:
- To facilitate the federation building process of elected women representatives in Panchayats in 10 Blocks of Bihar State in India. It is expected that each block level federation will have a membership base of 50 members. Therefore the total number of target group will be 500 elected women representatives.
- To engage with state and local government officials of related departments to develop a common understanding of federations of elected women leaders.
Identifying strengths, opportunities and challenges of the federation building processes.
- THP and partner NGOs to be equipped with new knowledge and tools that will facilitate their work in promoting federations
- Started in 2008 with Panchayat level meetings
- Exposure visit of State representative to Rajasthan to understand the process of federation
- Training of Trainers – Phase I (understand the concept and objective of federation)
- Exposure Visit of partner organizations to Rajasthan to meet the ‘Panch-Sarpanch Mahila Sangathan’
- Training of Trainers – Phase II (module development for EWRs)
- Regular Input during Partners’ Meet and Field Visits
- Federation Building Workshops for EWRs
- Dialogue workshops with Stakeholders at block level
- Federation Meeting at Block Level (tech. input)
- Media Interface with federation members
- Federation Elections at block level
- Districts – 4
- Blocks – 15
- Panchayats – 282
- EWRs – More than 1000
- The achievements of federations can be seen as to establish political identity, bring social change, counter corruption, and betterment of services
- Political Identity – Honorarium
- Social Change – Address issues of Alcoholism, Domestic Violence
- Counter Corruption – Issues of BPL, MNREGA
- Betterment of Services – Mid Day Meal, ICDS, health services
- Have been successful in negotiating not to allow the male members to attend the meetings at block office
- Arranged for toilet facilities for women at Panchayat and block offices
- Got space at block office for regular monthly meetings of federation
- Pressurized to conduct Gram Sabha and resisted the obstinate behavior of Panchayat secretary
- Resisted against the violence against an EWR and demanded for justice
- Chances of using federations as a platform by different political parties during state legislative elections
- Federations do not have any fund support. Members are meeting regularly each month on their own expenses.
- Experience of SHGs affects the federations (power dynamics depending on their designation)