Sakhi (Kerala, India)

The 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Indian Constitution, passed in 1993, devolved a significant amount of power over social sector and development planning to local level governments or panchayats.  The constitution mandates a one-third reservation for women in panchayat assemblies and earmarks a portion of panchayat spending for women's planning.  Kerala is the only state in India with a sex ratio that is not female adverse, and is general considered to have excellent gender development indicators: high literacy rates, high average age of marriage, low maternal mortality rate, no female infanticide.  Yet the political participation of women remains abnormally low, violence against women is increasing, and women as a group are poorer and more vulnerable to unemployment and illness than men.

This summer I am working with an NGO called Sakhi on a project to mainstream gender in panchayat institutions.  My portion of the project is to draft (and re-draft, and re-draft) a Bill of Rights for Women for two village panchayats in two districts in Kerala, India.  Constrained as it is by the jurisdiction of the panchayats, (which derives entirely from the State government) the document deals mainly with health, education and economic and political rights.  In my first two weeks in India I traveled to various panchayats in Kerala along with my project supervisor to talk with local officials and observe the gender planning and development initiatives happening on the ground.   Based on these trips and on a comprehensive status of women report compiled by Sakhi in the months before my arrival, I drafted the initial document, which has now been through several reincarnations with the help of the social workers at the NGO.  Within a week we will be traveling back to the field to consult with the women's working groups in each panchayat and present our report - including draft bill - to the Gram Sabhas (village assemblies).   We have been working with officials from the panchayats through the project and it is our hope that the Women's Bill of Rights will be adopted by both.