Bengal NGO prompts women to join in local polls

By Matters India Reporter

Kolkata: The Jesuit-run Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum in West Bengal is encouraging rural women to contend in local elections scheduled to take place in May.

“Registering our women’s Self Help Groups (SHGs) federations at the block level into NGOs and train them to be independent and move out from Udayani towards a total empowerment and put some of women leaders into forthcoming panchayat election,” Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi, director of Udayani told Matters India.

They should not be dependent on the Jesuits. Women empowerment should move in this direction. Every development program today comes through the panchayat and since our women so far have no idea how to get and what to get. They have been deprived and most of the government’s welfare schemes are misused, underutilized or not implemented effectively. It is rights-based approach and teaches out women to demand their due from the duty bearers. We are training them for the said purpose with optimism, he said.

For last 15 years, rural women leaders are trained for their political participation in local elections and for last ten years, many girls have been a focus and for last two years very focused on the subject.

“Some women are ready to contend in local polls and motivated. Some are still not for it but wish to be a ward member and I plan to continue their training,” Father Jothi said.

Rural women’s political participation is relevant to society. Now women feel that they are important and powerful. The politics matter a lot in the development works of the rural Bengal. It is the women themselves should take a decision of what they want for their present moment and future, the social worker added.

“Women can manage the challenge and pressure of politics in male bastion areas. Though it is not so easy, that is where I am expected to be with them. I assure this to them to train them constantly when they need and connect them to some influential people and agencies including the CSR groups which awarded us to help with funds when needed,” he said.

“By now, these women have some required skills, guts, competencies and political prowess. I have been with them in their fight for food (ration) and work. They used to block the panchayat offices and up to District Magistrate. The demand has been power to reckon with. They have the courage and their unity is their strength,” the priest said.

“I am not leaving them alone but the at least 1000 women members of SHGs and will be guiding them. Udayani will have a greater role as partner support and training. It is something new and challenging. Let us try. It is all going to be for them and for their empowerment. We hope at least 10 women will file their nominations for Sarpanch (heads) of panchayat elections. Let me see what I could get out at the end,” Father Jothi said.

This is Udayani’s movement for gender equality concerns and efforts are at the forefront.

He is positive that the disparity of men’s and women’s representation in politics and other positions in Bengal and elsewhere will be on a decreasing trend.

Women have different perspectives. They are also more intuitive, have more patience and pay more attention to details. The more women should be represented in the decision-making and direction-setting aspects in government and private sector, he added.

Society at large needs to provide opportunities to women so that they can be part and process of their empowerment, in Development and nation-building, he reiterated.

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