The Capability Approach and Political Participation: A Study of the Women Elected Representatives (WERs) in Rural Odisha, India

Parida, Jayashree; Mishra, Niharranjan (2016). 'The Capability Approach and Political Participation: A Study of the Women Elected Representatives (WERs) in Rural Odisha, India' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract The paper analyzes the political participation of women elected representatives in rural democratic institutions across caste and gender using Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach. In the present study, the approach encourages an examination of the ways in which gendered institutions influence women converting capabilities into functioning. It also attempts how the ‘conversion factors’ like caste, religion, age, income, occupation etc. may prevent  or influence from converting capabilities to functioning i.e. active political participation of women. From the Robeyns’s (2003b:70-71) five criteria for selecting the capabilities such as a) the criterion of explicit formulation; b) the criterion of methodological justification; c) the criterion of sensitivity to context; d) the criterion of different levels of generality; e) the criterion of exhaustion and non-reduction, I have selected seven capabilities for an evaluation of active political participation of women elected members i.e. women political empowerment. Seven capabilities are as follows: attendance of WERs in the panchayats meetings, complete freedom of speech in the meetings, their performance in the meetings, time invested in the village matters, keeping expenditure details, knowledge of Rural Development programmes and issues handled, and support of the family. Data from 38 elected women representatives in Odisha were elicited through in-depth interviews. The major findings indicate that majority of women members take up their political roles only when they can combine the family and political roles together, mostly after completing their reproductive roles.  It is also found that in female-dalit headed panchayats, women who have secured higher positions are usually better educated than the simple ward members as compared to male-headed panchayats. Women Elected Representatives (WERs) in female-headed Panchayats play an active role compared to women in male-headed panchayats.  Significant positive relation exists between education and women’s active political participation. The conclusions drawn from the study are that the younger women participate less in numbers in local governance compared to other age groups, low level of educational status affects the active political participation of women members, majority of women members belong to the low economic background. So, all these socio-economic factors prevent women to participate actively in local governance like attendance in the meetings, time invested in the village matters, nature of issues handled, support of the family, member’s performance in the meetings, functioning of the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and many more. It is also found that women with higher level of education participate actively than those who have lower level of education. The socio-economic dependence of women on men and looking at them as their role models induces lack of confidence and inability to take decisions. Their lack of awareness especially on the political issues is of main concern. The study has led to the inference that women’s active political participation in local self government institutions and the consequent political advancement are important milestones in the march towards the goal of giving equal space in public sphere to women as par with men. Women’s participation in local self-government encompasses structural changes in the rural socio-economic situation in order to achieve prosperity and welfare, which is the ultimate goal of development. Emergence of women as a strong group would change the prevailing political practices, the nature and women’s issues can be taken care of from the feminist perspective both in policy formulation and implementation. These important dimensions make women’s participation in PRIs an interesting area of research. From the findings of the study and the suggestions given by the elected members and the public for improving the women’s participation, training programmes emerge as an important need area for the capacity-building of women elected members. There should be proper implementation and monitoring strictly government sanctions against proxy candidature as well as gender and caste discrimination. Keywords: capability approach; dalit; education; participation; political decision –making; women elected representatives.

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