The world would say that when women get a little power they would become dictators; shrill, and seeking for domination of men. They would push their agendas forward by any means. They would look sensual, they would have money, and they would tend to be egocentric.
But in the Mewat district of India the “council of Elders” (Panchayat) has made a historical breakthrough: the traditionally male-dominated local political positions have been filled by all women. Every one of the 10 members is a woman from surrounding villages. What have they done with their new-found power? They have built roads, brought running-water to villages that have been striving for it for decades; they are building schools for girls, upgrading the education system, improving health care, installed 72 toilets, brought proper regulation of government ration shops, and cleaned up government corruption, to mention a few of their accomplishments.
When the head position was filled by a woman, she was asked who she wanted to appoint for the other 10 positions. She said, “I had never stepped out of the house all my life. Suddenly, I was expected to preside over a team of 10. Wasn’t this the logical solution?” The men in the villages were appalled, mocked them, and sought to belittle them. These older-generation women (in their 60’s and 70’s, one is 79) are illiterate, yet they were determined and thrilled to serve their villages. For 17 years the men had ruled the council by using the funds for “gigs and fairs” (essentially parties). They had never even called a meeting.
My favorite measure these brave women ruled was their first. Once the women of the surrounding villages heard their fellow women were in power, many of them came running, complaining of their intoxicated husbands and sons who were ruining families. Before, there was no law whatsoever on alcoholism, but these women took this large problem and implemented a culturally sound policy: any intoxicated or drunk in the district was not allowed a home-cooked meal.
This district is unsurprisingly a very patriarchal society. Their sex ratio is astounding (893 females per 1,000 males), maternal mortality rates are off the scale, and has one of the highest incidences in India of child marriages and teenage marriages. It was about time some of these women got a little power. This is simply a case-study, not a generalized view of India, but it does show progress in the right direction. The hope is that this trend will spread across India, giving wise, middle-age women a chance to have a voice in their communities, changing the world one village at a time.
The beautiful women of the Mewat Panachayat
I told my roommate about this wonderful news, and she said, “Well of course, this makes perfect sense. Women see the needs of others and their communities. Men see business.” These women have been able to see these needs, make a difference, and implement laws within cultural context that perhaps would never have been seen by a man’s perspective. Women bring a view of the world that is essential in policy decisions for communities and nations. When given power, most well-reasoned women don’t think of themselves; their first thoughts are their family and then their community. Time Magazine featured a whole edition on women, and one of the articles focused on what women do with micro-loans in developing countries. The study found that men generally spent the money on tobacco, alcohol, and sometimes their personal business ventures. Women spent the money on health care, food, and needs for the family.
Although men may mock, women need to bring their perspectives to the table of improving our communities and societies. Salma, a member of the council said, “The men ridiculed us saying women are meant only to dance inside the house. We said why are we then made to work in the fields, fetch water, fetch wood? They said the panchayat is different.
We said, just wait and see.”