Women in Democracy: An Alternative Platform

Women in Democracy An Alternative Platform — Women Parliament Process
March 16, 2015 Organized by Initiatives: Women in Development (India)

This was a very interesting and well-organized panel explaining the Initiatives: Women in Development (IWID) process for helping women in India to gain a voice in their local and national government. Their website provides a wide range of information about the organization and their programs.

The premise of the program is that, unless women understand how their government works (or should work), they will not be able to participate effectively. The program both explains the processes and engages women in the practice of Indian parliamentary process.

They begin by teaching the main points of the parliamentary process and in the course of practicing (acting as an actual parliament) they elicit from participants what issues are most important to them. The practice teaches them how to define the issues clearly and in parliamentary language, to examine existing policies and ministries or departments that are responsible – or could be made responsible – for those issues, to formulate clear solutions to the problem, clearly state guidelines and criteria for action, and develop a budget for the needed changes, including alternative sources of funding (re-directing existing funds or identifying new sources of revenue).

The speakers, led by Moderator Drindrina Sinha, also see this process as helping women to monitor what the government is doing and, at some point, to make parliament itself more efficient.

For instance, their learning about developing a proper budget gives the women skills to analyze and critique the budgets that government proposes. Also, their process of developing solutions that can be presented to government officials can short-circuit delays by officials uninterested in preparing or unable to prepare solutions. Having a clear, effective solution, complete with a list of agencies involved and budget strategies, makes the proposal ready for implementation. And the women can monitor action and call representatives to task for not acting.

The process also prepares women to take part in government and perhaps eventually to run for office. This is a major challenge in a country where women are often denied education or any chance to speak out. The program teaches them that they can speak out in ways that will be heard, and that can effect needed changes.

IWID has been holding the Women Parliament programs since 2008, engaging women from all areas of India, with all levels of education or not, and from all walks of life.

As the women learn the process, they then return to their region or village and engage others in the process. This allows the women to begin to create solutions for the issues closest to them, whether it be land reform, housing, inheritance (widows do not have the right to inherit their husbands’ property), problems facing immigrants – internal or from outside India – or other situations. The inclusivity of the project reaches both urban women and those in remote rural areas, through the system of training a few who return and pass on their experience.

The program on Monday was supposed to include an exercise in planning out a solution to a problem we chose, but participants began to besiege the panel with questions the minute they gave us time to sit quietly. The audience was very diverse – we had participants from India, East Timor, Suriname (UN representative), a francophone country (another participant translated her questions, Australia and New Zealand, and a few of us from the United States. Several represented Indigenous populations, and one (Australian, I think) woman I spoke to told me that her university students found the process enlightening and were making good use of it.

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