UN & Decentralisation

 July 2004


UNIFEM and Decentralization 1

UNIFEM South Asia views the building of alliances between academic/research institutions, groups working on pro-poor budgets, elected women representatives (EWR) and members of the Panchayats, as a powerful tool to initiate social change. Recognizing that the budget is a key to economic justice, one of the studies undertaken was on `Building Budgets from Below' in partnership with Singamma Sreenivasan Foundation (SSF). The study showed that gender budgeting can be meaningful only if budget-making institutions are representative in character, operate at ground level and are accessible and accountable. As a part of the study, elected women representatives, were asked to prioritize their local needs and motivated to make an `ought budget'. Women leaders demonstrated their strong knowledge of local needs as well as the ability to formulate a local budget utilizing resources productively with little leakage. The exercise clearly demonstrated the need to link economic governance with political governance in order to enable poor rural women to move themselves out of the poverty trap.

Providing a new approach for budgeting, which includes elected women representatives at the grassroots level as active participants in the overall process, UNIFEM is working with Singamma Sreenivasan Foundation in Karnataka on four sites, which include the City Municipal Councils of Mysore and Tumkur and the Gram Panchayats of Honaganhalli and Kogali. Focusing on enabling elected women representatives of local self-governance bodies to influence the budget through a bottom-up democratic micro-planning process, the effort has met with a remarkable degree of success. In May, this year, elected women representatives were able to ensure that the budget for women related programmes of the Mysore City Corporation for 2004-2005 remained at the same level as in 2003-2004. This marked an increase by 56% to the proposed reduced allocation by the Mysore City Corporation.

In South Asia, women continue to be under-represented in leadership positions in the political and economic arena and in peace and conflict resolution processes. Developing strategies to strengthen the public voice of ordinary women, and increase their participation and influence in processes of governance, UNIFEM has undertaken several initiatives. At the grassroots level, soon after the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution, UNIFEM undertook an intervention with the Centre for Social Research (CSR), to create an enabling environment for the women to participate meaningfully in the political processes. Essentially catalytic in nature and focusing on grassroots democracy, efforts were made to assist the translation of a gender responsive policy into meaningful action at the grass roots for women. Through the initiation of a dialogue with women from grassroots political institutions (Panchayats), NGOs, activists and academia, women's concerns relating to their participation in decision making within elected bodies, were brought to the fore. In addition, the initiative was instrumental in spreading awareness about this legislation to women who were not directly elected members of grassroots democratic institutions, but who were active voters, who influenced the formation of these elected bodies. In West Bengal, through a process of research and action with the Rural Development Consortium, a needs-based model of political empowerment for women was developed.

Though the 74th Constitutional Amendment to the Constitution of India has enabled the entry of more women into urban governance, research studies indicated that many needed to build their capacity to participate effectively. To bridge the hiatus between opportunity for governance and capacity for governance, UNIFEM undertook an initiative in Maharashtra, to increase the skills of women participating in political processes and decision-making. In partnership with Women's Political Watch, women councilors or potential councilors across party lines were trained to participate effectively in municipal governance in 20 districts. Core training modules and information materials for Women Municipal Councilors were developed, making available tools for training women councilors in other parts of India; networking and alliance-building between elected women and their constituencies was facilitated; and a network of trainers in municipal governance was created. 

Simultaneously, the initiative also sought to raise awareness and acceptance of women as a political force, transforming their role from just female presence to female voices in the governance of cities.

As a knowledge-based organization, UNIFEM supported a case study of the Delhi Municipal Corporation elections in 1997 to find out the impediments faced by women candidates, despite existence of reservation of seats at the Delhi Municipal Corporation. This was considered necessary, as though women's participation as political actors had improved, their grip over formal structure at the party level was not impressive.

Empowering women in the marketplace by ensuring their equal rights and access to non-financial and financial resources and opportunities, UNIFEM facilitates the development of their technical skills, economic literacy, leadership and bargaining powers, as well as an enabling policy environment. For example, in Andhra Pradesh, in partnership with the State Government, the Girijan Cooperative Corporation, the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), and Kovel Foundation, efforts are ongoing to empower tribal women collectors of Non-Timber Forestry Products (NTFP). They have been enabled to move up the value chain of production and marketing through the formation of SHGs and organization into Collectors/Pickers Associations. Trained on scientific tapping, processing, value addition and marketing of gum karaya and other non-timber forest products, women NTFP collectors now produce more and better quality gum. Capacity building on grading and pricing of the products has led to enhanced negotiating powers of NTFP collectors vis-à-vis the Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC). This has led to other interesting fallouts, such as decline in bonded labour, out migration of women, violence against women and alcoholism, and an increase in the status of the women in the family. They now have more control over their earnings and manage and control the procurement and collection centres.

UNIFEM believes that the development of local capacities, particularly those of women, is an essential element for sustainable development.


ILO and the Cooperative Way to Decentralization 2

The ILO's interregional INDISCO Programme on Promoting Self Reliance of Indigenous and Tribal peoples, is all about decentralization. It is about vesting power in the people, through community owned and community driven approaches.

Based in the Cooperative Branch of ILO, INDISCO works with the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged peoples through demonstrative pilot projects, facilitating their socio economic empowerment and social dialogue, bringing grassroots experiences to bear upon the policy environment. Building upon traditional institutions and informal self-help groups, they are facilitated to evolve into legally recognized and democratically managed entities such as cooperatives.

Why Cooperatives? Socio-culturally, tribal communities practice a cooperative way of life based on mutual help and concern for the community, reciprocal help in agriculture and other forms of collective action. The formal cooperatives as we know them, are also based on similar principles and a set of values including self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equity and solidarity. Cooperatives have the flexibility to institutionalize any kind and level of activity. Hence the Cooperative seems the most conducive form of `formal' organizational network from the grassroots upwards, for the purpose of formal recognition, advantages of economies of scale, access to information, credit, market and related support services, and most importantly, lending collective voice and representation towards a common goal - be it economic or otherwise.

Equal member participation is as vitally important as it is challenging - for it pre supposes that all members are equally aware and able to participate in the management of their activities, towards their common goal. Translating this into practice on the ground, needless to add, requires a great deal of sustained capacity building to ensure meaningful participation by every primary member at the village level.

INDISCO is presently testing the cluster approach to tribal empowerment, based on the rationale that treating a cluster of socio culturally homogenous tribal communities as one development unit, would be more conducive to development initiatives, rather than a Block, which overlooks the socio political dynamics between tribal communities. The project's primary village cooperatives and their federation, are in the process of building their own capacities towards sustainable management of their self-supporting cooperatives, linking up with the Block, District and State administrations and the Cooperative sector.

Wider replication of such models of self-managed rural cooperatives, is essential and even possible now, with the new National Policy on Cooperatives (2002) which seeks to reduce state control and encourages self supporting, member based enterprises under the new Act, which is much in keeping with the ILO Policy as reflected in Recommendation No. 193 on Promotion of Cooperatives (2002). But at the cost of being repetitive, the supportive policy needs to be translated into action with concerted efforts at awareness generation and education of every primary member, towards truly vibrant, self-managed cooperatives at local level.

As the Director General of the ILO, Mr. Juan Somavia believes, the answer to poverty reduction lies in "strong local communities, strong local leadership and strong local solutions. Cooperatives have proved to be a key organizational form in building new models to combat social exclusion and poverty…"

Such models of empowered, self-supporting cooperatives at village level, federating at the cluster, block and district levels, would make for active partners with the Panchayati Raj Institutions at each level, towards deciding the local economic agenda for their own region and ensuring judicious devolution and utilization of resources. This would further strengthen the National agenda for a decentralized process in poverty reduction and rural development.


FAO's Handbook for Participatory Local Development 3

A key to FAO's rural development priority in Asia and the Pacific is to improve grassroots participation in the decision-making and delivery of support services through decentralization and good regional and local governance. FAO medium term plan seeks to ensure that Decentralization processes contribute to overall development process benefiting rural people. It also supports one of the FAO's global priority areas for interdisciplinary action - local institution building to improve capacity building for achieving sustainable rural livelihoods.

A Handbook For Trainers On Participatory Local Development : The Panchayati Raj Model In India, developed by FAO through the NIRD Hyderabad, supports the world's biggest endeavor in grassroots governance taking place in India. This is expected to promote networking on strengthening institutional capacities for decentralized decision making of nearly 3 million people , a third of whom, by law, have to be women, elected to various panchayat bodies. Majority of them are semi or non literate, unaware and unprepared for the enormous responsibilities of local self governance.

The activities aimed to a) enhance awareness and self help capacities of the rural poor including small and landless farmers, rural women, small scale producers, indigenous people and rural people with disabilities; b) enable the rural poor to mobilize local resources and c) bring about a more equitable sharing of the benefits of local and national socio economic development

This idea of decentralised development comes from the fact that the centrally administered local development programmes are found to be ineffective and there are several weaknesses in rural development policies and programmes in India . The people are not particularly involved in the rural development process - resulting in marginalization of non-agricultural workers and landless labourers. Top down planning makes development look like an "imposed" one and such process disregards the importance of local resources and knowledge, traditional skills and collective wisdom. A `superior' attitude in Government machinery pervades at various levels and a `passive' and `servile' attitude among the rural poor. It appears thrusting of development programmes without understanding local conditions and technology, dissociating from local social, economic and cultural realities.

These shortcomings led to the realization that the poverty alleviation programmes can not be effective unless the poor have a voice in the planning and implementation of schemes meant to help them . This in turn necessitates decentralization of key government functions. Decentralization enables rural people to a/ share in decision making that affects their daily lives b/ evaluate the outcome of their own decisions c/ minimize chances of misunderstanding d/ understand the difficulties and complexities of administration planning and management e/ accept responsibility for failure and f/ develop a sense of belonging and commitment to civil society.

The FAO training handbook has been designed to cover identified gaps to fulfill the training needs of both local government functionaries and elected grassroots representatives associated with Panchayati Raj institutions - the large decentralization process in India. The training uses modules such as, participatory planning and management; social mobilization; enhancing women's participation; social audit; participatory local resources management; partnership building; conflict management; disaster preparedness and mitigation; participatory community monitoring and evaluation and PRA tools. This exercise aims to provide effective training tools to both local government officials and local elected representatives for inculcating appropriate and knowledge and skill development programmes to bring the true benefits of democratic decentralization.