From our households and into our communities, from independent States to international governing bodies, gender operates as a construct of evolving aspects of women’s identities and is a medium through which expectations are prescribed, social norms are formed and power relations are negotiated. Gender constructs that impede women’s access to the public spheres of society diminish the possibility for equitable and empowering life conditions. Of particular emphasis in this paper, facilitating women’s entry into political bodies across the world is also compromised by persistent obstacles in women’s opportunities in both political and private spheres of life.

Our research engages female and male panchayat members in rural Gujarat, India. We aim to understand how being a woman affects access to political office, experiences therein, negotiation procedures and decisions taken. It is theorized that facilitating female representation in local governmental structures (a panchayat) through a quota represents one of many routes toward empowerment and one potential means of improving health and household welfare. When empowerment is analyzed within India’s panchayat quota, dimensions such as gender and corresponding perceptions, norms and conditions evidence the centrality of gender as a persistent fault-line in number-based initiatives. The panchayat thus mirrors gendered social realities, demonstrating how complex the processes of substantial democratic political participation and women’s empowerment are, in India and elsewhere.

Author Biography

Bilkis Vissandjee, Ph.D., Professeure agrégée – Professor; Faculté des sciences infirmières - School of Nursing; Université de Montréal - University of Montreal

Alisha Apale, B.A, Research Associate, Faculté des sciences infirmières - School of Nursing, Université de Montréal - University of Montreal

Saskia Wieringa, Ph.D., Director IIAV, International Information Centre and Archives for the Women’s Movement, Affiliated Senior Research Scholar, Amsterdam School for Social Research, University of Amsterdam

Shelly Abdool, M.A., Gender and Women’s Health Department, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland,

Sophie Dupéré, M.Sc.(Ph.D. Candidate), Department of Social Sciences and Preventive Medicine, Laval University, Québec