Planned efforts have been made by MASUM towards strengthening political participation of women in village governance. Despite 33% (and now 50%) reservation for women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (local self-governance), the village panchayat(elected council) and gram-sabha (general body meeting of the village) are considered men's spaces in most parts of Maharashtra. As a result of our consistent empowerment efforts since 2000, women have overcome their initial reluctance to step into the public space of village governance. Groups of well informed and empowered women in each village ask relevant questions to the village leadership and thus assert their role in village governance issues. The mahila gram-sabha (general body meeting of village women) is held regularly prior to each gram-sabha in many villages, so that women can formulate their demands freely and make a collective impact upon the general gram-sabha. In fact, in many villages, women have abandoned the mahila gram sabha, and utilise their energies to influence the main gram sabha. Women have started taking decisions about the utilisation of the 10% panchayat budget that is earmarked for ‘women and child development’. Dalit women and men are also making themselves heard about the 15% of Panchayat budget earmarked for dalits.
A number of women from MASUM’s staff have become panchayat members during the past decade and have emerged as role models of honest and informed leadership within the village. In spite of resistance, they have raised difficult questions about violation of women’s rights and have encouraged women from subordinated groups to participate in decision-making and governance.