Our Organization, Our Leadership, Our Governance
In Marathwada region of Maharashtra, a different kind of election was held in the first week of January. The peculiarity of this event was that only women were part of this election from filling up the candidature application to campaigning for their candidature among voters and from voting to actual counting. Ekal Mahila Sanghatana (Single women organisation) conducted this internal election to elect block level representatives of organisation from ten blocks of four districts. It was quite similar to the elections that take place at panchayat level and entire things were done with democratic approach and transparency. It was a kind of rehearsal of upcoming panchayat elections. Those who were elected were happy but those who could not make it they were also happy to be part of this process. Most of the women have contested elections for first time. Some of them were part of Panchayat elections and had even got elected but the process was fully controlled by males from their families. For the first time, these women were seeing, understanding and learning electoral process very closely. They took a complete ownership of the election as it was their organisations election and no male interference was there.
Ekal Mahila Sanghatana (EMS) was formed in 2015 as an initiative of single women leaders with support from CORO. Theprimary aim of the EMS is to reduce violence against single women and change the age-old mindset of society towards them. Since its inception, EMS has been organising single and other women from ten blocks of four districts of Marathwada. Through a variety of activities of EMS, single women developed an increasing sense of confidence and courage required to come out of their situation and fight against injustice. These women have started seeing them as just human beings and then their life took completely different turn. Many of them were not allowed to even to step out of their homes but now they regularly participate in the monthly meetings of the organisation. They participate in Gramsabha where they raise the questions of their interest. Many of them have received benefits of different govt. schemes. Some of them could resume their education whereas some of them gathered courage to take decision of remarriage. Some of them have claimed rights over property and have received the same. Many single women from the organization have developed and nurtured their leadership so far through the formation of Mahila Mandals in villages, issues affecting to villages were dealt with these single women where as in some of the cases, women have collectively opposed discriminatory social norms. Many women have gathered courage to come in front and registered cases against violence on them. The perspective of society towards single women is definitely changing. EMS is also taking shape to be an independent organisation working on the issues of single and other women.
Till now many single women activists led the EMS whose leadership was developed through Grassroots leadership development program of CORO. However, the need was felt to have an effective system as the EMS is growing. It was realised that the organisation must have a representation of all women members and women from grassroot should participate in the decision-making process of the organisation. The EMS also need to be based on all constitutional and democratic values. If we need to bring change at larger level then our women also need to be in political process and thus, they have to get such exposure. Keeping all the above things in mind, the electoral process was designed. In the beginning, membership drive was conducted at village level to increase participation of women. Through the membership drive, EMS membership went to 13,000 from 5000 members. Women selected three members from their respective villages as their representatives. These representatives were eligible to vote and contest for the block level electoral process. In all 10 blocks, more than 650 women become part of the election process out of which 186 women actually contested for post of President, secretary and Committee Member. These contestants filled up their forms they were given symbols for their candidature after due scrutiny. These contestants conducted campaigns for their candidature and finally elections were held on 7-8 January 2019 in ten blocks. Total 66 women were elected in these 10 blocks who will form block level committees. These committees will be mainly responsible for overall work of EMS in the block and will play a major role in addressing the problems of women in the respective block.
The electoral process created a democratic representation of women from grassroots and also participation in the decision making is ensured. Political education of women is a major gain from this process which will help them to participate in the upcoming panchayat elections. This electoral process was actually a program of deepening democracy among people. It has also been ideal for other organisations in the region for democratic process in their functions. All the women who contested the election, are meeting together on 15-17 February 2019 at Beed to share their experiences and discuss how to move ahead as an organisation. These 186 leaders are enthusiastic and prepared now to lead the EMS in future.