Voter Education Effort Puts Gender Issues at Centre of Rajasthan Election Campaign

  • 05 April 2010

JAIPUR, India — A voter education campaign before village council elections in January and February has significantly increased the visibility of women’s health and rights issues in Rajasthan state. The campaign persuaded more than 10,000 candidates from 5000 village councils or panchayats to pledge to reduce gender discriminatory practices if elected.

Preliminary reports indicate that women have won more than 60 per cent of the seats to the 9166 panchayats. Voter turnout across the state was confirmed as 84 per cent.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, organized the advocacy effort in partnership with PRIYA, an NGO with over 20 years experience in mounting such campaigns.

Rajasthan, with over 56 million people counted in the 2001 census and 41,352 villages, has one of India’s worst records in addressing concerns such as maternal health, child marriage, prenatal sex selection and violence against women. The campaign focused on the last three of these, along with the issue of dowries.

The State Election Commission endorsed the initiative. A telephone hotline was set up to answer questions on gender issues. All India Radio and FM stations broadcasted campaign messages throughout Rajasthan. Some 700 volunteers visited thousands of villages, distributing posters and pamphlets on discriminatory practices affecting women.

Rallies and folk media performances in 18 of the state’s 33 districts raised the visibility of the campaign. Regional and national newspapers gave it widespread coverage. At many public gatherings, panchayat candidates came onto a common platform to promise they would work to improve public welfare and address gender discrimination if they won election.

The campaign has sparked public discussions around various gender issues, including the negative impacts of policies promoting a two-child norm, which may be a factor contributing to the widespread practice of prenatal sex selection.

As a result of the campaign’s success, organizers say, there is now a need to build the capacity of newly elected panchayat members to promote gender equality as they have promised, with the support of community-based organizations.

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