Historical archive

Developing Democracy from the grass roots up

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development

If a local community is to develop, it is vital that women participate in politics at the grass roots.

If a local community is to develop, it is vital that women participate in politics at the grass roots.

This is as true in Norway as it is in India. I recently made an official visit to the world's largest democracy. In 2010, the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development signed a agreement with its sister ministry in India, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, on developing local democracy. The visit focused on following up the agreement and paid particular attention to women in local politics.

It was a humbling experience that, given its size, India believes it has something to learn from us.

The state of Andhra Pradesh has more than 66 million inhabitants. Here I participated in a village council, a 'Gram Sabha'. Standing in front of 1,000 people who were getting involved in their community by discussing specific issues that should be improved was quite an experience. Witnessing women taking the floor in such an assembly and asserting their rights made a strong impression on me. They are breaking barriers Norwegian women fought against many decades ago.

India is working hard to strength the position of women in local politics. It is a constitutional requirement that one third of representatives in locally elected bodies should be women. Many states already practise a rule that 50 per cent of locally elected representatives should be women. The government is now in favour of making this rule apply everywhere.

But quotas are not enough. Even if women get their share of representatives, old gender roles can still have an effect. It is often the men's ideas and values that count the most when local government bodies reach decisions on matters. Therefore, the Indian authorities, on both a federal and state level, are focusing on improving the quality of local female leadership. They are ensuring female elected representatives receive training. They learn about rights and what participating in politics entails. Norway is contributing funds to this work via the United Nation's organisation UN Women. The result is that women, including those who cannot read and write, are increasingly making their mark in local politics.

The agreement between Norway and India facilitates the mutually educational exchange of experience and knowledge between local politicians, experts and researchers with knowledge of local democracy and local government. During the visit we signed an agreement that entails the municipality of Øygarden in Hordaland and Kurupam in the state of Andhra Pradesh in the south of India working together. The primary focus of their cooperation will be on strengthening the position of women in local politics.

Norway is currently celebrating 175 years of autonomous local government. We have developed robust, welfare providing local governments and generally strong local democracy. India is the world's largest democracy and the second most populated country in the world. It is experiencing rapid development and strong economic growth. India will have a greater and greater impact on global development. It is therefore important that Norway focuses on wide-ranging cooperation with this huge country. Business, ICT, climate issues, health, research and energy supply are all examples of important areas for collaboration.
The Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development's work on developing local democracy is also helping broaden our contact with India, not just at a top level, but right down to the grass roots in villages.

Good, well-developed local democracy is the best foundation for a strong national democracy. This is true in both Norway and India.