Meghalaya, August 7: Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma on Friday announced the passage of the “Policy on Reservation of seats for Women in Village Employment Councils (VEC)” by the state cabinet. A historic decision, the first of its kind in India, claimed he.

The State Government has brought the policy of reserving at least 50 per cent seats for women in the grassroots village-level community institutions (VEC)” stated a press release by the CMO, Government of Meghalaya  Media & Communications Cell on Friday.

The policy aims at empowering women at the grassroots village levels thereby strengthening the rural livelihood. It entails,

(a) Position of the Secretary of VEC will be reserved for women members in all VECs on a rotational basis. Adult women who are active community workers with leadership qualities can contest for this post.

(b) Position of Chairperson will be reserved for women in VECs where the posts of Chairperson is not held by the traditional heads which will also be on a rotation basis.

Sangma further informed that the policy has been brought into effect with the aim to address different grassroots level problems related to gender equality and developmental issues and its main intention will be creating an enabling environment for the active participation of women in grassroots levels of governance. It would facilitate women equal opportunities to exercise leadership skills.

Women leadership implies the creation of an agency for women that will enable them to make decisions and participate in the developmental process as well as decisions that impact their lives,” the Chief Minister elaborated.

VECs are apolitical organisations set up for the implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) work.

Most of the time, the focus is laid on improving the well-being of women but not on the creation of an agency for women to exercise her freedom and leadership, and through this policy, we want to ensure empowerment of women” Conrad Sangma added.

He also mentioned that as per data available with the government, the execution and maintenance of works and record-keeping is found to be exemplary in the VECs headed by female members.

Not just empowering women and strengthening the rural livelihood, the policy was brought to existence also, to revive the economy of the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the State. Better leadership-driven programmes and processes would bring about revival of the economy.

The further two reasons behind the policy, as stated by the press release are:

The Maternal Mortality rate of Meghalaya is higher than the national average and this policy will provide impetus to women’s active participation in public health, thereby significantly bringing down the MMR and IMR which will also entail an increase in life expectancy of the people of the State. The State life expectancy is only 62.3 years as compared to the national average of 68.5 years.

With this policy, the Government aims to improve all its performance in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (especially the SDG goal 5 on Gender Equality)by 2030. Currently, the SDG-5 ranking of Meghalaya is 25 among all states of India.