I am sure many of us must have watched movies where the theme was women’s reservation. Though, most of them turn out to be a ‘cliche’, they at least bring out the complexities involved in implementing such policies. One can also occasionally find journalistic write ups on the issue. However, all said and done, most of these articles turn out to be anecdotal at best and unfortunately movies cannot constitute any substantive evidence either! This is where this article becomes important.

Do reservations for women at the Panchayat level work? This is the focus of the article. The authors use political reservations for women in India to study the impact of women’s leadership on policy decisions. They use data collected from 256 village councils from West Bengal and Rajasthan and compare the type of public goods provided in reserved and unreserved village councils.

The authors find that women elected as leaders under the reservation policy invest more in the public goods more closely related to women’s concerns: drinking water and roads in West Bengal and drinking water in Rajasthan. They invest less in public goods that are more closely linked to men’s concerns: education in West Bengal and roads in Rajasthan. These results seem to largely attributable to the gender of the Pradhan as they are unaffected by other characteristics of Pradhan.

According to the authors, these results contradict the simple intuition behind the Downsian model and the idea that political decisions are the outcomes of a Coasian bargaining process. In both of these views of the world, the fact that a woman is the head of the Gram Panchayat should not influence policy decisions. These results also suggest that direct manipulation of the identity of the policy maker can have important effects on policy.

It will be interesting to carry out similar type of analysis in other states and see what emerges. This is a very pertinent issue, not only from the point of view of gender empowerment but as noted by authors, also from the design of decentralized political institutions and their efficacy point of view.

Chattopadhyay R & Duflo E (2004), “Women as Policy Makers: Evidence from a Randomized Policy Experiment in India”, Econometrica, 72, 5, 1409-1443.