ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mahila Mandals in Gender Politics

Mahila mandals, the traditional local women's organisations, have tremendous potential to address women's strategic gender needs. In rural areas they are increasingly acting as vehicles of resistance that enable women to enter the public domain. A study of some mahila mandals in Thane, Maharashtra.

Mahila mandals or womens clubs are traditional local  organisations of women. At the most basic level, mahila mandals are informal community level associations of women who come together in celebration, sorrow or crisis. While there are mahila mandals in urban areas as well as villages, it is the latter that are the focus of this paper. Historically, women in rural communities have come together during festivals, births, deaths, weddings, local functions (such as inauguration of a school building), visit of a political leader, or crises such as health epidemics, or water shortage.

This paper is an attempt to analyse whether mahila mandals are traditional associations that consolidate gender inequality or are movements for resistance that enable women to enter into the public domain more successfully. The illustrative ethnologies of successful mahila mandals in the rural areas of Thane district in Maharashtra, contained in this paper, are based on my field experience in Thane. During the period 1993-96, I interviewed members of several womens groups, local leaders, government functionaries and peoples elected representatives.

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