I just read a story about a remarkable 28 year old woman MBA heading a local council in Soda, India, http://www.womensenews.org/story/leadership/110607/indian-mba-leads-her-village-headwoman.

Chhavi Rajawat is certainly not the first woman to head a local council, but her story reflects how women leaders can make change and how they can also change the way government works. The residents of Soda were tired of corruption and pushed for a woman. Rajawat, the granddaughter of the villages former leader, ran for the post and won. Heres an excerpt from the article:

The “sarpanch bai-sa,” or village council headwoman [Rajawat], brings a junior engineer to explain federal laws applying to some rural workers on the 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. shift.

Unaccustomed to such efforts, the villagers later express happy surprise at the presentation.

She is making us aware of our rights and she is so transparent in her dealings,

Rajawat is working to provide water, electricity and infrastructure to the village, wants to battle wage discrepancies in the federally administered rural jobs program and to fight corruption: “There are fake names on the rolls. The site supervisors, sarpanch and the junior engineers collude to pocket funds. I want to change this,”

India is a land of differing realities great wealth, economic growth and abject poverty. This is also true for women in politics. Indias constitution guarantees women equality (and has done so for 60 years). Indira Ghandi was elected in 1966, making her the world’s second woman prime minister, and in 2007, Pratibha Patil was elected as the country’s first woman president, a largely ceremonial post.

But, many Indians live in rural areas and must deal with basic needs like water, food and jobs. These issues are addressed by local council, or panchayats. A far reaching and important constitutional change in 1993 mandated that one third of the seats on panchayats are reserved for women, and one third of all such councils are headed by women. Based on this constitutional change, millions of Indian women have held elected office and been part of important local decision making.

Research shows that these women have made a difference. One key study focused on how panchayats dealt with issues raised by local women, who are most likely to complain to panchayats about water resources. Despite the fact that these women complained at the same rate to councils headed by men and women, the number of drinking water projects funded was more than 60% higher in women led councils than male led councils.

These councils and their responsiveness to local needs reflect the leadership skills of women across India, and of women like Chavvi Rajawat. Well be watching her successes as well as challenges.