Unheard Voices: The Challenge of Inducing Women's Civic Speech

In 2005, the Government of Tamil Nadu launched its Pudhu Vaazhvu Project (PVP) in 2,300 village panchayats throughout the state. PVP used SHGs to reduce economic vulnerability and increase women’s agency and empowerment. SHGs have been a part of government programming since the 1990s, however PVP’s goal was to make SHGs more inclusive for the most vulnerable, support the institutional development of SHGs so they could be linked to credit, and to increase linkages between the groups and local government through federated SHG structures. In this study, Parthasarathy et al. (2017) used text-as-data methods to determine whether PVP induced women’s participation within village assemblies (gram sabha). They analyzed survey data and transcripts from the gram sabha meetings and concluded that the project did in fact increase women’s attendance, propensity to speak and length of floor time. PVP nearly doubled the number of women in attendance and boosted frequency of speech by nearly 45%. It was found however that PVP women were not more likely than control women to drive the broader conversational agenda or elicit relevant response from government officials. The program helped amplify women’s voices, but it also seemed to shift conversation away from organic topics raised by citizens towards more PVP-specific topics and activities.  

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