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Elected Women Representatives

On the campaign trail in India.

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Rajasthan recently wrapped up the local council election season in January 2020. Women stepped out to exercise their rights as equal citizens, both as candidates (old and new) and informed voters. The participation of women in the election process continues to steadily rise.
It is mandated by law in India that one-third of all seats for village council leaders be held by women. However, the majority of these women are unprepared to participate due to a lifetime of subjugation, illiteracy, and very little experience in public, let alone leading a life in the public eye. In addition, the people in power often don’t want them to lead.
The Hunger Project works with these Elected Women Representatives to enable them to leverage their positions to create change in their communities. As part of this initiative, we work with women in the pre-election stage, identifying potential leaders and working with them on campaigns, community engagement and training.

Local council candidates taking a break after voting. Image credit: Surbhi Mahajan

Now, an increasing amount of women are running for positions in the council.

There is conflict, camaraderie and candour, there is some anger for being ignored all these years, and there is hope. These women candidates are reclaiming their right to be heard and a seat at the table. This increased awareness about the potential of women to lead has helped many candidates journey through a hostile terrain of election campaigning. 

Women waiting in line to vote. Image credit: Sujata Khanna 
As The Hunger Project India supported women candidates on their campaign trail across three councils, they realised that for many who participated in the electoral process, it wasn’t about winning or losing. Instead, it was about challenging gendered stereotypes that have defined what women can or cannot do for too long, and questioning caste hierarchies and unequal power.
Candidate Shahida Bano said, “They want to show us our ‘place’, we will continue to show up. We refuse to be overlooked.”   
How does our strategy of training Elected Women Representatives in India actually enable transformation in communities? Meet Sunita.
Feature image credit: Surbhi Mahajan

Meet Sunita

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Sunita Meena is the President (Sarpanch) of Aakodiya Block, Chaksu District, Jaipur.

We met Sunita with her ward members in the village meeting hall.  Next door was a creche – set up for around 10-15 of the poorest children in the village. When we asked her what made her happy, she spoke about the previous week where she’d successfully re-enrolled 8 girls, aged 8-12, in the local school. They had been taken out of school by their parents, who saw value in having the girls help with farm labour and cattle herding, rather than sending them to school.

Sunita and her ward members negotiated with the families, impressing upon them the benefits of the girls receiving an education, while working out how the manual labour could be covered by those in the community.

One of the things Sunita is most proud of is that she had a water tank constructed to provide clean water to 4 villages.  The tank now benefits around 5,000 people. Before it was installed, the villagers were reliant on a hand pump that was not only difficult to access but also had water contaminated with fluoride (stunting the children’s growth).

It took her two years of negotiations with the local government, but she never lost sight of her vision to provide her community with clean water.  She travelled to the office personally on 15 occasions (a 20km round trip) and made numerous phone calls to ensure that the needs of her community weren’t getting lost in the bureaucracy.

There are many ways you can partner with Sunita:

  1. Share Sunita’s inspirational story on social media and tag The Hunger Project Australia
  2. Read more about our work in India
  3. Invest a one off or monthly gift so we can reach more communities across India

 

EMPOWERED WOMEN OF INDIA – LEADING CHANGE

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Women’s roles as village council (Panchayat) leaders, is transforming the way people live in India. Although they often have much adversity to overcome – due to social conditioning and attitudes around gender – women are emerging as powerful leaders motivated by a desire to provide better lives for their families and communities.

When women are empowered with skills and knowledge, they act as change agents – creating opportunities to improve life and participate in the positive development of their community. The training they receive through our programs allows them to realise their full potential and instills the confidence required to approach local governments with authority. As such, they develop voices that are heard in public forums and generate the support of the people.

Through the Panchayat, they interact with people who can assist them in creating the changes they prioritise, such as –
• Ensuring all children (particularly girls) have access to an education
• Ensuring quality healthcare is available and accessible to all
• Installing clean water systems and sanitary facilities to meet basic human needs
• Addressing violence and inequality against women – so that all may live to their fullest potential

Elected women, like Geeta (pictured below), carry with them a deep sense of pride and responsibility to act in the best interests of all. By taking time to speak with people in their villages – including those previously left out of the development agenda – they find out what is truly wanted and needed and act on it.

 

“I draw determination from my heart, from within…I feel I’m not a regular woman – I’m a special woman! I am proud to be elected as the President of my local council area. I won by 1,500 votes because I took the time to speak to people in my community about what they wanted.” – Geeta Rao – An Elected Woman Representative trained by The Hunger Project in India.