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Elected Women

Meet Kaushalya Bisht

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Sustainability, Interconnectedness, Decentralisation.

Kaushalya Bisht is an Elected Women Representative from Uttarakhand, India, a remote region at the foothills of the Himalayas. The Hunger Project worked with her to develop the skills she needs to make change for her community as a representative through our SWEEP program (Strengthening Women’s Empowerment through Electoral Processes). As part of this program, The Hunger Project trains Elected Women to read, write, speak and lead the political agenda to improve education, health, and nutrition in their villages.

Uttarakhand is the only state in India where village communities come together to protect and nurture their forests by forming forest councils. The forests are a lifeline for women. They provide wood for them to build their houses, dry wood for fires and fodder for their cattle. Ensuring the sustainability of the forests is crucial for survival in the village.

However, in Kaushalya’s village, they hadn’t held elections for the forest council in 15 years.

“We formed a collective of 30 women and decided to revive the forest elections,” Kaushalya said.

“My team of women patrolled the forests. We didn’t allow anyone to cut down the trees. Together, we planted 100,000 trees. We take care of the forests like we do our own children.”

During her term as an Elected Women Representative, Kaushalya made 45,000 kg of paddy seeds available to the farmers and distributed 300 tree samplings to encourage the people in her village to grow trees. For the women in her village, 80% of their farms are across the other side of the river, which means the women have to walk a long distance to their farms. Kaushalya secured the building of a bridge by taking the matter to her village council. She also took action to prevent soil erosion by building 11 check dams (small dams built to reduce water flow velocity) by the river.

“I want my village to continue thriving.”

Kaushalya continues to shape a legacy of protecting the environment and ensuring sustainable change for future generations in her community.

Invest in women like Kaushalya to bring transformation to villages in India here.

 

Would you put your life on the line to save your community?

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One of the bravest forms of protest I’ve ever heard of was conducted by the women of a village in Uttarakhand. Led by their fearless leader Basanti, a group of empowered women took matters into their own hands to stop a truck, driven by a criminal cartel, carrying bootleg alcohol into their village.

They stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the middle of the road, physically blocking the truck with their own bodies.

These women said they would rather risk their lives than live in fear.

Women in Uttarakhand know that illegal alcohol is killing their husbands and sons. In February this year, just as I was visiting Uttarakhand, 70 people had died in the area after drinking a batch of tainted illegal alcohol.

Bootleg liquor is also directly linked to the dramatically high domestic violence rates in the region – a place where systemic violence against women has created a belief in women that men are allowed to hit their wives. 47% of women, and 42% of men, believe husbands are permitted to beat their wives.

Social inequality exacerbates and prolongs the devastating cycle of hunger and poverty, and impacts both women and men. To bring about a sustainable end to hunger once and for all, the gender discrimination that has been entrenched in Basanti’s community for generations must be eradicated.

The Hunger Project’s women’s leadership workshops in India are interrupting long-held, harmful social norms and gender roles that bar women from being active, valued community members.

Upon graduation from the workshops, women like Basanti become fierce leaders and champions of sustainable change in their communities. By opening the women up to the leadership and abilities already lying within them, Basanti and others go to great lengths in putting their lives on the line to eliminate social inequality and hunger from their villages forever. They look for the root causes of issues – and work to address them, in order to bring about lasting change.

You can make a difference to the people of Uttarakhand: stand with Basanti and invest in The Hunger Project. In doing so, you will enable even more champions of change to lift their villages out of hunger in a sustainable way.

Yours in ending hunger,

Melanie Noden

CEO, The Hunger Project Australia

 

A place where animals are more protected than women

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There is a place I visited recently where women are sent into forests to collect fodder to feed their livestock – despite farmers keeping their cows out of the very same forests for fear that their precious livestock will be eaten by tigers.

This is also a place where every second person you speak to believes a man is allowed to beat his wife.

The place I’m describing is in the state of Uttarakhand, high in the Himalayan mountains and distant from any infrastructure and key education or health services – where the stories you hear constantly remind you of the deep-rooted inequality and persistent hunger.

This way of life is not sustainable, for anyone. It keeps women subjugated,  isolated and discriminated against; men disenfranchised, abusing their power and turning to illegal alcohol for respite; forests decimated because the trees are sold off to big corporations with no benefit to the local community; and the cycle of hunger keeps on turning, as it has for generations gone by.

The cycle continues because to date, solutions have always been band-aid fixes, and have never been addressed in a sustainable way. A holistic approach has never been taken to social, economic and environmental issues.

The Hunger Project is partnering with champions of change to create sustainable solutions to ending their hunger. In fact, sustainability is a core principle of The Hunger Project’s work, and is key to any solution we implement in partnership with the community.

One champion of change in Uttarakhand is Basanti – a pioneer of long-term solutions, a symbol of hope and optimism, a fierce warrior protecting her people and her land.

Basanti is evidence that norms are shifting, and that – while not inevitable – it is possible to replace band-aid fixes with sustainable solutions.

On the 16th of May, we’ll share more about how you can stand with Basanti – and together put an end to lives being risked, harm being done to women, and devastating hunger and poverty.

Yours in ending hunger,

 

 

Melanie Noden

CEO, The Hunger Project Australia

Hitting new milestones

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190+ people over the past five years have raised more than $2.1 million through participating in THP’s unique individual leadership immersion programs in Uganda, Malawi, Senegal, Ghana, India and Bangladesh. Breaking the $2 million mark for the first time is cause for celebration! This is an enormous collective effort, and these funds translate into real, tangible change for our village partners. The impact of that amount could look like this*:

 

From the everyday to the unfamiliar

The immersion programs lift participants out of their everyday lives and transplant them into an unfamiliar environment, full of new ideas and possibilities. No matter which country the program takes them to, participants meet THP village partners, and explore how they mobilise their rural communities to powerfully overcome the challenges of a lack of food, resources, healthcare and education.

Australian program participants are encouraged to discover the leadership distinctions demonstrated by our village partners, and apply those learnings to their own lives – often discovering in the process that we have a lot more in common with someone from a remote village in Uganda or India than you first may think.

Reflections

This is what three of the 190+ program participants had to say when reflecting on their own immersion experience:

“The experience I gained is to step forward, make a commitment and stand tall in what I believe in. I learnt these skills from the women within the group, the program facilitators, the women and men we met in the villages. It all showed me that anything is achievable with the right mindset.”
Melinda Webb

“The villagers – women, men and children – have taught me optimism and strength, resilience and vulnerability. Even on their different levels of reliance, the women showed courage in moving forward with what they had – and not what they wanted or needed. And instead of self-indulgence, they are quick to act and lead when opportunity presents itself.”
Evelyn Gibson

“Women who had little resources and extremely challenging living conditions were doing amazing things and living joyful and fulfilling lives, providing outstanding role models to others, and creating opportunities for their families and communities for many generations to come. This was extremely humbling and made me reflect deeply on my life and my fears.”
Jackie Howard

*Funds are applied to the area of greatest need.

Interested in knowing more about our immersion programs?

Meet Zebiba

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24 year old Zebiba in an Unleashed Woman. She lives with her husband and their one year old son. They live in the highlands of Ethiopia, far from hospitals, health clinics and other services. Living in such a remote area meant Zebiba never learnt how to cook and prepare nutritional and healthy food for her child.

At a Hunger Project cooking demonstration in their village, Zebiba and other local mothers and mothers-to-be learnt about the nutritional benefits of a ‘miracle’ plant called moringa.

Moringa leaves contain extraordinary levels of vitamins and minerals, key to the strong growth and development of pregnant and breastfeeding women and their babies. During the demonstration, they also learned how to use the leaves to prepare moringa porridge and other meals.

“Before The Hunger Project cooking demonstration, I had never heard of the plant called moringa. The leaves don’t taste bad at all! I learned that it’s as healthy as fruit and vegetables. Now I know how important it is for both me and my child that I eat healthy food. I also know to breastfeed for at least the first six months,” Zebiba says.

There is now a large moringa plantation in the village that is managed by the community, so that everyone can access moringa seedlings, plant a tree in their own backyards, and add the leaves into their family meals.

Access to the right nutrition is giving these babies and mothers the best start in life and has inspired Zebiba to have high hopes for her baby’s future.

“I hope that one day my son will become a doctor – however I will support him in achieving whatever his dream is!” she says.

You can partner with Zebiba in a number of ways:

  1. Share Zebiba’s story on social media and tag The Hunger Project Australia
  2. Invest with a one-off or monthly gift to The Hunger Project
  3. Read more about our work in Africa
  4. Find out more about our individual leadership programs

Meet Louise

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Louise is from a small village in Benin, West Africa. She lives with her six children and her husband, who works the land and grows corn.   

In the past, Louise wasn’t allowed to participate in decision-making, either in her own home or the community – simply for being a woman. Traditional cultural practices meant Louise didn’t have a voice of her own.  

When she participated in The Hunger Project‘s unique Vision, Commitment, Action workshop, Louise saw that she had vision for the future and that she could be the one to turn it into reality. Since then, she has gained confidence in her own capacity and leadership, and has become the leader of a microfinance group within her community. Her opinions, and her voice, are now respected.

“Before, my voice wasn’t heard when I brought something up for discussion. Now, I am part of the village council. I bring the local women together around microfinance, and I also share information I’ve learned about the importance of reading and writing, nutrition and hygiene,” Louise says.  

As a result of leading the small, local microfinance group, she has been able to expand her fruit, corn and peanut businesses to support her family – together with her husband. She now also advises other women on running their small businesses.  

When the microfinance group gathers, Louise also takes the opportunity to educate them on literacy, health and nutrition, so that the whole community flourishes. 

“It gives me a lot of joy when I see the results of my work. For example, many women are now supporting their families financially – and they know how to feed their children nutritious food. That makes me feel good. I will stand by these women to achieve what they want,” she says.  

There are many ways you can partner with people like Louise:

  1. Invest with a one-off or monthly gift 
  2. Share Louise’s story on social media and tag The Hunger Project Australia
  3. Read more about our work in Africa
  4. Learn about our leadership immersion programs to Africa, India and Bangladesh

 

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.

How Beti’s leadership is saving lives

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Beti Saket is an Elected Woman Representative in one of the most marginalised communities in India. When she was first elected to council, she found it difficult to make an impact. Every time she put forward a development proposal, a powerful lobby group pressured her to pay them a commission and regularly threatened to complain.

This all changed when Beti received leadership training from The Hunger Project. She learned to stand up for what she believed in and how to have her initiative approved and implemented. 

Beti saw that malnutrition was a big problem in her community and was determined to do something about it. Under Beti’s strong leadership, cases are now being efficiently tracked and mothers and children who are suffering from malnutrition are receiving counselling and given help at Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres.

Thanks to Beti, more than 75 malnourished children have been treated. 

Sunder, whose son was severely malnourished, is thankful to Beti and says, “Without her help, crucial time for my child would have been lost.”

Meet Geeta

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Geeta was born in a middle-income family in India and was educated to the 10th grade. When Geeta was 20, she married into a new Panchayat (village) and when she arrived she was surprised that so many girls were not in school, and that they were working instead. She also saw that child marriage was common practice and that girls were giving birth at a very young age.

She passionately wanted to change this, so 2 years ago she decided to run for a position on the Panchayat Council for a seat reserved for women.

Running for the election was a significant challenge for Geeta because she comes from a community where women stayed at home and were only seen as a mother, wife, daughter or sister.  To run for the election she had to go door to door and campaign – including talking to men who were not in her family. She won the election against 2 opponents by an incredible 1,500 seats.  She was voted as the President of her village – an amazing feat as a woman given that the previous President had held that role for 20 years.

In her time in office, Geeta has had many incredible successes thanks to the training, education, and support of The Hunger Project. The Council has recorded all of the work and its value on the outside of the Council building for everyone to see and for transparency.

The highlights of Geeta’s achievements include:

  • A bridge was constructed to connect 20 other villages and panchayats. Many had tried before her and failed.  She attended a meeting with The Hunger Project Panchayat Presidents and knew the Minister would be there. Geeta prepared a petition and delivered it to the Minister. As a result of her petition, the Minister allocated funding for the bridge to be built.
  • A birthing room was built and staffed with a nurse. The nearest centre used to be 35km away.
  • A tree is now planted for every girl born, a powerful symbolic message that girls should be valued and not aborted.
  • Child marriages have been stopped in Geeta’s community. She passed a resolution that the Panchayat would be free of child marriage and, as a result, there haven’t been any for 2 years.

Looking at the positive impact of just one Elected Woman gives you an idea of the enormous collective impact of the cohort of 511 new Elected Women who were trained and supported by The Hunger Project in 2016!

It costs just $260 to train one Elected Woman Representative – like Geeta – per year and give her the tools she needs to end hunger for hundreds of the poorest, most marginalised people living in her community. Help now. 

Meet Kamla

Meet Kamla

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Kamla’s resilience brought about real change in her village. Kamla was a child bride at 11 and had her first child at 12. Trained by The Hunger Project, she was empowered and learnt negotiation skills, and boosted her self-confidence. This empowered her to solve a local problem: some men in the village were wasting precious family funds at the local illegal liquor shop. Kamla led a peaceful and successful sit-in at the shop, and it was shut down. This meant that these men stopped spending their money on alcohol and abusing their wives and children.