JAIPUR: Reservation of 50 % of the seats for women for local assemblies in Rajasthan has led to a new generation of local female leaders. The Hunger Projects is training these women to become effective leaders of their communities.
Having reached out to more than 100 000 women since 2001, The Hunger Project (THP) works in 7 Indian states to strengthen the leadership capacities of elected women leaders in village Panchayats. The project trains and encourages women at the village level to practice good governance and effectively address issues of social- and gender justice using the local governance framework.
In Rajasthan, THP works with over 1800 elected women representatives who have started making their presence felt by redefining the local development agenda in the state.
The majority of the women at the Jaipur convention were in January 2015 elected to the post of Sarpanch (village president) and ward members. This year the Panchayat elections in Rajasthan took a new turn, not only are 50% of the seats reserved to women, the state government also introduced a new ordinance specifying educational qualifications for persons contesting elections. Because of the educational requirements, the election saw a new group of inexperienced young women contesting, and the THP training has contributed to the empowering of women leaders as young as 21 years old.
Participating in the conventions and training workshops the women becomes aware of their roles and responsibilities, and they build up confidence to carry out their work. The women spoke on issues such as preventing early child marriage, stopping open defecation, education, health and violence against women.
A Sarpanch from a village north in Rajasthan was quoted saying: “I encourage all my fellow women leaders not to sign on any blank documents or cheques. We leaders have the responsibility to make sure and decide that allotment of village funds goes to the correct place. Many of us are facing pressure from other members of the Panchayat and village; you do not need to give in to such pressure”. Others spoke about their focus on preventing child marriages, providing better infrastructure and encourage education.
The Norwegian Embassy has supported and funded this successful training module of women leaders since 2006. Norwegian Ambassador Nils Ragnar Kamsvåg visited The Hunger Project’s convention for elected women representatives at the Panchayat level (local governance) in Jaipur Wednesday 2 October. An impressive group of 260 women participated in the workshop; sharing their experiences, taking learning from each other, creating their five-year plans, as well as being able to interact with the media and government officials.
Ambassador Kamsvåg addressed the gathering after listening to many of the women sharing their experiences. Kamsvåg said that just like India, Norway too believes in the critical role of women in the progress of a country.“It is a simple fact that no country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind.” He urged the women to use this space to arrive on a strategy of collectively working together because there is power in numbers and also to learn from each other’s experience to strengthen the impact of their work.