India is the world’s largest democracy and nearly 1.3 billion citizens. The economy is among the top 10 percentile of fastest growing, and over the past 60 years, life expectancy nearly doubled and adult literacy more than quadrupled.
Between 2005 and 2010, 53 million people were lifted out of poverty. But in 2010, 69% still lived on less than US $2 a day, and 33% on less than US $1.25 a day. With a national goal of increased shared prosperity (increasing absolute number of people who are socially included, reasonably secure and not poor), means more than lifting people out of poverty. Gender inequality is pervasive, and the ratio of girl children to boy children is decreasing. Educational attainment is low, and India holds one-third of the world’s illiterate. India must overcome enormous structural challenges to sustain a population out of poverty.
The Hunger Project was established in India in 1984 and currently works across seven states. India has a great strength in their constitutionally mandated elected village councils for meeting basic needs, based on ancient traditions of local self-government. Pioneering strategies that engage these councils, The Hunger Project mobilises people for self-reliant action, empowering women as key change agents and engaging with local government through one comprehensive strategy, the Panchayati Raj Campaign.
In 1992, the 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution mandated that one-third of all seats in panchayats (village councils) be reserved for women, bringing more than one million women into elected office. The Hunger Project helps empower these women to become effective and respected leaders in their communities. This is accomplished through key interventions in each year of their five year tenures:
Year One: In year one, women step forth as leaders and participate in capacity-building activities with The Hunger Project, such as Women’s Leadership Workshops (WLWs) and follow-up workshops. Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) begin developing work plans for their communities, and initiate contact with other EWRs for the formation of federations in the next year.
Year Two: Leadership development among EWRs continues, with WLWs and follow-up workshops. Leaders start implementing work plans within their communities, and begin to build federations.
Year Three: In year three, EWRs strengthen the federations at district and state levels and start engaging with local issues. EWRs continue to participate in capacity-building activities with The Hunger Project, introducing the needs-based workshops to self-identify and address gaps in their leadership development and within their communities.
Year Four: EWRs begin assessing impact in the fourth year, reflecting on their training and documenting their experiences. Federations in action advocate across their states to work towards more enabling environments for future leaders.
Year Five: Leading up to the next election cycle, EWRs prepare new potential leaders, identified through campaigns that encourage the participation of women as voters and as candidates. Networks and alliances are expanded, and EWRs work to track elections.
Examples of the initiatives within this strategy include:
In seizing the opportunity of the 73rd amendment, The Hunger Project builds leadership skills among women who have been systematically denied information, freedom of motion and voice in decision making. The overall goal in this leadership development is for women in the community to lead, own and shape development processes that give priority to basic services like water, sanitation, education, health care and an efficient food system.
Women’s Leadership Workshops (WLWs) are the first major capacity-building initiative of The Hunger Project five-year cycle with first-time elected women representatives (EWRs). These three-day workshops are participatory in nature, and are conducted primarily to build confidence among EWRs and provide them with information and knowledge about their key roles and responsibilities in their Panchayats. It is the first step towards transformative leadership.
To encourage voter participation among women and the election of women leaders to all panchayat seats, The Hunger Project conducts intensive pre-election SWEEP (Strengthening Women’s Empowerment through Electoral Processes) programming during the fifth and final year of a state’s panchayat election cycle. SWEEP programmes include identification of potential leaders meetings, campaigns, film screenings, street plays, door-to-door engagement, trainings and distribution of educational posters and pamphlets.
To empower women leaders and their communities, The Hunger Project supports the formation of federations among their elected leaders. In the states of Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, women leaders are creating federations at the block and state levels to voice their concerns as a collective unit. Priority issues include 50% reservation of seats in local government for women, removal of two-child norm laws and increased transparency and support between levels of government.
Through partnership with local civil society organizations, state- and district-level federations, and national coordination, The Hunger Project works to create enabling environments for the safe and productive participation of women and underserved populations in electoral processes in India. Particular topics around which EWRs and federations advocate include the Two-Child Norm, the Sumangali Scheme, constitutional acts and issues such as malnutrition, violence against women, and child rights. The Hunger Project-India supports increasing knowledge and awareness among EWRs and voters on these topics through knowledge-based workshops, Gender Resource Centers, campaigns, workshops.
Photography credits: Banner image – Anna Zhu