Amita Devi, Fall Event 2010
Breaking New Ground: Women Leaders of South Asia
Remarks delivered by Amita Devi, Panchayat Leader, The Hunger Project-India
New York, NY
My name is Amita Devi and I come from the Dadar Kolhua Gram Panchayt of Kanti Block, District Muzzafarpur in Bihar, India. I am the mukhiya of my Gram Panchayat. In 2006, I won the Gram Panchayat elections with a large margin of votes.
I come from a family and a society, where women do not have same rights, education, health and employment opportunities as men. They don't have the right to take any decisions.
After I got elected, I did not know how to perform my duties and responsibilities. It was only after I met the staff of The Hunger Project (THP) and attended the Women's Leadership Workshop that I learned my rights, my roles and my responsibilities.
My life changed. So did my thinking. I was energized. I started to think of myself as the Mukhiya and I vowed that I would give the girls in my society all the rights and respect that I did not get.
In your country there may be a few families who do not educate their girls. But in my village out of the 3300 families, only five families send their girls to school.
After my training, I went home and met every family in my village and told them the importance of education. We discussed how an educated woman focuses on nutrition and ensures that her children are immunized. As a result, today, as many as 50 families send their girls to school. After a lot of struggle, I have been able to upgrade two of the four schools to middle school - in other words till 8th grade.
It is my vision that by 2015, all girls in my panchayat will go to school.
Other elected women leaders are doing this work in their villages. In Kanti block, we have a federation of 50 to 60 elected women representatives. We work against domestic violence, female feticide and child marriage, so that women's rights and gender equality can be achieved in our villages.
Let me give you my example. When I got elected I was not allowed to talk to strangers. I had no confidence and my family ridiculed me at every step. They withheld information and did not want me to step out of my prescribed boundaries to achieve something.
Once I returned after training, my family threw me out of my house. I thought to myself: if this can happen to a Mukhiya then how much violence the other women in my panchayat must face. It was that day that I realized the importance of my post and the power within me to bring change. I resolved to fight for the rights of the women in my Panchayat. And, today I am fully immersed in my work.
I have come far, and my personal empowerment came from the training given by THP. It was unique and I am truly grateful to THP and to all of you who have supported me in this work.
Like me, there are 1 million other elected women representatives in my country who need your support.
Please, stay the course with us.