Reported by Supriya Banavalikar, Director, Special Projects
Euphoric! Everything hit home! Inspirational! Visionary! Transformational! Grateful for the opportunity to invest!
These were just some of the expressions used by the investors on the recently concluded trip to the villages in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India. The five-day visit began with a day-long session in Delhi where The Hunger Project (THP)-India team shared the strategic focus of our work to empower elected women's leadership in the country.
The following day, the team of 18 investors, staff and activists from Australia, Canada, Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Senegal, Switzerland, India and the United States traveled to Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, and took a three-day bus ride across the districts of Katni and Umaria. We met with over 50 elected women representatives (EWRs) (who were elected to their village councils, or panchayats), Sarpanches (presidents of the village councils) and Panches (Members of the village councils) in a variety of locations, including hotel conference rooms, panchayat houses and villages.
Most of the villages we visited battle daily with age-old issues of the caste system, high rates of poverty and gender inequality. For example, the districts of Katni and Umaria have a low female literacy rate of approximately 45 percent.
In one village we had the opportunity to attend a Women's Leadership Workshop with 26 EWRs, ages ranging from 22-50 years, where the women learned about their political accountabilities and began the process of discovering how to make village plans. Several women brought their little children along as well.
As observers, the investors experienced the workshop in action and got a chance to have a special question and answer session, where a powerful question was posed: "How many of you are Sarpanches in your panchayat? Do you have 50% reservation for women?"
Women who had been in elected office for a year were addressing issues of water, sanitation, child nutrition, and widow and old-age pensions. In one case, the women leaders of Lakhnauti Panchayat had identified a malnourished baby who was six months old, but looked to be only two months. The women asked the mother of the child, "How can you take care of others, if you can't take care of your own children." This level of awareness and accountability by the women was inspiring to observe.
Each interaction resulted in the women saying with one voice, "I have no fear." They are traveling outside of their villages, to Bhopal and Delhi, holding microphones and speaking out on issues that matter to their people.
During our travels, we interviewed many women and took hundreds of photographs; material that will soon be available online in order to globally share the stories of these empowered women.
Tulsa Bai, a 45-year-old Panch from Badvara Panchayat said to us and her fellow women partners, "If we stand strong, no one can shake our resolve to make a difference. Let us not have the fire in our belly extinguish ever."
Deeply inspired by their experiences, each trip participant committed to taking at least one action upon returning home -- ranging from hosting meetings and events in their communities, to publishing articles in their local papers or writing proposals to raise funding for our work. As I write this, THP has just received our first investment of $25,000 resulting from actions taken by investors following the trip.
Onwards to more.