April 2008: Update to the Global Board (India)

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Introduction

Seven years of implementing the Panchayati Raj Campaign in 14 states of India with the elected women representatives has led to increased and effective participation of women in the political sphere. Over 65,000 elected women leaders have been trained by The Hunger Project through Women’s Leadership Workshops (WLWs) and subsequent training workshops. Today these women stand firm in their determination to take active participation in governing their panchayats (village councils) – a space they feel is rightfully theirs and one that has come after much struggle. These women panchayat leaders are now exercising their leadership and impacting change in their villages, affecting the lives of 6.5 million people in rural India.

This reporting period has a special significance for The Hunger Project team in India. Ms Jill Lester, President and CEO of the The Global Hunger Project visited India in her first 100 days of holding office. The Hunger Project-India staff, our partner organizations and the elected women representatives were honored to meet her. Her week long visit left all inspired and enthused.

Partners Meeting

The Hunger Project-India’s annual partners meeting was held in Delhi from March 17-18, 2008. This partners’ meeting was special as it was honored by the presence of Ms. Jill Lester. Given the key strategies of The Hunger Project-India on the ground, some path-breaking thoughts were generated, exchanged, debated and collectively accepted by all to create the next breakthrough in our efforts to build a hunger free India through the effective leadership of elected women leaders.

In this meeting, it was decided to place more emphasis on The Hunger Project’s work of monitoring and evaluating its inputs. A beginning has been made. The Hunger Project and its partners in all the 13 states will record the gram sabhas (village assemblies) that are supposed to take place at the gram panchayat level. In this initiative, a tentative questionnaire prepared by the national team and John Coonrod, Vice President of The Hunger Project Global Office, was shared. The questionnaire captured quantitative and qualitative aspects of gram sabha (GS) meetings recording both the process and the outcome of the GS meetings. This initiative will give information on whether GS meetings happen, how many people—in particular women—attend them, whether quorums are filled, how women act in this forum, whether corrupt practices are in place in this forum and what role is played by elected women representatives (EWRs) to create and carry the agenda of the survival of their families, communities and villages to be dealt with at the panchayat level.

Investor Trips

The Hunger Project-India hosted two large investor trips in this period. 18 senior leaders from ANZ Australia participated in a four-day investor trip from November 12-16, 2007 in Karnataka. The team attended a Women’s Leadership Workshop and an orientation workshop for federation members. The team also met the The Hunger Project trained elected women leaders in their villages, seeing for themselves the work undertaken by the women post the trainings.

The New Year started with planning for the XL Pioneer Club trip scheduled for February 1-5, 2008 in Satna, Madhya Pradesh. This was the first time that The Hunger Project-India was hosting an investor trip with 65 members including partners and children. XL Pioneer group has committed an investment of US$5 million over 5 years.

The three days on the ground were planned to take place in Satna, Madhya Pradesh. Satna, Rewa and Sidhi comprise the Baghelkhand area of Madhya Pradesh. These districts have faced severe drought over the last three years, with women suffering the most from the drought. As more and more men migrate to the cities in search of work, the entire responsibility of the family, work, land, governance, and so forth fall on the women. Poverty is stark in this region, with a high number of families below the poverty line, low levels of literacy, and high maternal and infant mortality rates. The population is mostly Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste in this area.

SALA IDA Partnership

The Hunger Project and SALAR (the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions) through their international arm, SALA IDA, have been in discussion about cooperating towards capacity development of elected women representatives in local governance in Karnataka.

The Hunger Project plans to work toward establishing a state-level federation of elected women representatives. As of now, we envision the federation undertaking three broad actions: act as a support and solidarity group of local action, undertake state-level advocacy and act collectively to encourage potential women leaders to contest the panchayat polls due in early 2010.

Another related aspect is that The Hunger Project is undertaking the Karnataka Platform to Promote Decentralization, in which the Federation members would also participate. This will be a multi-stakeholder platform to promote decentralization in Karnataka. SALAR has been working on policy issues within Sweden as well as other parts of the world. They will bring this expertise into the dialogue.

Towards this end, The Hunger Project-India held a Karnataka partners meeting in January to develop a common understanding of federations of elected women representatives. The meeting also aimed to create an understanding about the need that press elected women leaders to gravitate towards each other and finally federate. The eight partners in Karnataka, together with the elected women representatives in their areas, each prepared a "white paper," chronicling the need, vision and objectives of the federation, the activities the federation will undertake in the first few years, the structure of the federation as seen by them, the roles and responsibilities of the office bearers, and sustainability of these federations.

On March 26-27, 2008, 53 representatives of 53 Blocks in Karnataka (and eight partner organizations) came together to synthesize the eight separate "white papers" and arrive at a consensus. The final document will ratify the vision, objectives and the structure of the organization at a women’s convention planned for April 23, 2008 in Bangalore. Thereafter, these block-level federations will officially elect their office bearers and forge the path for a district and state level federation.

Forum Syd Partnership

The Hunger Project Partner Country, Sweden, initiated a partnership at Forum Syd Sweden. The goal of the project is to empower the locally elected women in Gujarat through Women’s Leadership Workshops. By the end of 2008, 510 locally elected women will have participated in the Women’s Leadership Workshops and in follow-up workshops which will be held after four to six months.

The project has been approved by Forum Syd and The Hunger Project-India hopes to initiate work from May 2008.

Sarojini Naidu Prize

The Sarojini Naidu Prize 2007 showcased the colossal efforts being made by the elected women in providing education to the children in their panchayats. Guests of Honor Ms. Shabana Azmi, actor and social activist, and Ms. Azma Jahangir, eminent Pakistani human rights activist, both lauded the work of The Hunger Project with the elected women and called out for solidarity if a critical mass of women leaders was desired in the parliament. Chief Guest for the occasion, Hon. Minister of State for Women and Child Development, Ms. Renuka Chowdhry, released a book entitled No Shortcut to Leadership by S. Jothimani, an elected representative from Tamil Nadu. The book was published by The Hunger Project.

In 2008, whilst still supporting the theme of education (2007), the Sarojini Naidu Prize has also introduced a new area of focus – Women in Panchayati Raj ~ Ensuring Primary Health for All. The jury was also finalized for 2008. Ms. Sushma Singh, recently appointed as Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India has agreed to be on the jury.

Influencing Public Opinion

1. Sensitizing production houses for radio programs

The Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India had invited The Hunger Project-India to hold a two-day workshop to sensitize its 16 empanelled production houses for radio programs, which also included the state-owned All India Radio. Maalan, Rinky and Sandip (state coordinator in Madhya Pradesh) were the resource people for this program. Such programs give The Hunger Project-India an opportunity to not only share the work of the elected women in the villages but also to ensure that they are given the limelight that is due to them.

2. Media hubs

The Hunger Project India has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India to build media constituencies for Panchayati Raj. The Hunger Project will organize media workshops, hold dialogues and public forums to discuss issues of Panchayati Raj so as to motivate media to write on local self governance – its achievements and challenges. The first media hub will be piloted from The Hunger Project offices in Bhopal.

Enhancing Capacities of Elected Women Representatives (EWRs)

I contest with eight men from an open seat and succeeded as Sarpanch in Borda Gram Panchayat. This success was not mine, and it was the success of my vilalge women.

—Sangita Naik, Sarpanch

Out of the 14 states in The Hunger Project’s areas of intervention, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Orissa and Tamil Nadu are in the second year of the election cycle. In these states The Hunger Project-India continues to conduct Women’s Leadership Workshops (WLWs), follow-up workshops and need-based workshops.

In Orissa, compared to WLWs conducted in past years, EWRs this time were more educated, younger and eager to learn about various schemes and processes in a panchayat. They were more open in discussing the problems faced by them in their areas. For example, in Kalahandi, levels of awareness have so increased that barring a few participants, others projected great confidence in themselves and took pride in introducing themselves in their public capacities. Similarly, at the Chakapal WLW (in Dhenkanal), the participants were mostly new entrants in the political arena, but were very keen to know about their roles and responsibilities in the PRI setup. Information about various schemes and programs was specially sought by them. Though levels of awareness are still low as in other parts of the state, they were found to be eager to learn the ropes as quickly as possible. Lack of adequate communication facilities, as usual, played an important factor in the EWRs’ attendance at the WLWs, forcing them to be dependent on their male relatives.

The WLWs did a lot to build confidence in them and it was noted that post WLW, these EWRs have shed much of their diffidence and have started raising issues of importance in the palli sabha.

Federation Building

“Aawaz do (Call out..) · Hum ek hain” (We are one)

“Ab apni hi bari hai (It is now our turn..) · Panchayat mein nari hai”(There are women in the panchayat now)

85 members of 12 federations of elected women representatives across eight districts of Rajasthan came together for the first time at the state level to initiate discussions for a state-level federation. The air was filled with excitement, the women calling out slogans to show their determination. The members had complete clarity that they belonged to a federation of elected women representatives and not just another women’s group. Most of the members present said that they felt strengthened if they had the support of a group of elected women from across the block, especially if they were dealing with tricky issues like corruption, land records, BPL lists, etc. In Rajasthan, the need for federations emerged directly from the elected women leaders. Khajani Devi from Bansur Block informed Ms. Jill Lester, President and CEO of The Hunger Project, "Since I will not sign blank documents and grease palms, the other officials made my life miserable. Ever since I became a federation member, I have been able to fulfill my responsibilities peacefully as my opposition now knows that I have the support of 100 elected women from my block."

The federation members of Khanmor Block, Rajsamand District, Udaipur have gone a step further. Calling themselves "Woman Panch Sarpanch Federation," they have printed their own letterhead. The federation has rented a room near the central bus stand (for elected women to reach easily) and holds a meeting every Monday.

Similarly, elected women leaders in Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka are coming together to form federations, being in either the third or the fourth year of the election cycle. In the last one year, The Hunger Project has seen the sudden shift to federation building by elected women representatives immediately after being trained by The Hunger Project. Most partners now believe that federation building should be initiated in the beginning of the election cycle in order to be an effective support and tool for EWRs to deliver their responsibilities and work effectively. Hence in states like Orissa and Assam, women are talking about federation building in the three-day residential Women’s Leadership Workshops.

Strengthening Women’s Empowerment through Electoral Processes

Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have been planning and implementing Strengthening Women's Empowerment through Electoral Processes (SWEEP) in the last six months. Since The Hunger Project has a direct program in Arunachal Pradesh, in the month of January Training of Trainers (ToT) participants were mobilized from four districts for SWEEP. The ToT was held in February and the SWEEP campaign is underway in Changlan and Tirap districts of Arunachal Pradesh.

In the Kumaon and Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, SWEEP is being implemented with five partners. 100 gram panchayats have been reached out through meetings, film screenings, street plays, door-to-door contacts, and trainings. Materials (posters and pamphlets) for the campaign have also been developed.

National Platform for Promoting Decentralization

A structured discussion of the need for a national-level platform on decentralization in India has been facilitated by The Hunger Project over the past year. An advisory committee, chaired by the Secretary, Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj has formed. This consists of academics, government representatives, training institutions, and people who have been elected representatives as well as civil society. The national platform is envisioned to work in the domains of knowledge creation and policy advocacy. It will serve as a single window towards informing and influencing decision makers within governments and donors agencies. It will also consolidate and share knowledge with academics, civil society activists and elected representatives. Two meetings of the advisory committee have been held thus far this year and a number of consultations at state and national levels are planned in the near future.

Tsunami intervention

The tsunami intervention, which ends in July 2008, is in its last phase. In the last six months, The Hunger Project has facilitated the formation of Contingency Plans for each of the 17 panchayats. The plans include digitalized maps which will help villagers to evacuate in times of natural disasters.

In January, The Hunger Project facilitated a "Training of Trainers" workshop on Disaster Preparedness. The members of statutory committees on disaster were the participants. A documentation of the tsunami process has also been initiated. A film crew has been finalized to make a film on the tsunami. The crew made an initial visit to the site after the briefing.

Publications

The Hunger Project-India Annual Report

Sarojini Naidu Prize 2008 Announcement Brochure

Newsletter on Madhya Pradesh

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