Convention Brings 200 Elected Women Leaders Together to Review Progress and Set Goals

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December 21-22, 2010

Responding to the need for increased women's participation in local government, 200 newly appointed elected women representatives (EWRs) from the 11 districts of Rewa, Sidhi, Satna, Shahdol, Umaria, Katni, Dindori, Shivpuri, Chattarpur, Harda and Jhabua joined together in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India in December 2010. Also in attendance at the two-day convention were a number of former EWRs and 124 civil society representatives, government officials and state media members.

The convention brought together these EWRs from various districts to share their journeys as elected leaders, discuss achievements and challenges, identify issues for state-level advocacy and build a collective understanding of future goals. Some of the most pressing issues identified were strengthening the constitutional unit of the Gram Sabha (general assembly), addressing the non-cooperation of the Panchayat Secretary and the rightful implementation of the Right to Work/Livelihood (MREGA).

The Hunger Project-India's Global Vice President and Country Director Ms. Rita Sarin was Chief Guest at the convention. She offered congratulations and words of encouragement to the attendees:

"Women are registering their active presence in Panchayats [village councils] of India. I have seen women representatives in the states of Bihar, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Odisha and Assam work wonderfully in Panchayats. The ones present here represent lakhs of women of the entire State. Fifty percent Reservation for Women in Panchayats has come through after a long struggle which speaks for the quality of work done by women representatives. The president of the United States, in his visit to India, met Sarmi Bai, Sarpanch in Rajasthan and acknowledged her work. He even took the booklet of experiences of women leaders' work with him. My best wishes are with the women representatives who are set to mark a new era in Madhya Pradesh."

The Chief Guest released three publications at the Convention: a simplified booklet on Right to Work/Livelihood (MNREGA), an informative booklet on Right to Information Act (RTI) and a workbook for newly elected women in Panchayats.

Ms. Shashi Karnavat, Deputy Secretary, Higher Education, Government of Madhya Pradesh also attended the Convention.

Convention highlights included a photo exhibition by the SWEEP (Strengthening Women's Empowerment through the Electoral Process) campaign and a play by a professional theater group.

The exhibition showcased snapshots of women participating in the SWEEP campaign, EWRs exercising their leadership on issues of health, sanitation and education, the Sarojini Naidu Prize, a meeting with President Obama, Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials, and publications by THP in Madhya Pradesh on the Right to Livelihood (MNREGA) and Right to Information (RTI).

The play, titled "Ab Manzil Door Nahin" ("Now, The Destination Doesn't Look Far"), detailed the journey of an EWR through her election, triumphant win and resulting challenges. Her inspiring journey began in a Hunger Project Women's Leadership Workshop (WLW), where she blossomed with confidence that led her to become a motivational leader ready to address issues of social justice and development in her Panchayat.

Print and electronic media provided extensive coverage of the convention, most notably all three English newspapers in Madhya Pradesh (Hindustan Times, Central Chronicle and Free Press). The main Hindi dailies like Dainik Bhasker, Dainik Jagaran, Sandhya Prakash, Raj Express, and Patrika also provided coverage for the event.

Here are some notable quotes from women leaders at the convention:

  • "We, EWRs have been facing many challenges after coming to office. I am myself a first time Sarpanch [president]. I have been nervous also. Some people taunt us; some say we cannot work since we are women. But we have worked for education, for the health of children, for the poor who cannot afford costly food grains. I became a different person after participating in a Women's Leadership Workshop. There are many EWRs like me, and I hope that all of us will come together to form a larger group. This will help us to face all problems together." -Sunita, Sarpanch, Mankarhi Panchayat, Satna district
  • "Almost all the problems shared by the EWRs here have been faced in my term along with scores of other EWRs. It was only through strong will and constant work that we could solve some of the problems. Gram Sabha (Village Council) is a strong constitutional unit and if current EWRs ensure that it is strengthened, many of their challenges can be met since a support group of village people develops through this." -Geeta Verma, former EWR, and office bearer, EWR Federation, in a panel discussion on "Issues for advocacy and the way ahead."
  • "Back home, I and my nine family members survive on a preparation of rice and water for days. Here among so many women, I am surprised that there is so much food to eat. I like the food. I hope my family and others in village also get good food." -Shona Bai, Panch, Lanwani, Panchayat, Dindori district belongs to a poor family often receiving less than two meals a day, like many families in her Panchayat.
  • "The Secretary of my Panchayat didn't let development work take place according to rules. I and other EWRs petitioned the higher official and he was removed. Now the work is going on well. We had to struggle a lot for this." -Amarbati, Samnapur Block in Dindori district