India: Building Capacity of Elected Women and Establishing New Partnerships


Update to the Global Board
(October 2008)

Executive Summary

The past six months are distinguished by the fact that seven new donor partnerships have been put in place ushering in a total of US$1 million. Initiating new partnerships was a major objective in this period as the four-year Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) grant came to an end in May 2008. Another objective has been to consolidate the federation building process across four states. The Hunger Project-India is the only organization in India that facilitates federations of elected women representatives (EWRs). In Karnataka, a state-level federation of elected women leaders is being established with the assistance of a technical partnership with a 100-year-old organization in Sweden called SALAR.

Another objective has been to track the Gram Sabhas (village assemblies) in order to document and assess the role of The Hunger Project trained elected women representatives who run them.

As an institution, The Hunger Project-India is able to take the agenda of elected women's leadership as an effective pathway for ending hunger and inequity to the highest office of decision making, the Chairperson of the ruling party, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. This journey from the villages of India to Mrs. Gandhi's residence has reached its first milestone of being where it needs to be seen, heard and shared with all stakeholders of the country.

Details on Progress


  • Training of Trainers (TOTs) workshop: Seven TOTs held. 175 trainers trained, modules refreshed, and federation training module developed.
  • Women's Leadership Workshops (WLWs): Conducted in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Will be followed by follow-up workshops before December.
  • SWEEP - Pre-election Campaign: Held in Arunachal and Uttarakhand. Results not yet out. Will be measured by increased voter turnout and percentage of seats held by women in The Hunger Project area of operation.
  • Federation Building in Karnataka: Block level federations have held elections. Four Steering committee meetings held to forge a state level federation.
  • Federations facilitated in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam and Bihar: Joint meetings held to learn from each other and plan for mobilizing EWRs.
  • Gram Sabha Tracking: Held in five states. 396 Gram Sabhas tracked in three phases.
  • 16 media workshops: Write-ups of EWRs in several mainstream newspapers across India.
  • National Platform for Promoting Decentralization: Advisory committee meeting held to plan for the 100 stakeholder workshop in November 2008.
  • Advocacy against two child norm: In Orissa, key stakeholder meeting held to plan action facilitated by The Hunger Project.
  • Dealing with disasters: Bihar and Orissa partners are dealing with floods in their area.
  • Tsunami Rehabilitation: Project closed with valedictory workshop. Film on three-year process made.

Objectives Not Yet Met

  • Tracking of Gram Sabhas in different states: Documentation is a challenge as Gram Sabhas in different states are held in different languages. Also partner organizations do not have human resources to administer questionnaires, analyze, document and translate.

Recent Innovations

Gram Sabha tracking has faced immense challenges. Partner organizations have limited human resources. Also skilled resources dedicated to administering questionnaires and analyzing them remain few. In addition, translation skills are non-existent. At present we are managing a centralized system but we need to find solutions as this is not sustainable.

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)

An M&E database for recording all of the workshops and other activities in our India Programs has been put into place. The tracking is to take place at the block level. The M&E questionnaire has been shared with all 13 states, and the necessity and purpose of M&E has been discussed with partners. Formats have been distributed at the block level, and regular reports are being received.

This exercise began in May 2008. The first results came in July 2008, and further results are due in October 2008. The key results of the data received in the first quarter document demonstrate the range of initiatives that are being taken on the ground to build women's leadership. Various innovations have been documented and are being replicated in other states.

We are preparing a coding sheet based on the total activities of The Hunger Project-India, which will help maintain consistency of data collection and subsequently help obtain the proper analysis.

Gram Sabha Track 2008

The Gram Sabha Track is an M&E initiative of The Hunger Project-India. Gram Sabhas across the country will be tracked to document and assess the role of women's leadership within them. Over the years capacity building has been a key strategy in building leadership of elected women representatives. The Gram Sabha track is an attempt to gauge the impact of The Hunger Project trainings in building the leadership of elected women representatives.

The Methodology

Questionnaires were developed to capture the empowerment process. Demonstrable qualitative and quantitative indicators on women's participation and leadership were included. They are intentionally simple and intuitively straight forward in order to maximize utility by grassroots non-governmental organization (NGO) workers who are not trained in documentation.

In May through June, 154 Gram Sabhas were tracked, and since August, 242 were tracked, and as of October, at least 282 will be being tracked. The tracking in all three phases will cover ten states. In certain states, Gram Sabhas were not tracked as they had recently gone to elections.

The Outcome

The initial Gram Sabha Track has been an eye-opener. During the course of the Gram Sabha Track it became evident that in grassroots democracy, despite its limitations and the feudal and patriarchal context of India, elected women can no longer be ignored or taken for granted once they are empowered with information and knowledge about their rights and entitlements.

The impact of the capacity building initiatives has been remarkable. Elected women have checked corruption; raised their voice against misallocation and misuse of public funds; and set priorities of education (especially girl child education), health, sanitation, water and social justice in Gram Sabha after Gram Sabha across India. They have done all this despite threats of death, verbal abuse and social ostracism. Knowledge and information has been the prerogative of the male local elite and literate upper castes in the social fabric of rural India. They have over the years used this to suppress women and lower castes. The 73rd amendment (allocating one-third of all seats in local government to women) has paved the way for women, largely semi-literate or non-literate, to share spaces of decision making.

Elected women realize that the Gram Sabha is one place where they can openly question the local elite and the bureaucracy. It is their political right and responsibility and the Gram Sabha Track proved this. It is evident that elected women are embracing the process of political, social and gender empowerment. However, The Hunger Project-India is conscious of the fact that empowerment itself is a slow process and there are multiple variables to it. At every step The Hunger Project must assess impact given the socio-cultural reality of India and its relevant gender dynamics.

Another outcome that was not factored in initially has been the realization that in a large number of gram panchayats (village councils) the Gram Sabha was not taking place. Thus an immediate outcome of this tracking has been increased advocacy in states like Orissa and Karnataka for holding the constitutionally mandated Gram Sabha. As a result, in Orissa the local administration has taken notice and efforts are underway to hold timely Gram Sabha7.


The Hunger Project's partnership with the government of India to set up media hubs has been successful. Media hubs are the centers that will develop a constituency within the media universe for panchayti raj (local democratic system) institutions through various strategies. A pilot center is housed in the state offices of The Hunger Project in Bhopal, which has already forged a partnership with media. This hub will be administered by experienced journalists, who will develop various strategies based on the local media scenario and media needs and will enforce them at the local level. The first media hub conference was held in Bhopal on April 29, 2008.

The Hunger Project has also partnered with over 100 stakeholders to set up the National Platform for Promoting Decentralization, a platform aimed at advocacy for better policies for panchayat representatives. The government of India is a key stakeholder in this process.

There have been several new partnerships. The Hunger Project-Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Partnership on strengthening women's leadership in forging the agenda of climate change to rural India is an innovative partnership. The Hunger Project and EDF have agreed to partner on the issue of climate change. This partnership will be carried out in two phases. In the first phase, this partnership will develop a film on climate change and its impact on India, which will be shown to elected women representatives in panchayats during the three-day residential Women's Leadership Workshops through which The Hunger Project has trained about 71,000 leaders in 14 states across India. The film will be used as a vehicle to generate dialogue on climate change amongst the rural leaders to enable them to find locally sustainable solutions for their problems.

In-country Funding Opportunities

The following organizations have provided in-country funding to The Hunger Project-India:

  • SDC
  • Ford Foundation
  • Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)
  • Forum Seed
  • Government of India
  • EDF
  • SDC-Corpus Fund

Broader Awareness of The Hunger Project/Media Coverage

Media workshops have been the center stage in the state programs during the months of April, May and June, keeping with the strategy of promoting and disseminating information on the successes of EWRs at the grassroots level. Media workshops also provide first-hand experience for the EWRs to share their accomplishments and challenges with the media. Apart from the states in which The Hunger Project works, a media workshop was also conducted in Chattisgarh to talk about decentralization and local governance, EWRs in panchayats and the Sarojini Naidu Prize 2008. For the first time, media workshops have been planned at the district level. About 700 journalists and 100 EWRs participated in these workshops. Mainstream media including UNI, PTI and TVs covered the elected women representatives.

The Sarojini Naidu Prize 2008 received over 1,300 articles on themes including "Elected women leaders" and "Bringing education to every child and ensuring health for all." Thirty-eight articles were shortlisted by the eminent jury who selected three prize-winners and gave a special jury citation to a journalist from Orissa. The award ceremony was held on October 2, 2008 in New Delhi. The chief guest for the occasion was Mr. P Chidambaram, Hon. Finance Minister of India. Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Hon. Minister of Commerce and Power and Ms. Revathy, actor and filmmaker will also grace the occasion.

The Country Director along with the senior team members has attended 31 strategic meetings in the last six months to initiate new partnerships and deepen the agenda of women and local governance with the Government of India, bilateral agencies and other key stakeholders. A list of the meetings is attached in Annex I.

Future Plans

  • The Hunger Project-India will be consolidating its present work in the next six months. Each state will continue to build the capacities of EWRs depending on its position in the election cycle.
  • NPPD will hold its first stakeholder workshop in November 2008. State platforms to promote decentralization will be initiated in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. KPPD will also hold its first stakeholder workshop in November 2008.
  • The Hunger Project-India will be hosting an investor trip in November 2008. Investors from Europe and Australia will be participating in this trip.
  • As part of the technical partnership between SALA International Development Agency (SALA IDA) and The Hunger Project-India, seven elected women leaders will be visiting Sweden to learn more about the Swedish process of decentralization.
  • Gram Sabha tracking will continue as planned, with the next Gram Sabhas planned in January.
  • Women's Leadership Workshops will be conducted in states that recently held panchayat elections. These include Arunachal Pradesh, Maharshtra and Uttarakhand.

Profile of a Leader

B. Rani Devaraj
President, Jakkanarai Gram Panchayat, Block Kotagiri, District Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu

Rani is a first time contestant and the seat she contested for was one that was reserved for women. There were four contestants for this seat and out of 3,300 she obtained 2,500 votes. She has studied up to Class XI. She decided to run in the elections because she wanted to improve the health and sanitation needs of the people in the area. Additionally, she wanted to solve the drinking water problem and ensure that all houses in the community obtained electricity and that the village streetlights were functional and well maintained. However the challenges were many and she was not sure how all this could be achieved.

She attended the Women's Leadership Workshop organized by The Hunger Project. According to Rani, the leadership skills she learned at the workshop helped her deal with the challenges of her panchayat. She says that the training gave her an understanding of how a panchayat works, especially her role in it. After her training, she was able to exercise her leadership and hold meetings with other panchayat members. According to Rani, elected members who have attended The Hunger Project's Women's Leadership Workshops are very cooperative as they are all united in recognizing the need to bring about changes in the panchayat.

Rani's panchayat has a population of 12,000 with Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Scheduled Castes (SC) in the minority. She says she gives preference to the ST and SC population because they are economically disadvantaged. Her priority is improving education and educational institutions in her panchayat. Her other area of focus is health and women's development.

Rani has concentrated on the infrastructure development of educational institutions as she feels that the children in remote regions should learn in a safe and enriching environment. She has fought hard to sanction the following funds for the development of her panchayat:

  • Rs 100,000 for the playground in the Government High School;
  • Rs 200,000 for building a retaining wall in the Government Primary School;
  • Rs 700,000 for providing drinking water to the Government High School;
  • Rs 250,000 to lay a volleyball court in the Government Middle School;
  • Rs 200,000 for roof repair of two middle schools;
  • Rs 25,000 for providing games and sports materials;
  • Rs 300,000 for the establishment of a Community Library; and
  • The panchayat also provides 100 poor children educational assistance every year.

As a woman, Rani attaches importance to the health and dignity of women and girl children and believes that if their health is looked after, the community's health will be maintained. Accordingly, she has accessed the following funds for the construction of community latrines for women and girl children:

  • Construction of two sanitary toilets for women for Rs 550,000;
  • One community toilet at cost Rs 200,000;
  • Provision of safe drinking water has been made in nine villages at the cost of Rs 450,000; and
  • The cost for the provision of water pipes at Rs 594,000.

In addition, she has implemented various development schemes for the welfare of the community in her panchayat. She has constructed 74 new houses under the Group Housing Scheme for Rs 2,516,000 and repaired 48 old houses for Rs 535,000. Sixty-eight new street lamps have been provided and 83 families have been provided free electricity. Twenty-three sodium gas lamps and 2,000 color TV sets have been distributed. In total, under the Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (a central government sponsored wage employment scheme) a total of Rs. 16,500,000 has been spent.

Rani has also managed to raise resources for the panchayat through taxes, such as the collection of rent from shops built by the Panchayat, as well as income generated from ten acres of tea plantation land. Rani has dedicated her time and energy to ensure the development of her panchayat. She feels she owes this to her people as they placed their confidence in her. She believes that there is no scarcity of resources in India, but that what is lacking is the distribution of these resources to the poor and the marginalized. According to Rani, The Hunger Project training has taught her to include in her agenda those who are less fortunate than her.

Country Profile - India

Population (male, female)

Male - 532,156,7722; Female 496,453,556

Percent of population in rural areas72.2%
Infant mortality rate57 (per thousand live births)
Maternal mortality rate301 (per 100,000 live births)
Life expectancy63.7 years (2005)
Percent population undernourished20% (2002-04)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate0.36% (2006)
HIV/AIDS - deathsOver 400,000 a year (UNAIDS)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS2.47 million (2006)
Literacy rate (male, female)Male 75.3%, Female - 53.7%
Primary school enrollment (male, female)

Gross Enrollment Ratio: Male - 123; Female 116 (2006)

Net Enrollment Ration: Male - 92; Female 86 (2006)

GDP per capita income

Rs. 29,786 (1999-2000 market prices)
Population earning less than $1/day34.3% (1990-2005)