India is the world's largest democracy with a population of 1.2 billion. Of this, 32 percent live on less than US$1 a day, and 68 percent on less than US$2 a day. With 44 percent of children underweight, India has severe levels of child malnutrition, ranking it first in the world. The future of rural India, where the highest concentration of poverty prevails, depends on overcoming enormous challenges in health, education, nutrition, population and environment. Women bear primary responsibility in every one of these areas.
The Hunger Project has been active in India since 1984 and currently works across eight states. The Hunger Project's approach of mobilizing people for self-reliant action, empowering women as key change agents and engaging with local government has culminated in one comprehensive strategy, the Panchayati Raj Campaign.
The 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution mandated that one-third of all seats in panchayats (village councils) be reserved for women, bringing more than one million women into elected office. The Hunger Project facilitates the leadership of these women leaders with key interventions in each year of their five year tenures.
Year One: Conduct Women Leadership Workshops (WLW) and follow-up needs-based workshops to strengthen skills of women leaders.
Year Two: Work with leaders to create bottom-up plans for villages to meet basic needs.
Year Three: Facilitate the formation of federations at district and state level to overcome bureaucratic obstacles.
Year Four: Focus on ensuring successful implementation of plans and policy changes.
Year Five: Carry out campaigns to encourage participation of women as voters and as candidates in the run-up to elections.
The Hunger Project, in partnership with about 50 local civil society organizations, has trained more than 79,000 elected women representatives. Examples of the interventions within this strategy include:
Empowering Women in Elections
To encourage voter participation among women and nominations of potential women leaders, The Hunger Project conducts intensive pre-election campaigns. SWEEP (Strengthening Women's Empowerment in Electoral Processes) campaigns include meetings, film screenings, street plays, door-to-door contacts, trainings and distribution of posters and pamphlets.
Federations for Advocacy and Mutual Empowerment
To empower women leaders and their communities, The Hunger Project supports the formation of federations among their elected leaders. In the states of Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan, women leaders are creating federations at the district and state levels to voice their concerns as a collective unit. Priority issues include 50 percent reservation of seats in local government for women, removal of two-child norm laws and increased transparency and support between levels of government.
Mobilizing the Media to Support Women Leaders
To highlight the work of women leaders and Panchayati Raj, The Hunger Project actively engages with the media and annually awards the Sarojini Naidu Prize. The prize showcases the efforts being made by the elected women and recognizes three journalists reporting on their work in Hindi, English and other Indian language categories.
Coping with Climate Change
In partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, The Hunger Project is training elected women to build the capacity of their villages to cope with the ravages of climate change.
Implementing Disaster Preparedness
To strengthen local governance and improve disaster preparedness in 17 areas affected by the 2004 tsunami, The Hunger Project facilitated the formation of contingency plans for use by each of the panchayats, including digitized maps that will help villagers evacuate in times of natural disasters and developing the capacity of the community for managing disasters.