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Women Leadership - Expanding Horizons....

Pranita Jangam (former Sarpanch, Dahagaon, Mandangad block) attended & addressed the 30th anniversary celebration on 13th & 14th October, 2007 at New York City. She was one among the chosen 4 speakers from all over the world. She represented nearly 65,000 EWRs in India to whom THP extends facilitation support. Her inspiring experiences explored the women leadership in India. The opportunity Pranita lived is a reward not only to her but to millions of women leaders in India committed to eliminate hunger, poverty, and inequity from the families, communities & villages.

Introduction of Pranita Jangam (Given by The Hunger Project on the occasion)

India is the world's largest democracy and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. At the same time, India's child malnutrition rate is essentially the highest in the world and the reason is buried in the soil of inequality between men and women. For the first time in 5,000 years, women can now serve on village councils called Panchayat. In fact, one-third of the seats on village councils are now reserved for women.

Our strategy is to empower women elected to these Panchayats-empower them to be effective key change agents in their villages for the end of hunger. To date, we have trained and empowered 65,000 leaders. They impact the lives of 18 million people. In addition, The Hunger Project is mobilizing thousands of elected women into federations where they take collective action to catalyze policy change.

Let me present to you one of these courageous women. She is not only the elected president of her Panchayat; she is also one of the leading voices in her state-wide federation. Ladies and gentlemen our partner from the state of Maharashtra, Pranita Jangam!

Remarks by Pranita Jangam (on the occasion)

I have spent 65 hours of travel by train and plane, but it's been worth it, just to be with you this evening.

My heart is so full of joy because I have the opportunity to represent millions of women in my country tonight. This is not just an honor for me, but you honor all the women of India. This is also recognition of the leadership of all elected women representatives.

The chance that I, a rural village woman, have received to be here with you could only be possible due to the alliance between The Hunger Project and our partner Parivartan in Maharashtra. Together, they are strengthening the leadership of women. My experience will inspire other women to take on leadership roles in their communities.

When I took the Women's Leadership Workshop, I learnt that I had rights - that I had my own identity. I learnt technical know-how as well as saw the obstacles I would face and the solutions to those problems. I was informed about the Panchayat laws and my responsibilities as an elected official.

And so, I began my work. During my presidency over the last 2 years, I have successfully accessed several government programs. For example, homes in my village which have been dark for decades now have light. We have stopped the selling of alcohol in my village. Women used to be beaten up by their husbands under the influence and this situation destroyed many homes. We now have changed the priorities of development. We have a library and several toilets for the community. I have also organized the women to form savings and loan committees.

I am extremely proud to say with the partnership of the women and men in my village, in 2006 our panchayat received government recognition for being one of the cleanest and most sanitary Panchayat. The prize money of Rs. 100,000 (the equivalent of US$4,000) was given by the President of India.

The biggest obstacle I faced was when I went to the district government office to ask them to properly document the names of the poor who lived below the poverty line so that they could gain access to resources allocated to them. Our demand was ignored. This is because today the political system is insufficient to meet people's needs. That is why, a federation of organized people is absolutely critical.

I went ahead and formed a women's federation along with Parivartan. As a first step, we advocated for women's active participation in the local village council meeting. They learnt their rights. They found out that they have right over 50% of their family property. This had them lay claim to their future economic security.

Although technically, the law states that women in local government must have 33% representation, the truth is that men pull the strings. But now women are beginning to cut those strings. We are stepping out of our traditionally designated roles of taking care of the children and working in the kitchen and seizing every opportunity. The results we produce are gold - they change lives forever! Ladies and Gentlemen, I am that living example.

Finally, I want you to know that I, Pranita Jangam, fear nothing. I will not be stopped. I am a powerful woman and a successful leader. And yes, this is just the beginning. You have not yet seen what we women can do.