Celebrating the Achievements of Women Leaders in Villages
Amrita’s UNESCO Chair in Women’s Empowerment & Gender Equality hosted The Capstone event for the Women’s Empowerment: Community Sanitation through Democratic Participation project, under the UN Democracy Fund. The event spanned from December 14-19, 2018, at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Amritapuri Campus, Kerala. It coincided with Amrita’s UNESCO Chair in Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment International Colloquium. It was the first such event in India, and academics from all over the world including international delegates, experts, professors, policymakers, representatives from UN partner organisations, technocrats and researchers attended the event. More than 90 women from 21 villages across 18 states of India joined the discussions and celebrated the successful completion of their project. The colloquium opened up spirited discussions around the latest issues pertaining to the empowerment of women and sustainable development.
Keynote speakers included Dr. Deepa Narayan (International Poverty, Gender and Development Advisor and renowned author and speaker); Hon. Judge Swati Chauhan (judicial officer and founder of Swayamsiddha, an initiative for women); Smt. Shalini Prasad (UNICEF); Andy Carmone CNM MPH (global health expert and Director of Clinical Science at Clinton Health Access Initiative) as well as many other top delegates from UN agencies and other NGOs.
At the Capstone event for the UNDEF Project, representatives of women’s advocacy self-help groups from project villages presented their findings on key issues in their communities and took part in a discussion on policy formation. “Before this, many of these women had never ventured outside of their small communities, interacted with government officials or made efforts to improve the situation in their village,” said Prof. Bhavani. To prepare for these discussions, the participants took part in a “World Cafe” style discussion where they could share their successes, best practices, and lessons learned. The event was a chance for these women to share with other women from different regions, cultures, and communities. Select Community Organizers, women from the village who have successfully led the WE: CSDP project, participated in an interactive question and answer followed which facilitated a conversation between the invited guests and the women change-makers and community organizers. In addition to this, two street plays on major social issues and how to address them were performed by the project participants, to kickstart conversations with the invited guests.
The UNDEF project offered intensive training programmes on women’s health, clean water and sanitation topics, community development, financial literacy, self-confidence and more. Participants were supported in conducting community action events, initiating meetings with local government offices and ensuring community-led total sanitation. “With empowerment and education gained from the Amrita-UNDEF project, these women had successfully led discussions and shared their perspectives on how policy could reflect their daily life issues better,’’ said Prof. Bhavani. “Their discussions will form the foundation of an upcoming policy brief, to be submitted through proper channels to the Central Government,” she added.
A beautiful moment occurred during the Capstone Event when Bhag Jogan Debi, from Hadiabad, Bihar, spontaneously ascended the stage and made her way to the podium to share her gratitude with the audience gathered. “We are thankful to Amma and Prof. Bhavani for the knowledge shared, support given and trust bestowed upon us. In our language, when thoughts are pure, actions automatically become good–– and when your actions are good, your children automatically become better people. This project has planted seeds for a better future for our community,” she said with heartfelt gratitude and enthusiasm. Bhag Jogan Debi is one among the 300 “Champions of Change” and 5,000 “Change Agents” from the UNDEF Project.
Together, these women have conducted more than 700 community-action events with nearly 28,000 participants from their villages and surrounding areas. “The most remarkable thing is that these women have initiated close to 400 formal meetings with local and state-level government offices to seek advice and assistance in launching useful schemes. They’ve even submitted RTI requests and filed grievances for improving village infrastructure and securing their rights,” observed Prof. Bhavani.
The capstone event celebrated the project success and shared their success stories and opinions on key issues at the forum. Hosted by Amrita’s UNESCO Chair in Women’s Empowerment & Gender Equality—the first such chair in India–– this colloquium was also the first of its kind in India that highlighted the successful skill training programs of AMMACHI Labs in the area of women’s empowerment.