The Hunger Project-India Celebrates the Sarojini Naidu Prize and the Elected Women Representatives It Supports
On October 1, 30 elected women representatives of local self government (panchayats) visited the official residence of Ms. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in India, to share their work and talk about their achievements.
This new generation of leaders from 14 states informed Ms. Gandhi that thanks to the law that mandates that 33.3 percent of seats in panchayats be reserved for women, they are able to contest and win elections. They also shared with her the challenges and impediments they face to successfully implement poverty alleviation programs. Ms. Gandhi advised them to use the Right to Information Act as a tool to make the government officials accountable. She said they have to fight their way against gender and caste-based discrimination, and she pointed out that there is no shortcut to success.
On October 2, 2008, The Hunger Project-India celebrated the Eighth Sarojini Naidu Prize Ceremony. The Chief Guest was Mr. P. Chidambaram, Finance Minister from the Government of India. The Distinguished Guests of Honor were Ms. Amita Devi, President from Dadar Kohlua Panchayat (Kanti Block, District Muzzafarpur, Bihar) and Ms. Revathi, noted film actor and director. Ms. Rita Sarin, Country Director, The Hunger Project-India welcomed the guests.
Ms. Amita Devi gave a passionate speech and spoke about how she has built two schools and has installed solar lighting panels in the Dalit (the caste formerly known as “untouchables”) hamlets for whom electricity has always only been a dream. She declared that even though she had never been given the opportunity to study further than high school, she would always try to ensure that girls in her village went to university and have the same opportunities as girls living in urban centres. She shared that she encouraged families to send their girls for higher education.
Mr. P Chidambaram distributed the Sarojini Naidu Prize awards and then addressed the gathering. He congratulated The Hunger Project for highlighting the gains from Panchayati Raj and women’s leadership. He said that every year, millions of rupees are allocated for development work, yet the outcomes do not match the funds that are allocated. He said that women leaders have made significant achievements despite the challenges they face.
Ms. Revathy released the publication compiling profiles of 118 elected women leaders entitled Women Leaders in Village Panchayats. She said that she was inspired and awe struck by the work done by the panchayat women leaders. She recollected her own foray into electoral politics and said that despite losing the elections, her tryst with politics has left her a changed person. She said that if we want to do something to bring change, we need to be part of the political processes and be ready to dirty our hands.
The award ceremony ended with the women leaders taking center stage to introduce themselves. The day’s proceedings ended with an inspiring song in front of the 450 dignitaries and guests.