The Hunger Project has had a presence is Assam since 2003. Spread over three districts the program covered 24 development blocks and 294-gram panchayats in partnership with the North East Social Trust, there has been an intensive program of capacity building of elected women representatives.
The program began with a focus on capacity building. Women’s Leadership Workshops and follow up workshops were held with elected women of all three districts. In 2004, began an intensive process of federation building of elected women representatives. In each of the twenty-four blocks, Block Elected Women Representative Forums were formed. Since their inception, they have been a vital support base for elected women providing a platform for cross-learning and serving as a space to gain information and knowledge on all aspects of work in panchayats- schemes, accounts, procedures, government notifications and interaction with various government officials. Additionally, there was also focus on strengthening the gram sabha through gram sabha mobilization. To build an enabling environment for women’s leadership in the state, and to build a favorable public opinion towards the issue of women’s leadership in panchayats, media interface through media workshops were organized regularly.
Since 2007, THP’s presence in Assam has expanded considerably. For the panchayat elections held in December 2007, THP undertook an extensive pre election campaign- Strengthening Women’s Leadership Empowerment through Electoral processes. In collaboration with new field-based partners, the campaign was done across five districts – Barpeta, Jorhat, Golaghat, Kamprup (rural), Lakhimpur, Nalbari and Sonitpur. The program covered 366 panchayats across 34 blocks.
The SWEEP campaign aimed at increasing the participation of women in the electoral process. The broad objectives of the campaign were as follows:
– Increase in the participation of women as ‘aware’ voters
– Increase in the participation of women as candidates
– Re defining the concept of leadership; leading to the identification of a ‘good’ leader (in the minds of both voters and candidates)
– Promotion of an enabling environment for encouraging women’s participation internally (within the family) as well as externally (community, village, Panchayat, civil society, State-level)
– Increase in THP’s own understanding of women’s political participation in the context of caste/power relations/party politics, as a learning, which can be used as a base for designing future program strategies.
Block level meetings were held in which over six hundred potential women candidates participated. Street plays were held to mobilize women to contest for elections and spread awareness of the upcoming elections through which over twelve thousand people were impacted. IEC material was specially created for the elections-: Newsletters, posters, and booklets reached nearly sixty-five thousand people. A help desk was also established to assist prospective women candidates through which more than five thousand potential candidates were contacted. The SWEEP campaign had a great impact with 44% of the total women who contested got elected at the various tiers
After the elections, in the first year of the second term, the program of strengthening women’s leadership in panchayats began with WLWs and follow up workshops. Simultaneously, in three districts- Lakhimpur, Jorhat and Golaghat the federation building process has also been initiated.