Sitting cross legged (awkwardly on my part) on thin mattresses on the cold tiled floors of the unheated Hotel Harshikhar, in Bhimtal, Northern India, we heard from 15 Elected Women Representatives or community leaders who traveled many hours to share the issues within their communities and the wins they’d had during the last four+ years of their time in office.
The Business Chicks with me had traveled from all over Australia to hear their stories, and one that stood out for me, was Hema.
“First and foremost,” she said, “women were not taken seriously. Their voices had not been heard, and this caused fear and anxiety when they wanted to express their opinions.”
She thanked the women of the organisations who partnered with The Hunger Project to teach women their rights, and how to be heard. She was grateful for the assistance to build her own confidence to fully be her best in her role.
Hema fought for water issues and is now proud that every house in her village has access to water and that tanks have been constructed for families who need them.
She’s received an award from the State Government for having a modern panchayat (village council) where all basic services were covered. This resulted in an award of 200,000 rupees (AU$4,000) for her village. She also received an award for cleanliness and sanitation from her district. This lady is a winner!
In her spare time, she’s chosen to fund education for 2 very poor girls in her village whose parents are unable to meet the costs of schooling. There was also no land for a creche for the smaller children, so she donated part of her own property for that too.
Hema is also a bit of an entrepreneur and now has 5 women in the village making paper packets that can be sold at market to provide them with an income. Her passions are teaching others about animal husbandry and ensuring that women understand about savings and being able to provide for themselves.
Domestic violence fueled by alcoholism is also a problem in her area and many women don’t know what their options are but come to her for advice. Bravely, Hema has confronted the husbands to have a discussion about their behavior prior to escalating matters to the police. One man objected to her interfering with belting his wife and even went to strike her, but she managed to grab his arm. Strongly, she stood her ground telling him that she was here for a conversation and if he chose to also abuse her, the matter would go to the authorities. What a powerhouse!
Some men in the area work away at companies or serve in the army to financially assist their families, but some just choose not to contribute to the financial upkeep of their homes. This is why Hema is so passionate about ensuring the women can earn a living and put away savings for when needed. (Sounds like she’s also a part-time financial counselor!)
Hema still has more work to accomplish. She wants to again contest the elections later this year and be back to serve and make a difference for the next five years. It’s no wonder the women in her village have assured her this election year, that they’ll make sure she wins again, unopposed.