explainer

Rajwanti barely had a voice of her own. Now she's an agent of change for her community.

There was a time when Rajwanti Singh barely left her home. She was confined to its four walls largely by virtue of her gender.

Today, the woman, from Posti, India, is one of the most influential players in local government; a respected member of her village’s council and the president of the women’s federation at a state level.

“As a woman leader, I see myself as a change agent,” she said. “Even if my work as a councillor stops, I will continue.”

Rajwanti’s success has been fostered by The Hunger Project, an international not-for-profit organisation that aims to end hunger and poverty by pioneering sustainable, grassroots, women-centred strategies.

In India, it works closely with Elected Women’s Representatives (EWR), like Rajwanti, to successfully connect the community to government subsidies designed to improve health, education, housing and welfare, and ensure they have the maximum impact for the country’s 65 million poverty-stricken citizens.

Rajwanti is a member of a state-level federation of women. Image: The Hunger Project.

Village councils play a vital role in this process, yet while legislation mandates that 30-50 per cent of seats are held by women, that doesn’t mean they are heard. Entrenched inequality often means EWRs are marginalised, overlooked.

“At my first village council meetings I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what resolutions I could offer my village. I just sat in the corner,” Rajwanti said.

“Once I began training with The Hunger Project, I became more active and I began believing in myself.

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“Now I realise I am special. I am the opposite of ordinary. I am not the same woman as before.”

Across the five-year program cycle, The Hunger Project empowers women with the skills and knowledge required to lead a political agenda and advocate for change for their community. Since the inception of the program in 2001, it has trained 175,000 EWRs across seven states.

“I want to keep developing myself and prove that my leadership is no less than that of a man,” she said. “In fact, I will even do what men cannot do.”

Through her focus on job creation and curbing malnutrition, and her role on the state women’s federation, Rawanti has put her village on the map. The men respect her now, they hear her, they even stand up to greet her.

She wants the same for women across her country; a place where 41 per cent of women have experienced domestic violence, where just 28.5 per cent of women participate in the labour force and earn just 62 per cent of what men earn for the same work.

“More women means more power,” she said. “And when our power grows no one can break us.”

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