Be The Change You Want To See
A two days “State Level Convention of Women Leaders” of feisty rural women began at Gandhi Bhawan in Lucknow on 16th April 2012, bringing together over 650 women leader delegates (organizers were expecting not more than 500) from 9 districts of east UP, and proved once again that more changes can be wrought in society by women than we can think of. They were from all age groups—the youngest 18 years old and the eldest 75 years old–all dressed neatly in colourful clothes, with bright eyes, determined faces and an infectious enthusiasm. None gave the impression of the labourer or the underprivileged, which almost all of them were. The atmosphere was palpable with their eagerness to share their experiences about the practical difficulties they face in the implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), working of ration shops under the Public Distribution System(PDS) and honest functioning of Gram Panchayats (village councils), with the representatives of the state Government, media and civil society. They came from the 9 backward districts (Ambedkarnagar, Azamgarh, Mau, Ghazipur, Varanasi, Pratapgarh, Jaunpur, Basti and Mahrajganj) of a backward state, representing over 80,436 women from the marginalized and backward communities of these districts, under the umbrella of the ‘Empowering Rural Women’ (ERW) program. This program, nay mission, has encouraged them to form informal women collectives or Nari Sanghs and work towards claiming their entitlements, which have been provided to them by law (but denied by powers-that-are) under the Right to Work, Right to Food and Right to Health within the constitutional framework of India. They are also demanding their rightful place in the political and social arena. These women-led community based organizations or CBOs, are being facilitated by a group of 37 civil society organizations with the support of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Mumbai, and People’s Action for National Integration (PANI).