Rural women are key agents for development, often playing a catalytic role towards the achievement of community development and transformation. But outdated social constructs and skewed gender stereotypes, so prevalent in India today, often prevent women from emerging from their homes and participating in community life – denying them the opportunity to flex their leadership muscle.
However, community platforms like Self Help Groups or Village Health and Sanitation Committees are providing rural women across India with a ‘launch pad’ to emerge as community leaders – helping them develop networks, build confidence, learn new skills, foster livelihood opportunities and use their influence and voice for positive community change.
Ambuja Cement Foundation’s work in empowering women has led many women to take up leadership positions in their own villages, with 14 women elected as village Sarpanch, 86 women involved in their local Panchayat and 17 women becoming Ward Members.
Women like Hansaben Jadhav (Kodinar, Gujarat) who was instrumental in pushing the sanitation agenda in her community – single handed she succeeded in building 3756 toilets in her area. She went on to promote women in dairy as a Director of a Women’s Milk Federation, and her work across health, livelihoods and sanitation saw her named as ‘Gram Mitra’ and member of Gram Panchayat Samiti. She was also honoured by the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2015-16 for her outstanding performance in uplifting the rural community.
Additionally, women are also playing more diverse roles in their communities (as ASHA workers, Anganwadi teachers and Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) and are building the networks and skills to emerge as community leaders – driving social change across a wide spectrum of community social issues.
Women like Chanda Tai (Chandrapur Maharashtra) who, despite strict in-laws who restricted her participation at first, emerged as a leader when she got involved in her SHG and began promoting the procurement of compost and seeds as a livelihood activity for women. She went on to transform her community – as a SMART Village, ODF village and promoting issues like education for girls and easy access to clean water. Today she is the Secretary of Ekta Women’s Federation and is revered and respected across 30 villages.
By creating women leaders, the overall women’s agenda across communities is being elevated and pushed forward by these dynamic women – impacting the lives of thousands of women who are impacted by the initiatives and policies they pursue. As more women leaders emerge, life for women everywhere improves, as their issues are elevated and addressed in key forums.
Traditionally, the saying goes that ‘women are the weaker sex’ but stories like these prove that they are much stronger and far more resilient. If given the chance, they have proven time and again, that they can juggle so many of life’s complications at once – be it work, family, society – in a far greater capacity than men. This makes them perfect candidates as community leaders – be it through formal or informal channels.
But first, we must remove the shackles that society places on them, and give them the opportunity to participate in community forums, so that they can explore their potential – not only for themselves and their families, but the entire broader community.
Director & CEO Ambuja Cement Foundation