Politics as usual?

Aug 25, 2016

The United Kingdom, for only the second time in its history, has a female Prime Minister. For the first time ever, the USA has a female Presidential candidate from one of the two main parties. For two of the most progressive, rich and developed nations in the world, that’s a pretty damning track record.

In the west, sometimes one can become complacent about the gains women made over the past 100 years or so. Whilst we should celebrate the social changes we have brought about, we still have a long way to go. In reality, women are paid less than men, hold fewer positions of power than men, and are often subject to sexism throughout their daily lives and routines.

We all know there will be huge benefits – social, economic, academic, to name a few – when women and men are treated equally in society.

So, taking Theresa May and Hillary Clinton as examples, it’s evident we have a long way to go. Are they the sign of things to come, or are they anomalies? One thing is certain, we all need to do more to promote the rights and needs of women around the world.

At Feed the Minds, the majority of the projects we run with our partners focus on the empowerment of women, or certainly place a large emphasis on them. This is because, once women can fully participate in their communities as equals, they can reach their full potential and the effects on the whole of society are so profound. When women benefit, so do the families that rely on them.

In parts of India, women are often seen as second-class citizens. Two of our projects have used similar approaches to empower women to overcome this and participate in local government. It may not be Number 10 or The White House, but grassroots level political change is key to progression and sustainable change.

Over the past two years, our partners have worked with nearly 300 existing and potential women leaders to build their skills and confidence in representing others. To engage participants with low literacy levels, we used participatory training methods including discussions and storytelling, and materials in local languages.

Two young women who had just got their opinions heard in a village meeting.
Two young women who had just got their opinions heard in a village committee meeting.

Alongside this, we encouraged the women’s husbands, male colleagues and other community members to support their involvement in decision-making. This gender awareness is transforming attitudes to women at home as well as in local government forums.

With local partner Gopabandhu Seva Parisad, we’ve improved local women’s participation in 18 panchayats (village committees) in Malkangiri, Odisha State.

The results have been striking. The women are more confident and active in panchayats, making the committees more effective. By tapping into women’s ideas and government support, the panchayats have benefited the wider community. They have had 75 indoor household latrines built for local families, are building 20 more and have helped 98 people access pension schemes.

What can we learn from this? By giving women a voice, wider community needs are addressed. Patriarchal, male-led societies can sometimes neglect the needs of women, communities which instil women in the decision making processes from the ground up lead to fairer decisions for all.

A mother who had recently participated in a village committee meeting.
A mother who had recently participated in a village committee meeting.