Developing Women Leaders

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Empowered women have a truly transformative role to play in their communities but they are rarely afforded the opportunities that allow them to fulfil their enormous potential. PACS partners have been working to develop local women as community leaders to inspire, lead and empower other women to raise their voices and demand their rights - 59% of the 23,206 Community Based Organisations that PACS has formed are led by women.

The invisible half

Women form about half of the population in India, but their situation has been unequal for centuries. Apart from being socially excluded and deliberately deprived of equal status, women bear the brunt of poverty, especially in rural areas.

They suffer from the denial of freedom, even in their homes, a rigid caste hierarchy and a myriad of social taboos. The rural social system controls in such a way that women often feel they have no other choice but to surrender themselves to patriarchal values, sacrificing their legitimate rights.

Supporting women-led organisations

PACS believes that change is only possible when communities take charge of their own development and PACS carefully selected its partners using a process involving affirmative action. As a result, over 60% of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that have been supported by PACS are run by women.

A major part of the PACS strategy has been to support these CSOs in forming and strengthening Community Based Organisations (CBOs), run by and for members of local communities. It has been important for PACS to ensure that socially excluded groups are involved in these organisations, especially at the leadership level, ensuring that their often overlooked and marginalised voices are not only heard but also acted upon.

Thanks to the inclusive and empowering training and support from PACS CSOs, 226,075 women have become members of PACS CBOs (making up 64% of the total membership). Of these, 13,576 women hold leadership roles.

Nurturing women’s leadership

PACS has supported many of these female CSO and CBO leaders with leadership training. For example, Jyotsna from West Bengal was one of the participants on the PACS "With.in Leading Together" course. "After the training I understand that everything is not achievable alone," she reflects. "By taking everyone along [with me], work will move ahead. After PACS training I understood that if I can bring a change in myself, I can change my CBO too." 

PACS has also educated women about their rights and entitlements to education, employment, land rights, health and nutrition. In total, 14,971 CSO staff members and 295,530 CBO members have attended PACS training events.

Inspired and empowered, female CBO leaders like Malati Nayak have gone back to their communities to teach others about their rights, galvanising women in their communities to take action. “People started recognising our group and women from other Self-Help Groups came to our village for advice," recalls Malati. "Gradually our membership increased and now we have 500 members in Maa Gupteswari Mahila Sangathan [a women’s Self-Help Group collective].”

By working to develop and nurture female leaders within communities, PACS has created an environment where women from socially excluded communities have the power to think and act freely, so they can exercise their choice and fulfill their potential as full and equal members of their communities.

 Malati (in pink) and some of her SHG members make a monitoring visit to the Primary Healthcare Centre that they helped to renovate.

Inspiring stories

There are countless inspiring stories of women leaders who have benefitted from PACS support and who have helped thousands of others to access their rights and entitlements. These are just a few of them:

“I strongly believe that educating girl children can make all the difference. I want women to come up in their life through education."
Determined to learn to read and write, Munni struggled against her culture and is now working with other Muslim women, teaching them about the importance of education.

“Women have to come forward if they are to be counted... we have to prove we are just as good as the men working on MGNREGA sites.”

Kari is just one of 1008 dalit women in Bihar who are challenging cultural and societal expectations by taking up roles as MGNREGA work site supervisors. 

"It is because of the videos' influence that I have been made a Sarpanch [Village Head] in my block.”

Trained by PACS as community video journalists, Saroj, Kranti and Reshmi have all brought change through their videos, and their successes have led their communities to elect them as leaders.

"I used to be known outside as someone’s wife, mother or daughter-in-law. But today I have my own identity. This is my biggest achievement.”

Urmila, Kiran, Mamta and Anjum work as community coordinators for PACS partner Gramya. They use bicycles to reach other rural women to teach them about their rights and entitlements.

“Women and girls are not machines, just meant to sew or to bear children. They deserve an education, the chance to be more.”

Bright and ambitious, Furjune sought help from her local PACS Self-Help Group to stop her arranged marriage. She's now helping other girls to do the same.

 

“I have a dream. I want my community to secure what rightfully belongs to them. I want to see them live with dignity."

Pushpa is a dalit woman who set up PACS partner Adharshila and dreams that one day her community will be able to live dignified lives, as equals in society.


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