I have been privileged to witness firsthand The Hunger Project’s work to support women’s political participation which is so essential to more effective governance. On a trip to Jaipur, India I met with hundreds of panchayat women and I will NEVER forget them. They told me so proudly what they had been able to achieve in local office, how they were transforming their communities, the challenges they had to overcome. From sanitation to education they were making a difference.
You have also been effective in mobilizing the international community to do more to promote gender equality. When women thrive everyone thrives:
Women and men – girls and boys. So to the Hunger Project, congratulations as you celebrate your 35th years. Congratulations to Executive Vice President John Coonrad. He is an inspirational leader and I was so delighted that he could serve this year on U.S. delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. He always adds great value to any enterprise!
The Obama Administration had made promoting gender equality and raising the status of women and girls around the world a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. We know that no country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind. So this is both the right thing to do and the smart thing. Women’s participation both in the workplace and as entrepreneurs is critical to growing their families’ incomes AND growing economies. As the World Bank says, women’s equality is smart economics. We have also put women at the center of development and diplomacy not merely as beneficiaries, but also as agents of peace. Women bring a range of unique experiences and talents to decision-making on peace and security that lead to better outcome in conflict prevention and resolution.
I am so happy that your special guest tonight is a woman who is a testament to why we need more women in decision-making roles at all levels of society: Sarmi Bai (SHAR-me Bye) from the state of Rajistan in India. In a region where women confront countless challenges, Sarmi defied the odds. She entered politics in 2005, and was elected to serve on her panchayat in a tribal area in the state of Rajistan. Though she had no prior experience in politics, she immediately got to work to address the problems plaguing her community: domestic violence, keeping girls in school, improving working conditions, fighting corruption and more. Sarmi overcame the opposition of local leaders and mobilized her community to build the village’s first school for girls. She is now president of that panchayat.
In fact, she won her first campaign running against men in a direct election (not a reserved seat). She met President Obama during his recent trip to India, and I know he was as impressed with her work at the grassroots level as I was.
I was pleased that Sarmi was one of the participants in a program that my office sponsored for grassroots women political leaders from across South Asia.
She and others like her are playing a more active role in building their communities, creating a space for women to become more effective in the political process, and laying the foundation for a future generation of emerging women leaders.
She told me that the message she wanted to share with everyone is this: Not a single woman or girl should ever be discriminated against in her community anywhere. All women should work together as a collective force to end discrimination against women and girls. And even though we will be old, we must continue to support our daughters and daughters-in-law of the next generation.
It is my distinct honor to welcome to the stage, the president of her panchayat in Rajistan, an exceptional grassroots leader, Sarmi Bai.