Kuntala Majhi lives in the village of Sunapur, in the northeastern state of Odisha, in India. Kuntala has served on the Gram Panchayat, the local elected government council, since 2012. After partnering with The Hunger Project-India for leadership training, Kuntala used her new confidence and expertise to mobilize her community to end violence against women and empower the women around her to run for local office as well.
About 90% of the population of Sunapur depends on agriculture and forestry for their livelihoods. Many people supplement their incomes by migrating to other cities and villages for extra work. As a result, most of the residents are unaware of government social services that can help support them throughout the year. To help her community, Kuntala decided to run for a position as ward member in the Gram Panchayat. In 2012, she won a seat reserved for women, and was nominated to be the Naib Sarpanch, or Vice President. However, Kuntala initially found it difficult to administer her duties and obtain those government services for her community.
For first-time elected women representatives like Kuntala, The Hunger Project-India provides training and support throughout their five-year tenure to empower them with the knowledge and confidence needed to become effective leaders in their communities. After hearing about these training programs, Kuntala attended the first of many capacity building workshops to strengthen her leadership skills and receive additional information about her key roles and responsibilities. Kuntala also joined the Alibha federation, an organization of elected women representatives who meet at the state level to lobby for their collective interests, including greater transparency and accountability between government levels.
With the help of her colleagues in the Alibha federation, Kuntala was able to obtain pensions and housing support for her constituents, build concrete roads and provide electricity to a section of the village. Kuntala has also campaigned to make her village open-defecation free under the Clean India program.
Building on her prior successes, Kuntala started mobilizing the women to fight with her to end violence against women in their village. She began campaigns to raise awareness, reaching not just village residents but also her colleagues on the Gram Panchayat. Together, they were able to stop some instances of violence against women and spread awareness to prevent future incidents.
From her years in service, Kuntala has realized that the best way to ensure success for a women leader is to have more women leaders. As a result, Kuntala has been eagerly recruiting women to run as ward members and for other elected positions on the Gram Panchayat. She has also been bringing these women with her to participate in trainings organized by The Hunger Project-India and partner organizations.
Kuntala is driven to remain in service of her village on the Gram Panchayat for as many years as possible. When Kuntala learned that women can run for “open” seats (i.e. seats not reserved for women) as well, she decided to run for the position of Sarpanch, or President, of the council during the 2017 elections. She hopes that as Sarpanch, she will be able to contribute even more to her community.