By Jason Caya
The concept of economic development means very little to a woman who is chained to a tree and beaten by her own family for wanting to leave her abusive husband. But, remarkably, in one state in northwest India, women are working together to find answers to the problems that plague their lives.
A visit to the state of Rajasthan, located in northwest India, can be a crash-course in international aid and development. It is not the India you read about on the pages of The Wall Street Journal or Business Week. No American IT jobs are moving to this part of India. While Rajasthan has a vibrant cultural heritage and has become a tourist attraction for many, it is still suffering from the problems that afflict most developing nations. Amplified by a feudal history and a hostile climate, these problems disproportionately affect women.
Often uneducated, mostly undernourished, and always overworked, the challenges that women in Rajasthan face are inconceivable in more developed countries. Moreover, an abundance of nonprofit organizations work with women in this region but lack a collaborative or holistic approach necessary for sustainable development. Simply put, the collective progress of aid and development in Rajasthan has been insufficient for women.
Remarkably, Rajasthani women are still driven to find answers to the problems that plague them. Although truly effective and lasting solutions must come from the women themselves, a platform is necessary to bring them together. Consequently, the first Women’s Leadership Conference was held in April of 2009. Attended by over 50 impoverished women from many distinctive communities, each woman was an established leader within her village or community.
The conference included networking activities, which opened the women to each other, and facilitated discussions on issues ranging from personal finance to human rights. Overall, the women listened, asked questions, and shared with each other. For many, it was the first time they talked about health problems or domestic abuse. For all of the women, they realized the same problems affected each of them regardless of caste, religion, village, or economic status.
Following the overwhelmingly positive responses from the women that participated in the 2009 conference, my colleague, Savannah Westgarde, and I established Ek Duniya (which translated into English means “One World”) to support future leadership conferences.
Currently, we are on the ground in the city of Jodhpur, located within Rajasthan, and in the midst of planning the 2010 Women’s Leadership Conference. This year, we will be partnering with three outstanding and proven women leaders from the community to drive the planning process. Ultimately, our goal is for the Women’s Leadership Conference to be sustained entirely by the women themselves. Only this will provide true empowerment through connections.
To support the 2010 Women’s Leadership Conference, please visit www.ekduniyaindia.org. We are seeking contributions that will go directly to bringing women to the conference this year. The estimated cost of bringing one woman to the conference is just $25. Thank you for your support.
Jason Caya's focus and specialty is facilitating community and economic development internationally as well as domestically. In addition to his work with Ek Duniya in India, he works as a consultant with the C.S. Mott Foundation in Flint, Michigan. Jason graduated from the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business with a Bachelor of Business Administration.