When we think of a village we imagine a ‘bargad ka ped’ (Banyan tree) as a focal point, where an elderly wise man takes center stage under the tree, giving out advice to a group of villagers encircled around him, listening to him with full attention.
But in today’s story, the position which is often occupied by male folk is altered and is now led by a woman ‘without’ a veil, who carries a strong determination to transform her village into a ‘model’ village.
Overcoming this deep-seatexd bias against woman in power is Kankuben Vankar, the Sarpanch of Kukma village in Bhuj, Gujarat.
In rural India, women are viewed as caretakers of the family. They have been left out of all strategic decisions that have been taken either in their villages or inside their homes. With no control over resource allocation and zero decision-making power, these women have been elbowing against the age-old patriarchal structures that have limited their social
Woman in power – Kankuben Vankar
Born in an extremely disadvantaged family of the Scheduled Caste community (a weavers community), Kankuben could not complete her schooling owing to the financial condition of her family. She was elected as a Panchayat body member in 2011. However, as a member of the Panchayat, she did not get much opportunities to perform her duties. It was her faith in her vision and capabilities that led her to contest for the Sarpanch’s position, in the next term, when one seat was reserved for a person from the SC community.
Kankuben contested for it and became the Sarpanch of her village. This event opened doors to changes in the age-old norms and social restrictions that were standing in the way of the development of the village.
To enable this, EdelGive’s partner NGO Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS), which works on fostering women’s leadership on socio, economic, political and cultural spheres, has
played a significant role. KMVS has developed an elected women representative’s forum, where KMVS trained these elected members to have a gendered approach towards the developmental issues of their villages. Various trainings were conducted to make them aware about their roles and responsibilities as they address the prevailing women’s issue and support them in overcoming the existing barriers. KMVS also initiated a safety programme for women in Kutch, where they actively engage with women elected
representatives to help them bring the agenda of safety under their purview.
Kankuben was an active member of the forum as well as the trainings by KMVS. KMVS played an active role in building her perspective on important subjects like Local
Governance and its Role and Functions, Gender Issues, Social Perceptions, Constitutiona Law, among others. Within no time, Kankuben gained confidence and developed the
leadership skills required to lead the village as its first female Sarpanch.
The streets of Kukma village have a purpose
One of the first interventions that Kankuben took up was to ensure a fall in the dropout rate of the girl child from school. For Kankuben, her aspiration was simple- every girl in her village should be educated. As a solution, she arranged free transportation services for the children, as well as expedited the construction and building of roads for ease of travelling. In one of the safety audit exercise, women and girls from her village shared their safety concerns of accessing public spaces, especially the nearby bus stand. The women and girls have reported the issue of eve teasing earlier as well. These instances greatly restricted their mobility. These incidences increased the dropout rates of girls along with a general apathy towards a particular gender and right to education.
As a Sarpanch, Kankuben decided to intervene. She registered an official complain in the nearby police station and used her authority to place enough streetlights on the roads to
avoid incidences around eve-teasing and sexual harassment.
A discussion during one of the Panchayat meetings led Kankuben and other members to ask a pertinent question – “If a street name can have a man’s name, why not a woman’s?”
For Kankuben, this question led to a plethora of underlying issues. One of the critical issues, that kept raising its head time and again, was the issue of lesser girls being able to pursu their higher education. She wanted more and more girls from the community to be inspired to continue their education.
She called on the village committee for a discussion and came up with a path-breaking decision – the first of many ground-breaking ideas that she implemented in her village.
She announced that the street names of Kukma village would be named after the girls who top education outcomes in the community. This was a small effort on behalf of the
administration to recognise girls who had completed her higher education, and instil confidence in the minds of young girls to not drop out of the education system.
A ‘model’ Sarpanch
Since taking charge, Kankuben has not just worked hard to empower the women of the village, she has also ensured that basic infrastructure like roads, hospital and schools are in
place. She ensured that the ‘feeling of safety’ is nurtured by challenging the patriarchal norms that led to violence. One of the key initiatives she took was to address the social evil
of alcoholism in her village by sensitising the community. Along with the Panchayat members, she has also been working on facilitating the various government schemes and
loan facilities for villagers who need it the most.
A National Award winning Toran artist, Kankuben firmly believes that the development of a village is determined by the development of its women. For her efforts, the Kukma Gram Panchayat was awarded the ‘Best Sarpanch Award’ by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj. The work that she has been spearheading in her community was recently featured in a BBC documentary.
Kankuben’s story is a testimony to how effectively a woman can put her village on the path to progress and change its narrative, if given a chance!
About Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS)
Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) was founded in 1989 with the objective of organizing rural women of Kutch to facilitate their empowerment. Since inception, the aim of KMVS has been the empowerment of rural women; and fostering their leadership – economic, political, social and cultural – through conscious-raising, organization and their mobilization into local collectives, capable of independently addressing gender inequities in their region.
About EdelGive Foundation
EdelGive Foundation has been supporting KMVS initiatives since 2016. EdelGive Foundation is a grant-making organisation, helping build and expand philanthropy in India by funding and supporting the growth of high-calibre small to mid-sized NGOs. EdelGive makes, receives, and manages grants, to empower vulnerable children, women, and communities via a zero-cost platform.