UN Women works in over 100 countries to help empower women to become leaders and agents of change in their communities.

With the support of UN Women, Odisha village council elections saw women step up to vote and stand for election.

Strengthening Women’s Empowerment through Electoral Processes (SWEEP) campaigns launched by UN Women and local partners encouraged women to run for election alongside men. The campaign incorporated films, leaflets, songs and nukkad natak (street theatre) during village and block level meetings to increase awareness in the community about the importance of including women in the electoral system.

As a result, more women were elected from seats that were open to both men and women. Women like Bharati.

As a recently elected Sarpanch or village head, Bharati Behra benefitted immensely from the SWEEP campaigns and has great aspirations for her people; she hopes to become the voice of tribes from the area and wants to support rural women in her area to access paid work.

A first timer to village politics, she was undeterred by opposition from family members and some men from the village. Thanks to the unanimous support she received from the women in her area, she won by 500 votes. Bharati has found strong supporters in women running self-help groups and the local women awareness network. During her election campaign, they also walked with her to mobilise people across the village.

Women’s involvement in the elections was evident. They were voters, candidates and even became polling agents, a position mostly occupied by men.

“If women unite and be a part of local governance, we will command better and stronger position in our community. We will work towards better infrastructure and agricultural development,” says Maanasi Patra, a farmer, mother and candidate in the elections.