SEEDS is supporting the Mahila Shanti Sena project. For initial details about the project, please see information on a related conference below.

2004 International Seminar on Peace Action, Women and Democracy

1. Conference Rationale and Objectives
Background Information: The Mahila Shanti Sena or Women for Peace Project
The Mahila Shanti Sena project was inaugurated in Vaishali, Bihar, at a meeting in February 2002, organized collaboratively by Acharya Ramamurti of Shramabharati, Khadigram and Dr. Rama Singh of the McMaster Centre for Peace Studies, and largely funded by UNICEF Bihar. This 4 day meeting was attended by 109 village women from Bihar and Assam, local politicians, Indian academics and peace activists, and 12 Canadian academics and community members. Since its inauguration, over 50,000 women have participated in the Mahila Shanti Sena training camps. The purpose of these 3-7 day training camps, aimed in particular, but not exclusively, at the 45,000 women elected to the village and district councils (Panchayats) in Bihar in 2001, following amendments to the Indian and state constitutions, has been to promote participatory democracy through capacity-building and to form small groups of women peace workers trained in leadership skills, crisis intervention, and conflict resolution and prevention. Since many of the women elected to Panchayats in Bihar were illiterate and politically inexperienced, Acharya Ramamurti decided to focus the resources of his non-profit rural development organization on helping to further empower these women so that they could more effectively use their positions to set policy priorities that would really meet the needs of women, children and neighbourhoods in Bihar, a state with one of the highest population densities, poverty and illiteracy rates in India.  Mahila Shanti Sena training camps, conducted mostly in rural areas, have met with exceptional enthusiasm. They have now taken place in 12 districts in Bihar, as well as in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Tripura. Demand is growing in these and other states for more training camps. Interest in achieving a major long-term goal, the establishment of “earn-and-learn centers” for women, where conflict resolution training is combined with training in skills that can provide meaningful employment in rural areas, is also growing.

2.  Rationale for the International Seminar

While the experience of the Mahila Shanti Sena (MSS) in Bihar and other states has been positive and encouraging, there is a need to share the accumulated experience with other  NGOs working in the area of women, development and democracy with respect to the Panchayati-Raj Institutions, as well as with other peace workers. The conference will also address the need to review and enhance the concept, strategies and programs of the MSS, and to further formalize processes of evaluation and information dissemination. There is an equally pressing need to deliberate on the future of the MSS with respect to sustainable funding, and to assess its usefulness as a model that could be exported to other countries (such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka).  Participants will include delegates from several national and international Gandhian organizations, other NGOs, academics, politicians, and a large group of women trainees from the MSS.

3.  Conference Objectives:
-             To review the work of the Mahila Shanti Sena project since its inception in 2002, and to discuss its role in enhancing the capacity of women’s leadership in the promotion of nonviolence and participatory democracy in India.
-             To share research, knowledge and experiences in the linked fields of sustainable development, a culture of peace, non-violence and democracy in India.
-             To work towards a consensus on the most effective strategies and programs that support and strengthen the leadership of women.
-             To generate ideas and insights for a need-based peace research and action in India.
-             To build awareness, commitment and action, including research on action to be taken, on the consensus thus evolved.
-             To delineate and strengthen areas of mutual understanding and cooperation among various individuals and institutions engaged in promoting the culture of peace, non-violence and democracy with women’s active participation.
4. Representatives and Participants
Approximately 200 participants are expected at this conference, over 90% of whom will be from India. The vast majority of speakers, moderators, and panel discussants will also be from among the Indian delegates (list of speakers not availabe yet). It will be especially important to hear from those women who have been actively involved in the Mahila Shanti Sena, as leaders, trainers and trainees. It is hoped that some fifty of these women will be able to attend the conference.

5. Anticipated Results
The content of the conference will have a positive impact on sustainable development with respect to the strengthening of women’s development and participatory democracy within a framework of a culture of peace in India insofar as it will:
·               Provide a greatly enhanced awareness and knowledge among the participants on the theme of the seminar in general, and on the goals and results of the Mahila Shanti Sena project in particular
·               Allow for the sharing of valuable information, ideas and insights on relevant peace research and action taking place in India, Canada and other countries
·               Critically assess the progress of the Mahila Shanti Sena project, and
·               Create an outline of enriched and strengthened strategies and programs of participatory action to promote a culture of peace, non-violence and democracy in India through the initiative and processes of the Mahila Shanti Sena. Such strategies would include the production of literature and additional training materials.
·               Build a wider consensus and deeper commitment among the stakeholders for participation in the above strategies, programs and processes.
·               Build an enhanced mutual understanding, cooperation and networking among the NGOs and peace activists working on women, peace and democracy in India and other countries.
·               Establish working groups that will 1) collaborate with the McMaster Centre for Peace Studies to plan a Mahila Shanti Sena project evaluation strategy with a view to determining how this project could serve as a model exportable to other countries; 2) work on plans for developing grant applications for funding agencies to enable the project to grow and meet its long term objectives (including setting up “earn and learn” centers for women in rural India)
The success of the conference will be evaluated based on the degree to which the objectives have been met. The conference will be evaluated by a team from Shramabharati, with input from some of the McMasterUniversity delegates.
It is expected that the conference will generate renewed enthusiasm for and commitment to the development of the scope of the Mahila Shanti Sena’s work, provide new directions, as well as outline a revised plan for specific follow-up actions and next steps.
It is expected that other participating organizations from Canada and England (including McMaster Centre for Peace Studies, the Edmonton-based Mahatma Gandhi Foundation for World Peace) will also engage in making concrete plans as a result of the conference.

Conference Contact: