Meghiben Samariya – India

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Meghiben has inspired some 2500 women in the entire Pachcham area to take up the cause of human rights, empowerment, and justice for women. She has successfully combated the stigma associated with her status as a divorcee. For the past ten years, she has been working to strengthen women’s grassroots collectives and women’s involvement in the socioeconomic arena in her village and district. Her work with legal aid has been crucial to women’s lives in the area. Most innovative of all her efforts, though, is the printing of a newsletter for neoliterates, encouraging them to express themselves in print and thus making a public space available to women.

She says: “I am interested in seeing women sell the products that they are producing or value-adding in a fair price market. Not only that, I would also like to see them control the resources thus generated, resulting in complete socio-economic empowerment of rural women”.

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Meghiben Samariya – India

She works for Ujjas Mahila Sangathan UMS.

Meghiben Samariya was born in 1966 in village Habay, Bhuj district, as one of four children. Married off at 16, she stayed with her husband for a year. During that time, she worked in the salt pans and developed a skin rash, which gave her in-laws the opportunity to abuse her as a “leper” and evict her. She was only 17 years old. She sought legal redress, but it was seven years before she was awarded a compensation of Rs 10,000.

Meghiben is now divorced and lives with her parents. Although not formally educated, her keen mind and instinctive grasp of situations has helped her building herself into a force to reckon with.

When members of the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) began working in her area, Meghiben took an active part in their activities. She started out aiming to support herself, and then gradually became part of the core team that took on the responsibility of building the capacities of the grassroots women’s collectives.

For more than 10 years now, Meghiben has been a key participant in the KMVS’ activities in the area. Initially, the Sangathan helped the team form grassroots collectives, but today the collective in the area has taken the shape of a registered community-based organization, the Ujjas Mahila Sangathan (UMS).

As a senior member of the UMS, Meghiben guides the organization in further developing its collective strength. It works to eliminate domestic violence against women in the area by creating a social movement of men and women, and developing multiple mechanisms for community and socio-legal redress.

Meghiben stresses the UMS’s commitment to focus on developing the economic security of women and the community at large by promoting self-enterprise among women. This will also ensure that the solidarity – especially in the farming and fishing communities – is armed to withstand pressures of displacement from the massive industrialization planned for Mundra.

She works in the villages in the Mundra taluka (South) of Kutch district, focusing particularly on women and violence.

The UMS also tries to ensure that women in each of the villages in its area influence development agendas by becoming active ‘citizens’ within the gram sabhas. To this end, they are initiating a process of self-governance with the panchayats, especially on the management of primary education, health, and drinking water.

She is involved in the process of bringing about a social change by using media as a means of information dissemination and education. She began by learning screen-printing from core members of the KMVS team, and then started printing a newsletter for neoliterates, encouraging them to come out and express themselves in print, thus making a public space available to women.

She also helped in developing the legal aid clinic in her area, and now focuses on issues of social justice and human rights.

Through interaction with KMVS-supported lawyers working in the Mundra taluka, Meghiben learnt about the various legal processes. She deals mostly with domestic violence, divorce, and sexual violence cases. Women in Kutch face a higher rate of domestic violence than in most other areas of Gujarat, partly due to restrictive social and marital customs.

In fact, when Meghiben first started working, there were social acceptability problems because of her status as a divorced woman. In order to beat the heat, she started going out on her mobilization work with elderly women in her village – they were the opinion-makers, and their staunch defense of Meghiben helped her gain acceptability.

She has inspired about 2,496 women in the entire Pachcham taluka to take up the cause of human rights, empowerment, and justice for women.(1000peacewomen).

link: Commissionerate of Rural Development, Gujarat State.

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