By Subham Swabhiman
“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back."
Mamta Samantaray’s life journey describes it. She is the founder and chairperson of State Progressive Women’s Forum (SPWF), a national level organisation whose objective is to provide development of women in all social, political and economic spheres. It was established to serve as a protective shield guarding the interest of all women groups all over the state.
Mamta was born in 1975 in a lower middle-class family in the Mahakalapada block of coastal east Odisha. Her father, late Nityananda Samantaray was a noted community leader and a person of Gandhian values. The family environment nurtured value-based learning and from the very school days, she started serving the poor & needy selflessly. She initially served wounded & ill persons in her own village as well as adjacent villages admitting them in hospitals and attending them till recovery. As Odisha is prone to cyclones, in such emergent situations Mamta used to unite her schoolmates, raised contribution from benevolent people and tried to provide food and repaired dwellings for the affected people.
Growing with age and experience in community work, she gradually changed her point of action focusing on social & gender discrimination. She could observe and access the viciousness of perpetrated violence like dowry torture, bride burning, the destitution of wives, trafficking in women and young girls, etc. All this stirred her young heart and mind. She stood up and decided to raise her voice against such injustice. She started to reach and educate women, to get them organized to fight for justice and for a life with dignity. Over time with a focused determination for the cause & concern for the welfare of women she formed the organisation- State Progressive Women’s Forum in 2010.
The State Progressive Women’s Forum or SPWF facilitates formulation and implementation of state policies that are equitable, accountable and effective in enabling the realization of women’s rights. It also acts as a resource hub that uses and shares information regarding government schemes, policies and projects to the members of the organisation. SPWF operates in federal nature and structure. It has a state-level body and its district units that comprise of local/regional collectives of women groups. It empowers them by educating the groups by conducting various seminars and sessions. It also promotes skill development among its members which includes poultry farming, fishing, horticulture, handicrafts, machine learning, establishing small scale businesses etc by providing funds. This makes the women financially independent, which also improves their standard of living. Not only that, it also supports and guides the women victims who were abused by domestic violence, rape and other discriminations in registering complaints and seeking redressal at courts.
The organisation started with only 12 members which have increased to 300,000 members in 2019 as whole spread across 30 districts. All the members are involved in some income-generating activities. Moreover, there are 150+ Mahila Sanghas or Women Groups ( around 20 members in each group) which have been educated. About 3000 cases/complaints of domestic violence/dispute have been taken up and resolved. Added to that, around 400 Cases of sexual harassment and outraging of modesty against women have been handled with support from SPWF. About 60 cases of severe and fatal physical assault like bride burning, acid attack, sex racket and trafficking have been resolved.
SPWF faced various challenges during its initial years. The first major challenge was finance. The organisation would take loans from banks for funding its activities which were quite a burden. It usually invested the major proportion of funds in skill development activities of its members. Since the women members were able to earn due to these activities, hence they collectively discharged the bank loans steadily. The second most challenge was encouraging women to join the forum. This is because women were reluctant in joining it due to lack of awareness, fear and pressure as they belong from the conservative and patriarchal background. However, through hard work and motivation, the members were able to persuade women to join the organisation. Also, the organisation had a lack of resources for its operations but it managed to operate due to generous donors and local support from the people.
SPWF has future plans of encouraging its members to represent themselves at their Panchayat/ Constituent level in their respective regions. It wants to make the women stand for themselves, take the role of leaders and address the issues of their locality.
For those people who want to start their own social projects, Mamta quotes- “If you have a purpose and you are willing to fulfill it, just have faith in yourself and act accordingly. You will be amazed sooner or later.”