Political Participation Award, 2017
Trailblazing politician, tireless public servant, and eloquent defender of social justice, Margaret Alva spearheaded a “silent revolution” that ensured the voices of her countrywomen would be heard. As a member of the Indian parliament from 1974 to 2004, she championed four major legislative amendments to strengthen women’ s rights in her homeland, including the devolution of more power to local government and the reservation of a third of local council seats for women. When the reform was adopted, Ms. Alva made it her mission to inspire Indian women to run for office. As a result of her efforts, today thousands of Indian women are engaged in the political process — as informed constituents, competitive candidates, and elected representatives.
Studies show that women holding local office are making a difference for the communities they serve – investing in infrastructure, securing safe drinking water and sanitation, stopping violence against women, and supporting education for boys and girls. The message of the silent revolution is clear: Expanding democracy and political participation has benefited not only Indian women but society as a whole.
Margaret Alva now serves as secretary general of the Indian National Congress and is a close adviser to its president, Sonia Gandhi. She was also Minister of Human Resource Development under the government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, where she led the effort to harness and promote the potential of India’ s massive population. Throughout her career, she has used her power to lift the lives of those at the grassroots – enabling women’ s political leadership to take root, and the world’ s largest democracy to flourish.