“Either way, change will come. It could be bloody, or it could be beautiful. It depends on us.” – Arundhati Roy, Indian author
Empowering a woman entails giving her social rights, political rights, economic independence, legal rights, and guaranteeing all other rights that are given to men. Women in India have made considerable progress but a lot is yet to be achieved. India became the first Asian country to achieve its Mars Mission in the very first attempt but it is ironical to see that the same country is positioned 29th among 146 countries in regard to the Gender Inequality Index. A large section of women remain deprived of their basic rights in India but there are several Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) which are fighting for women’s rights and empowering them through their work.
Women on wings
Women on Wings is a foundation that was initiated in the Netherlands in 2007. It was founded by two Dutch women who wanted to improve the lives of rural women in India. The founders had volunteered for Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata and were exposed to the plight of Indian rural women.
In 2006, both of them joined in a management development programme with the Dutch organisation SharePeople, which brought them again to India. They worked with a team of Dutch managers on improving business results of small social enterprises in India. The founders of Women on Wings experienced that the intervention was making a noticeable difference to the Indian enterprises. After a few weeks they heard that Sadhna, one of the enterprises, had incurred a noticeable increase in its turnover because of the changes suggested by their intervention. Sadhna sells beautiful products which are handmade by rural women and the organisation became Women on Wings’ first business partner in India in 2007. The partnership still stands and Sadhna has grown from employing 100 female artisans to almost 700.
The organisation while talking to BE informed, “India is a large and rapidly expanding global economic power. The middle class is growing too. Yet, the underclass lives on just two dollars a day. There is very little paid work in rural India. Families lack income and there are high levels of poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy. Women on Wings co-creates jobs for women in rural India. A job means an income, economic autonomy and an escape from the cycle of poverty. Research shows that women are more prone to spend their income on their families.”
The organisation believes that when rural women have control over the household money, it has positive implications for the immediate well-being of the family. It also has a positive impact on raising the level of human capital and economic growth through improved health, nutrition and educational outcomes. It is the way to break the cycle of poverty.
In its ten years, the organisation has linked 2, 30,000 rural women with their 35 partners in India. According to them empowerment is, “Being able to stand up for yourself, make your own choices and decisions, be heard, be valued, be respected, learn and educate yourself either through books, role models or experience.”
Apne Aap was founded by twenty two women from Mumbai’s red light district with a vision of a world where no woman could be bought or sold. The founders were the subject of Ruchira Gupta’s Emmy award winning documentary, “The Selling of Innocents,” which exposed the trafficking of women and girls from Nepal to India. In 2002, Apne Aap registered as an NGO in Mumbai and the members reached out to other women trapped in prostitution and organised alternative self-empowerment programmes in Bihar, Delhi and West Bengal, where Apne Aap is currently working in local communities. They help women to learn about their rights and also teach them to combat prostitution and forced slavery.
Self-empowerment groups across the country meet at Apne Aap community centres and women and girls gather there to get access to education and receive legal rights training. Today, Apne Aap’s work reaches over 21,000 women and girls and the organisation continues to work tirelessly. The organisation’s recommendations for incorporation in the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2017 is pending before Parliament.
Commit2 Change (C2C) is an NGO that started in 2010. It helps in educating orphan girls in India and focuses on rural and less developed areas. Their work has impacted the lives of more than 100 girls till date. The organisation believes that empowerment is the power of choice. C2C creates systematic change to break the cycle of poverty. C2C repaid the loans of Rajitha, an orphan girl from Andhra Pradesh who went through welfare schools and completed her secondary education. From there she went on to do her masters in the US, specialising in web design and works as a Java developer today. In return, she has promised to support another girl. Sumana Setty, the Co-Founder of Commit2Change told BE, “The girls in our orphanages are carved from a painful past but still insist on daily hope. When given the opportunity to tell their stories, they will be a catalyst for change in their worlds.”
WASH United is an NGO that has been intervening in the area of menstrual hygiene. It also provides medical facilities to women. The acronym WASH stands for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. WASH United works to create a world where everyone uses adequate sanitation and practises hand washing. It aims to empower women to manage their menstruation in a hygienic, safe and dignified way.
The organisation aims to create awareness about proper sanitation and menstrual hygiene management. A study from UNICEF revealed that one out of three girls in South Asia knew nothing about menstruation prior to experiencing it while 48% of girls in Iran and 10% of girls in India believe that menstruation is a disease (WaterAid 2013, Menstrual Hygiene Matters). The NGO is responsible for eradicating taboo subjects. It also educates women on protecting themselves against diseases and on keeping themselves clean during their menstruation.
The organisation mainly works in South Asia and Africa. In India, WASH United and UNICEF launched the Team Swachh Bharat (“Team Clean India”) initiative leading up to the 2016 ICC T20 Cricket World Cup in India. Working with the Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar as a role model, the Team Swachh Bharat campaign had reached millions of Indians with the importance of toilet use. The organisation ardently believes that good menstrual hygiene management starts with education.
Dr. Shruti Kapoor founded Sayfty in June 2013 after being horrified by Nirbhaya gang rape in December 2012. Sayfty aims to prepare women about the different kinds of violence which are targeted against women. Sayfty teaches women self-defence techniques. The NGO runs workshops in different cities to teach women to recognise abuse and prepare them to combat such abuses.
The organisation educates women and girls about the issue of violence against women by using digital media, storytelling and gender role discussions. Their online campaigns empower women by making them more aware of their rights, helping them to identify and speak out against gender violence. They also provide safe spaces (online and offline) for open conversations with boys and men to bring about a fundamental shift in the perception of violence against women. Sayfty also runs various social media campaigns.
CREA was founded in 2000 and is a feminist human rights organisation based in New Delhi. It is led by people who work at various levels for women’s rights and advocates the sexual and reproductive freedom of all people. Not only does CREA conduct courses and trainings in India, East Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East to “strengthen feminist leadership, strategies, and collective power for social transformation,” they also hold public discussions, debates, events, and online and offline campaigns to create awareness and to question traditional societal gender norms. It also works to advance sexual rights.
CARE India has been working for over 65 years to empower women affected by poverty and social discrimination. Present in 14 Indian states, they aim to provide women with the tools and resources they require to empower themselves to deal with poverty, disaster, and injustice. During FY 2016-17, CARE India directly reached out to 25 million people through 40 projects across 12 states, covering more than 90 districts.
CARE focuses on the empowerment of women and girls because they feel women are disproportionately affected by poverty and discrimination and suffer abuse and violations in the realisation of their rights, entitlements and in control over resources. CARE works to provide women with affordable healthcare, jobs, and places special focus on entrepreneurs. The organisation also provides immediate support to disaster victims and helps to rehabilitate them.
Snehalaya means ‘Home of Love’, and was founded in 1989 by Dr. Girish Kulkarni to provide support for women, children and LGBT communities who have been affected by AIDS, trafficking, sexual violence, and poverty. Based in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, Snehalaya works across 18 projects in rehabilitation, health, education and advocacy.
The organisation informed BE, “We currently have 17 projects catering to 20,000 beneficiaries each year. Till date we have helped more than 186,658 beneficiaries.” Snehalaya was awarded the Presidential Award in 2012 for its community services. They have opened the Snehalaya English Medium School to provide education to their rehabilitation centre children who were struggling in mainstream schools as their HIV medication and restricted health affected their concentration and attendance. They also have an IT centre that helps those without computers.
Satyamev Jayate a popular television show featured Snehalaya’s pioneering work in preventing female feticide in its first episode. The organisation’s message for women’s day is “Impart education to all the girls so that they can be educated and empowered to lead the way to a great future not only for themselves or their family but for the nation as a whole.”
Swayam is a feminist organisation committed to advancing women’s rights and ending inequality and violence against women and their children. Swayam was established in 1995 and works at the local, regional, national and global levels. Swayam facilitates the empowerment of women’s survivors of violence and provides them with holistic direct support services keeping in mind their psychological, emotional, physical and economic needs, with the ultimate objective of enabling them to become self-confident, self-sufficient and self-reliant.
They work with women facing violence in their lives and facilitate a process of ‘self- discovery’ that enables them to move ahead with confidence and dignity. Their direct support services includes one to one counselling and psychotherapy, legal advice & aid, contact and follow up with the police, follow up with the court proceeding, career counselling, vocational training, dropping centre that provides women with a conducive fair free and relaxed atmosphere. Financial aid is also offered for those who cannot afford legal fees.
Swayam has drop-in centres which are essentially spaces where women can get away from their troubles and be by themselves. Equipped with a television, music system, and toys for children, the women can sit and read, drink tea, sleep, talk and relax. They are members of a number of national, international and South Asia level networks amongst which AMAN is one of their international network of organisations working on domestic violence.
The organisations message for women’s day is “Stand up for your rights and raise your voice against any form of violence inflicted on women and girls and explore your opportunities and claim your space.”Acid Survivors & Women Welfare Foundation
Acid Survivors & Women Welfare Foundation (ASWWF),formerly known as Acid Survivors Foundation India (ASFI), was founded in 2010 in Kolkata and has been relentlessly working against acid violence. The organisation has also been working to help women who have been targets of different forms of violence. The NGO acts as a forum for advocacy of acid related causes and endeavours to promote a social environment conducive to the elimination of all forms of gender violence.
The organisation has helped around 57 girls in eastern India and 110-120 in India. Sulekha Begum, a 53-year-old was attacked by her husband Mirza Farooq, who used to repeatedly force her to bring money from her parents’ house. Her husband threw acid on her and she lost vision in her left eye. She was severely burnt. ASWWF is working on her compensation and has gone to the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA), South -24 Parganas to ensure that she gets a compensation of Rs 3 lakhs.
Reshma Khatoon, a girl from Siliguri in West Bengal, was attacked by her friend when she refused his proposal for marriage. ASWWF supported her and provided money for her surgery and also helped her with rehabilitation facilities. She gained vision partially and has completed computer training in Bangalore.
ASWWF informed BE “We are rebuilding the lives of the victims and getting them into the mainstream in society. It is our privilege that we have been a part of their growth.”