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5 Women Entrepreneurs Talk About Their Work That’s Empowering Hundreds Of Women

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By Lipi Mehta:

There’s a silent, resilient spirit that exists around the world. It’s the spirit that lets women borrow tampons and sanitary pads in a public restroom without shame; that makes friends out of strangers in the ladies compartment of the Mumbai local; that leads women to fight against barriers and spearhead businesses that help hundreds in their community.

The unbound energy and strength that comes from this sense of sisterhood is unmatched and in India especially, it is reflected on the faces of those who fight against marginalisation and discrimination to create better lives for themselves and their sisters.

Youth Ki Awaaz spoke to five women entrepreneurs who embody this sentiment in the truest sense. In 3 simple yet powerful statements, they give us hope that the fight for a more gender-balanced and equal society in alive and kicking.

Aditi Gupta, Founder, Menstrupedia

WE1 V2If there’s one ‘phenomenon’ that often confuses (but almost always unites) young girls across India, it is menstruation. And what’s as important as menstrual health-care is awareness. Aditi Gupta, the fearless voice behind Menstrupedia, a one-of-a-kind guide to periods, has been taking definitive strides towards shattering menstrual taboos and myths that have been around in India for ages.

On what about menstrual taboos in the 21st century does she find the most ridiculous:

“Menstruating women are impure. This taboo has nothing to do with where you are from. From the interiors of India to big cities, if there was a myth I could do away with, it would be this.”

On what makes her proud:

“The fact that people have started sharing their stories openly. These are powerful and enriching. For instance, mothers saying that ‘What happened to me shouldn’t happen to my daughter’.”

On what gives her hope:

“I go to villages and conduct workshops. I see mothers and grandmothers understanding the need to bash taboos and become a part of the larger movement. It is just a perception that people in rural areas don’t understand this, a mindset that we need to change. We just need one generation of people across genders not passing on these myths and taboos to other generations.”

Sairee Chahal, Founder, SHEROES

WE2 V2Half of India’s population comprises women but how many do we see represented in the country’s workforce? Sairee Chahal’s powerful venture SHEROES aims to empower women to take charge of their careers and make workplaces more equal. Till date, SHEROES has helped over 1 million women by mentoring them, providing them with career resources, and helping them find jobs across diverse positions and fields!

On what’s the toughest obstacle to cross for a woman who is trying to get back to a mainstream job after taking some time off:

“There is definitely a stigma around taking a break. It’s an invisible barrier that sets the tone for how people will talk to you and perceive you.”

On what makes her proud:

“The fact that we are putting so many women’s careers on the map. We aren’t prescribing their success, rather they are finding their own versions of success.”

On what gives her hope:

“The accessibility we have today with the internet and smartphones gives me hope. Also, the drive, dreams and aspirations of the younger generation are inspiring too. Both of these factors can change how we perceive and enhance women’s careers. I look forward to the day when the internet will show more results of women-led businesses and opportunities rather than stereotyping them as people who are interested only in cooking, parenting and shopping sites.”

Jyoti Mhapsekar, President, Stree Mukti Sangathana

WE3 V2In India, there are some who form the backbone of their communities but remain silent and unrecognised. Stree Mukti Sangathana, spearheaded by Jyoti Mhapsekar (lovingly called Jyoti ‘tai’ or aunt by those who know her), aims to give a voice to these unheard women and works towards empowering marginalised women through education, healthcare and environmental programmes. One of their initiatives, ‘Parisar Vikas’, is targeted towards address the problems of women waste pickers and making them self-reliant.

On what concerns her most about the condition of women she works with:

“The unhygienic conditions forced on them because citizens and the municipality don’t segregate waste. They are in a vicious circle of poverty.”

On what makes her proud:

“The fact that these women are working 10-12 hours a day to protect the environment; they are taking the burden on themselves, saving space in dumping yards and walking tirelessly around the city. Nobody recognises their work but they carry on.”

On what gives her hope:

“I’m hopeful about the new rules on waste management. The attitude of the women I work with also gives me hope. We should feel ashamed that somebody has to put their hands in our waste. But their willingness to learn gives me hope that one day, with systems in place, they won’t have to remain waste pickers. They can take up other jobs, like work in biogas plants or in composting.”

Dr. Sunitha Krishnan, Founder, Prajwala

WE4 V2In 1996, after sex workers from a red-light area in Hyderabad were evacuated and left homeless, Dr Sunitha Krishnan started a transition school at the brothel and took it upon herself to prevent the second generation from being trafficked. In the last 20 years, her organisation Prajwala has worked relentlessly towards the rescue and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking, and has made them self-reliant.

On what concerns her most about the condition of women she works with:

“The difficulty with which society accepts them and the kind of challenges they face in getting back to mainstream society. They face a lot of pain and struggle. And society rejecting them again, and again, is the ultimate betrayal.”

On what makes her proud:

“The amazing capacity of these women to smile and overcome – their courage to forgive and embrace humanity. The children especially give their whole to you and that makes you feel constantly humbled and energized.”

On what gives her hope:

“Seeing these women undeterred. They have gone through so much. These girls were sold into prostitution or sexual slavery and raped, but they have an extraordinary generosity to forgive, forget and move ahead. They continue to believe that they can live. I can’t ever imagine my being disillusioned as long as I am around them.”

Meenu Vadera, Director, Sakha Consulting Wings Pvt. Ltd.

WE5 V2Meenu Vadera’s Sakha Consulting Wings Pvt. Ltd. runs Delhi-NCR’s only cab service run by women for women. The company has helped many women break free from abuse and become self-reliant. It trains them women with a half-year training course, which covers topics such as self-defense, women’s rights, sexuality and reproductive rights, effective communication, grooming and most importantly, driving.

On why it takes so long for a woman to get out of an abusive relationship:

“If you really understand how abuse happens, the abuser (in this case, men), internalises that it is right for him to behave like this and put the woman ‘in her place’. But the women have also internalised the same thing. They believe that it is okay, that they are victims and they actually have no choice. Women across classes and levels of education feel guilty about getting out of such relationships. Once they realise that it’s actually not okay, they then start on their journey of getting out of it.”

On what makes her proud:

“A woman just walked into my office and proudly showed me a booklet where her name was mentioned as ‘Delhi’s first DTC woman driver’. Anytime something like this happens, when a woman says she got a job, or cleared her permanent license is a proud moment for me. This is an irreversible achievement.”

On what gives her hope:

“Every single breakthrough is like a brick of hope. When you measure our work through numbers, it might not seem ‘big enough’ – like 200 women drivers in a city of 16 million. But the transformation power that those 200 have gives me immense hope. There is enough to pull us down but there are also enough triggers of hope!”

These are 5 women who have helped hundreds of women – and the work of these hundreds reflects in the social change that is slowly but surely sweeping over India. All it takes is one person and one idea that believes in turning around things for the better. And if these winds of change are anything to go by, we can hope for a more gender-balanced and equal society where all voices will have the power of being heard.

You must be to comment.
  1. Mayur KOHINKAR

    Great work ” saravana maancha mujara ”
    Really great
    Thnx youth ki Avaz to bringing such good great faces ( vyakti) in front of people
    ( samaj)

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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