As a society and nation, we are constantly striving to ensure social equality. Particularly in a country like India, there is no dearth of challenges that our quest for social equality faces. If we are truly attain social equality, these challenges need to be overcome. And because these challenges can be very daunting, it is essential that we draw inspiration from real-life stories of people who have beaten the odds to contribute to the goal of social equality, in their own ways.
Here are the accounts of the remarkable efforts and achievements of four women who have upheld the ideals of social equality and inclusivity, in their own significant ways:
Naheed’s childhood dream was to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, who was a freedom fighter. She wanted to fight for the rights of the disadvantaged.
In 2004, after reading about the incarceration of a 13-year old-boy for patricide, she took it upon herself to defend the boy, when she found out that the murder was triggered by his father’s incestuous relationship with his sisters. She was successful in having the boy released from prison. This gave her the impetus to give up her job and start a NGO called Prayatna Foundation in 2005.
Two years later, she instituted a platform called the Akel Mahila Manch, which brought together 100 organizations affiliated with the 12 districts of Uttar Pradesh, to give voice to the issues faced by single women. She uses the platform to fight for the rights of women who are widowed, divorced, abandoned by their husbands or those who simply want to live alone. Because she is a single woman, Naheed believes that other women facing similar challenges can learn from her.
Naheed challenges all the limitations that society places on single women, including that of adoption. She has personally adopted 10 children, and is fulfilling all her parental duties with great aplomb.
She is also deeply involved in educating women and housing homeless people under the Multi-sectoral Development Program (MsDP). Moreover, she is helping the landless become landowners and providing vocational skills to youth for better employment opportunities. A large number of people have been benefitted by her activism, and this clearly demonstrates the ‘power of one’.
Fittingly enough, Naheed was one of the 12 winners (from Niti Aayog and United Nations) in India’s ‘Women Transforming India’ awards, 2016.
Revathi Roy pioneered Asia’s first ever women’s taxi service, FORSCHE, in 2007. An established social entrepreneur, Revathi trained more than a thousand girls to drive cars with the aim of employing them as taxi drivers.
Since then, she has started three new companies to help poor families break the cycle of poverty through skill-development and income generation. Revathi now envisions training 10,000 women as taxi drivers and delivery agents in the logistics sector, within the next three years.
Revathi has tapped into the largely under-utilised resource of hardworking, poor, urban women. Not only does she want to elevate their status, she also wants to make this public role (which has a predominantly male domain) accessible to women. She seeks to financially empower girls from families below the poverty line (BPL) to own their vehicles, and earn an income through delivery services, instead of working as domestic helps.
One of the drivers, Saroj Pethe, says, “I will earn a decent income and stand on my feet.” The words vindicate Revathi’s belief that skill-development and provision of tools, without the ‘means’ to use them, is well-intentioned but impractical. Her initiative is based on a holistic approach to female labour-force generation and empowerment.
It is no surprise, therefore, that Revathi was one of the deserving recipients of the ‘Women Transforming India’ awards, 2016.
In 2006, Meenakshi Nayar founded ETASHA Society to function as a bridge connecting underprivileged youth to the growing ‘organised sector’ in industries.
Through its many programs, ETASHA Society has reached more than 10,000 youths. Every year, it helps place over 70% of trainees in jobs that help them break out of the cycle of poverty, and create a better future for themselves and their families.
Armed with a doctorate in organisational behaviour from IIM Ahmedabad, Meenakshi focuses on training and placing underprivileged youth (who have completed their schooling) in entry-level jobs in various sectors – customer service, retail and hospitality sectors, OCE assistance, data entry, accounting in ITES and economic sectors. ETASHA Society also makes use of technology to its fullest extent, which gives trainees the added advantage of possessing expertise in information and communication technologies (ICT) and social media skills, as well.
What makes ETASHA Society different from other vocational training institutes is that it also focusses on personality-development. It strongly emphasises on changing the mindsets of the community through rallies, visits to people’s homes and career melas (career fairs).
Initially, 70% of female trainees dropped out and opted for marriage. However, nowadays, around 57% of the trainees complete their training. Meenakshi’s ETASHA Society has therefore, visibly empowered the lives of many capable, bright people from non-privileged or underprivileged backgrounds.
It is for these efforts that Dr Meenakshi Nayar also received the ‘Women Transforming India’ award in 2016.
It has been ten years since Pavithra founded Vindhya, a Bangalore-based business process outsourcing (BPO) company. It has now become India’s first and only ‘for-profit’ organisation with a workforce consisting of predominantly disabled persons, including physically challenged, hearing and visually impaired and borderline- autistic employees. It also employs women from BPL families and members of the transgender community.
A first generation entrepreneur, Pavithra has overseen the growth of the organization from five to nearly 1,300 employees, today. She envisions employing 5,000 people by 2020. Her aim is to build the world’s largest social enterprise in the information technology enabled services (ITES) sector, which would provide mainstream jobs to people with disabilities and allow them to lead their lives with dignity.
The corporate world is recognising what Pavithra is trying to achieve with her exemplary leadership, vision and determination. Clients are responding to the potential, talent and loyalty of her organisation’s employees by sending in more work and rewriting their hiring policies to be more inclusive.
Pavithra has been a leading figure in her organisation’s efforts to expand awareness on issues related to the education, employment and advocacy for people with disabilities in India and abroad. Her organisation has also worked to reduce the burdens of debt-ridden people with disabilities, leading to greater acceptance within the families concerned. In fact, many employees of Vindhya have been able to build their families and homes.
Pavithra stresses on constant training and counselling to retain her staff and ensure their loyalty. Her platform for counselling, Dhwani, won the National Human Resource Development (NHRD) award for best HR practices for persons with disabilities. In 2016, Pavithra also received the ‘Top 100 Women Achievers in India’ Award from the President of India. Pavithra also won the ‘Women Transforming India’ award in 2016.
Women Transforming India is an online contest seeking stories of women making a difference. In its second edition, Women Transform invites you to share stories about women change-makers by submitting a video, a photo, or an article of a woman breaking stereotypes. This could be your story or that of a woman you know.
1. Short video or photo: This can be a homemade video, shot on the mobile phone, accompanied by a short caption (upto 50 words).
2. Written profile: Upto 500 words.