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Is India Doing Enough To Empower Its Women And Girls?

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A popular saying goes, “Behind every successful man, there is a woman.” The saying intends to uplift the status of women in society. However, when we examine it more closely, it can not be more ironic. Why behind the man? Do we question ourselves about it? What if this woman was allowed to lead? What if we enabled her to take the first seat? We need to realize that a better way to put it is, “Every prosperous society has a woman at its forefront.”

Placing women at the forefront leads to the overall development of society. The quintessential example of this is the empowered mothers. Healthier mothers lead to healthier children; empowered women to lead to safer families, and educated mothers improve the chances of the children getting educated. Thus, it is not wrong when we say that “When you educate a woman, you educate the nation”.

We can examine the role of women in society on both temporal and sectoral scales to see how women have been at the forefront in the improvement of society, and how they are improving different sectors of the society today.

Temporal Scale

Stone age: Our ancient ancestors knew the value of educating and training women for the survival of the species. Women were required to protect the children from wild animals while the men left for hunting. This implied that women were supposed to be experts in cooking, innovating, and using weapons.

Medieval age: When women were placed as rulers, they changed society for the better. Razia Sultan, the first and the last female sultan of Delhi challenged clergy and the Ulemas. She promoted tolerance towards diverse religions and indigenous culture. Following her lead, the society vouched for prosperity for all.

During our freedom struggle: Women like Rani Lakshmibai who led our freedom struggle inspired millions to rise against the British supremacy. Placing women first in the freedom struggle led to the revival of self-respect among the masses.

In the making of Constitution: Rajkumari Amrit Kaur presented a perfect example of women-first by playing an important role in drafting our constitution, and then by leading the Health Ministry of the country. Her efforts led to the establishment of AIIMS, which is the leading medical institution of or country today and provides quality healthcare to thousands of people every year.

Thus women, when placed first, have uplifted the society in every moment of history.

Sectoral Scale

Placing women at the forefront leads to the overall development of society. Image source Flickr

Every sector in our society points to the increasing role of women in its betterment. We can examine this at an economic, social, political, cultural, and environmental level as well as in sports and science.

Economic: Economically-enabled women have decreased the burden on the sole breadwinners (men), and the increased disposable income has led to more expenditure on the social development of the family, e.g., healthcare, education, and empowerment. This is true for all economic sectors, agriculture, services, and entrepreneurship.

Agriculture: Women engaged as farm labourers have reduced the growing labour deficit in agriculture. Women leading the animal rearing have provided for the source of emergency funds at times of contingency.

Services: Around 40% of employees in the BPO are women. Women leading the Human Resource departments in IT industries have been observed as better at convincing and managing employees. Improved work culture in Indian startups is one of the hard-earned fruits of women leadership.

Entrepreneurship: Women as co-founders have encouraged gender equality at workplaces. With their improved emotional intelligence, women are more sensitive to the work-life balance of the employees. Their sensitivity towards family issues has resulted in paternal and maternal leaves, which would have been impossible in a male-dominated society.

Social: Society improves when women lead it. This is true at a family as well as a community level.

Family: Empowered women lead to better family management as they play an important role in prioritizing education, good food, and nourishment, thus leading to prosperous families.

Community: Empowered women are better equipped to fight dowry system, caste discrimination, and child marriage, thus uplifting the community.

Political: Where men are known to follow a top-down approach for improving the society by the construction of roads, buildings, etc., women have followed a bottom-up approach, thus improving the society from the grassroots. By prioritizing the resolution of issues like “water wives” and universal toilet access, they have improved the society’s worst affected sections.

At an international level, women like Aung San Suu Kyi, Sheikh Hasina, Margaret Thatcher, and Angela Merkel have proved to be the role models for all the leaders. Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has seen greater prosperity, has become capable of hosting the Headquarters of BIMSTEC and has also improved its health indicators. Malala Yusufzai has led by example and  successfully pressurized the Pakistan government to work towards the Right to Education for girls.

Cultural: Empowered women have been the flag bearers of reforms and preservation of culture. Medha Patkar is one such example who has played an important role in the protection of tribal culture in India.

Environmental: Women have played an important role in environmental movements too. Chipko movement in Uttarakhand saw hundreds of women coming out of homes to protect trees. Their leadership and courage inspired the world. In recent events, African solar mamas trained in Rajasthan have been important agents in bringing renewable energy in Africa.

Sports: Where sports are generally seen as masculine activities, women like Mary Kom in boxing, P.T. Usha in athletics, and Phogat sisters in wrestling, have very well shattered this illusion. They have denounced the idea of ‘weakness’ of women and have encouraged hundreds of girls to come out and play for the nation.

Science: Not until recently, women were seen as incompetent in science and math. However, leaders like Sunita Williams and Kalpana Chawla broke this glass ceiling by being the first Indian women to go to space. Not only this, around 25% of the workforce in India’s Mars Mission were women. Their contributions to science testify the importance of women’s leadership in science.

The Goal Is Still Unmet

While women have done well to break all kinds of stereotypes, we are still far from our goal of a women-led society. Highly skilled and brilliantly performing women are still seen as exceptions, which is not the case with men. While the government has provided for 33% reservation for women in the local government, our patriarchal mindset has invented practices like ‘Sarpanch Pati’ to prevent women from actually governing society. Even today, many educated and working women cease working under the pressures of safety and household chores. Practices like child marriage make women lose their confidence at a very early level, thus eliminating the possibility of them taking a leading role in the family.

From the current state of affairs, though, the situation seems to have started improving. The government has encouraged SHGs to promote self-employment among women. Events like the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, 2017, Hyderabad, have tried to promote women entrepreneurship. And financial institutions like the Nari Shakti scheme by SBI have tried providing financial upliftment to the women. However, until we take the responsibility of empowering women at an individual level, our goal for a better society will remain unmet.


Women’s leadership, compassion, values, care, and ethics have, time and again, bridges the chain of uplifting humankind. Their qualities like compassion, sacrifice, and adaptive nature have uplifted every field, be it political, cultural, societal, family, science, and art. It is the need of the hour that we let the selfless, caring, emotionally intelligent, and innovative minds take the lead and fulfill our goal of “Prosperity for All’.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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