From the desk of Editor-in-Chief

Saluting Womanhood

In Indian culture, the birth of a girl is akin to the arrival of Lakshmi –the goddess of wealth and prosperity. That should assure pride of place for women in the Indian society, especially now that the country is growing both in global influence and affluence.
However, the ground reality is that women in India are discriminated against, abused and killed even before she is born due to Indian’s obsession for sons. The gender gap is so wide that there exists discrimination even in health and education. There is a deep-rooted mindset in a larger section of the society that women are inferior and must be restricted to being homemakers and child bearers. Age-old customs such as payment of hefty dowries at the time of marriage and beliefs linking a female’s sexuality to family honour have made girls seem a burden.
India has robust gender laws, but they are hardly enforced, partly because a feudal mindset is as prevalent among bureaucrats, judiciary and the police as it is elsewhere. Politicians are also unwilling to crack down on customary biases against women for fear of losing conservative votes.
However, not all is lost. There are numerous women in India who have broken glass ceilings. India has seen women holding top government positions. In fact, women driving scooters or cars to work are now an everyday sight, not only in metros but in smaller towns as well. Women doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists, police officers and bureaucrats are common in today’s India.


The government is also striving towards empowering women and combat rising crimes against them, including domestic violence, molestation, trafficking and rape. Some gains are being made, primarily by instituting gender-sensitive laws and social schemes as well as boosting the number of girls in primary schools, the workforce and village politics.
The Bridge India India in this edition celebrates those women, who in their own way have pushed the frontiers and have paved the path for other women and girls to become a voice which is heard in decision making. And at the same time, we also highlight the other side of the coin where women are living with no choice, voice or rights and how the government and the NGOs are striving towards empowering them.
We sincerely believe that our small but honest step to create awareness about gender issues will give a big push for women to be granted equal and full voice, participation and leadership in every sphere of the society and in every aspect.


‘Parents should inculcate values of respecting girls in their boys’

The values like respecting girls or women needs to be inculcated among boys by their parents while raising them, says Rakesh Srivastava, Secretary in the Ministry for Women and Child Development (WCD), which is implementing various schemes and programmes for a safer and more conducive environment for women and children in the country. Excerpts of the interview with The Bridge India India Editor-in-Chief, Seema Jairath:

TBI: Do you see any change in the public perspective towards girls? What role is WCD playing in bringing about the change?

RS: Girls have become so aware nowadays that we get letters from them informing that their parents are forcing them for marriage while they don’t want to get married and want to study further or make a career. Upon receiving such information, we interfere. We stop such marriages and make the parents understand why it is not the actual age to marry off their daughter. If she wants to study further, we tell that they should help her in that and the marriage can take place later.

TBI:. In the wake of the #MeToo campaign, the WCD ministry had announced to set up a panel of legal experts to look into the allegations of sexual harassment.  What is the current status of the proposed panel?

RS : The WCD ministry is working towards identifying the areas that need to be addressed in the existing laws for women. The drawbacks in the present laws that act as deterrents in providing a strong security to women are being worked upon by legal experts of the law ministry which has been working on it. Meetings have taken place and proceedings are on under the Home Ministry. Ways to strengthen the National Commission for Women’s role in near future is also being discussed.

TBI: There is a great deal of debate on women’s right to enter places of worship – be it Sabrimala or Haji Ali Dargah. What are your views as the WCD Secretary?


RS : As far as the religious places issue is concerned, it is not in our work purview. Since it is not in our work area, we have not taken any action on it. Our basic work is on Women and Child development. Wherein safety and security of women and children, malnutrition, panic button, one stop centre and the likes are our schemes and focus areas.

TBI: Tell us the key initiative or step which can actually empower women at large in India?

RS : Change begins at home. The most important thing is parents telling their sons to have respect for girls and women and help them whenever they need it.  The girls and women should not be looked as second class citizens. They should keep them at par with boys. Such values need to be inculcated in boys during their upbringing. Secondly, when the society will have an overall changed mindset, eventually, the problem will be addressed up to a large extent.

TBI: What key initiatives your ministry has undertaken for the women and child welfare?

RS:The Ministry of Women & Child Development has taken up a major initiative to arrest the adverse and declining child sex ratio across the states through its flagship programme –Beti Bachao Beti Padahao. It envisages extensive outreach through multiple media for improving the child sex ratio. An exhaustive National Media Campaign for advocacy and mindset change with a 360 degree approach was rolled out. Pan-India awareness programmes have been organised including the Radio, TV, SMS campaigns, among others.
One-Stop Centers: The scheme for setting up one-stop centres was launched to facilitate access to an integrated range of services including police, medical, legal and psychological support for violence affected women.
The Ministry has recommended mandatory disclosure of constitution of Internal Complaints Committee by companies in their annual report under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013. Different Government departments have also been advised to ensure compliance of the Act. To sensitise different organisations as well as standardise the procedure for implementation of the Act, a handbook prepared in consultation with the stakeholders has been sent to all the Central government ministries/ state government ministries and Business Chambers. This handbook is for developing basic understanding of the nature of sexual harassment at workplaces.
The Ministry has placed at the forefront its efforts to recognise and reward the achievement of women. It is to create a difference in terms of life, aspirations and opportunities available to women. New awards have been instituted to recognise exceptional and selfless work done by the women at district and state levels throughout the country. These awards are presented on International Women’s Day.

TBI:  What message you wish to convey to The Bridge India India readers?

RS: Stay aware of your surroundings. In case you come to know of any child or woman being inflicted upon violence or they are facing some untoward happening, please don’t say quite. Rise to the occasion, and immediately report the incident to the police for a suitable legal action.


Celebrating Womanhood – Is India Still in Nascent Stage?

By Choudhary Sandeep

The way modernism is influencing people through technology, innovation, art or culture, the public perception about women should have changed drastically. But has it really changed on the expected lines in a fast developing country like India? A study of 1,000 households across Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Uttar Pradesh in 2018 revealed a sad and shocking state of affairs regarding perception about women. It revealed people thought it was acceptable to criticise and beat women if they slipped up while carrying out unpaid care work.

The Reality Check — A Report

An Oxfam report on inequality published on January 21 this year revealed that in the workplace, women still receive 34% less wages than their male counterparts for the same work. As you go further down the social ladder, things get worse.
Girl children from the lower strata of society are fortunate to have seen a classroom at all. In India, girls belonging to families in the top 20% get nine years of education on average, while girls from families in the bottom 20% get none at all. Those making it to school are often pulled out when there is financial crunch, the report said.
Women in India spend around five hours a day on unpaid care work while men devote a mere half an hour on average. “This disproportionate burden of unpaid care work by women means they lose out on opportunities to participate in paid labour or are forced to undertake paid labour leading to their time poverty and loss in well-being,” the report said


Need for Gender Equality

Earlier this year, Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, during a summit underlined the state of affairs in India, saying it is “morally outrageous” that a few wealthy individuals are amassing a growing share of India’s wealth, while the poor are struggling to eat their next meal or pay for their child’s medicines.
“If this obscene inequality between the top 1 percent and the rest of India continues, it will lead to complete collapse of the social and democratic structure of this country,” she added.
Some takeaways from the latest Oxfam report, based on the latest comprehensive data sources available publicly, including from the Credit Suisse Wealth Databook and the annual Forbes Billionaires List are:
Inequality, at home and abroad, also has a massive gender bias. The paid work that Indian women do bring them fewer earnings due to the existing wage gap and, therefore, households that rely primarily on female earners tend to be poorer, Oxfam said, referring to the country’s gender pay gap at 34%.
Since 2006, the country has slipped 10 notches on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index to 108th rank in 2018 – far below the global average, and is lagging behind China and Bangladesh. In India, the unpaid work done by women looking after their homes and children is worth 3.1% of the country’s GDP. Globally, this amounts to a staggering $10 trillion a year.
Moreover, globally, women earn 23% less than men and the latter not only own 50% more of the total wealth but also control over 86% of corporations.
A look at the billionaires’ list shows, there are just nine women featuring in this list from India.

Celebrating Womanhood on International Women’s Day

The least understood role of woman in society was highlighted during a discussion held in Delhi on the occasion of International Women’s Day (8 March), with an aim to ponder women’s role in family life.
As people celebrated the International Women’s Day, exchanging messages on social media, The Bridge India India, a social consulting firm marked the day by hosting the panel discussion themed ‘Gender Equality and the Role of Women in Changing Shape of the Country’.
The aim was to underline the vast role women play in our family’s everyday life and still hardly ever get noticed and valued for it.  The two-hour discussion held at Radisson Blu hotel also underlined how gender equality has been influencing the society.
The panelists for the discussion included Ira Singhal, Assistant Commissioner MCD; Rakesh Jinsi, Change Management facilitator for Corporates and NGOs; Lalitha S, Human Rights activist; Vijay Singh, Head CSR PI Industries along with transgender and human rights activist Simran Shaikh.
The participating delegates included people representing NGOs, Corporates, government and the social sector.
“The role which the homemaker performs if it is not superior then it is as equal as what we do to earn a livelihood. If the male, as a family head, earns the bread, then the lady of the house is doing far more superior job of putting that food on the table to good use,” said Rakesh Jinsi on the occasion.
“Unless and until the society does not accept and give that respect back to the woman for what she is doing and what she is supposed to be doing the change will not bring about,” he said.
As per Vijay Singh of PI Industries “We accept women in every role. This change is the first change for the larger change to happen”.
Also among the panelists was Simran, a transgender woman, who said, “It is not compulsory to celebrate only woman today. It is also important that you celebrate the feminity within you and that is why everyday is a woman’s day according to me.”
As per Lalitha of Society for Participatory Integrated Development “The girls who come in the system of brothel does not come from their free will but the first entry is always the forced entry wherein they are either enticed for money, marriage or job. After that they are sold in the brothel.
“The one who has purchased her will not allow her to go away. It is not an easy job for her to leave even if she wants to leave it. The people who are doing the flesh trade get girls from where they don’t understand the local language easily, for instance, from east to west and from west to east. By the time they learn language, it is too late,” Lalitha added.
Despite the sorry state of affairs, the general perception towards women can surely transform.  It is possible when we start looking at them as individual human beings and not vulnerable beings lacking the right to be assertive about their choices in life.
Perhaps, for a real change to happen, each one of us would have to begin first from valuing the presence of every female member within our family and immediate society.


NGOs endeavour towards building a gender-balanced world

By Lakshmi Sharan

While there is a provision of equality before law under the Constitution of India, much needs to be done for many marginalised communities, especially in terms of enabling, motivating and making education accessible for their girl children. The gravity of their situation can be empathised. It’s crucial to remember that initial education will determine these kids’ survival prospects in the years to come and lead to a highly dependent segment of the population.
Education is a powerful tool that can empower women and bridge the gender gap. Many NGOs have taken up the arduous task of not just educating them but make them realise their leadership qualities to carry forward their responsibilities.

Creating the Ripples of Change

CARE India is one such NGO working in India for over 65 years. It lays its focus on girls in the marginalised communities thus ensuring they have access to quality education.
It believes education uncovers options for a brighter future, enabling them to lead secure and resilient lives with dignity. The organisation aims to work with 50 million women and girls as part of its primary goal, to help them meet their health, education, and livelihood needs through life skills.


Since a lot of women are drawn to garment industry for employment, they come across a range of hurdles personally and professionally in their community and at work. In order to support women in the global apparel industry, Care India’s innovative capacity building program termed Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.) was launched in 2007, unlocking new possibilities for women and adolescent girls.
Collaborating with USAID and Gap Inc., CARE sought out to improve the health and well being of 2,00,000 women in India.
To build the skills needed to make life decisions and transform women as change agents at home and their community, Care is actively working with rural women.
CARE India has implemented their programme in seven districts spread across Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, where more than 19,000 women are actively participating in a contextualised Gap Inc.’s P.A.C.E. training.
To accomplish the task, CARE trains women trainees from rural settings through a seven- eight month training programme to build their skills in Communication, Problem Solving and Decision Making, Time and Stress Management, Social Entitlements, WASH; Financial Literacy; and WASH Financing.
As per reports, when 90 percent of women in India experience sexual harassment, it turns out to be a major hurdle in women empowerment.
Breakthrough, an NGO, works to change the mindset of the people through
their De Taali programme, an Adolescent Empowerment Programme (AEP).
With an approach of working with families, teachers, Panchayati Raj associations, Anganwadi workers (frontline health workers) etc, Breakthrough empowers adolescent girls. The programme reaches out to over 5,43,000 adolescents in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana where early marriage and crimes against women are rampant.
These are the States where investment in education and health issues of girls is woefully low due to gender discriminatory norms.
De Taali programme has been launched in hundreds of school campuses in north India to bring gender-equity into classrooms at an age when concepts of identity are still being formed. Boys and girls are learning to view life from both sides of the gender divide as they explore personality, personal aspiration and potential.
The initial challenge in taking forward this programme was that the idea of questioning norms itself is uncomfortable and therefore, the community doesn’t want to do it and wishes to justify the status quo/current mindset. Even when there is questioning, there is little pushback towards taboo topics such as ‘sex’, ‘sexuality’, ‘gender’ etc. The programme is geared to tackle the issue at three levels. At the society level, the programme will address norms and cultural
practices which prevent girls from achieving their full potential.
Another noted example is The Womanity Foundation. Established in 2005, it aims to empower women and girls in emerging markets and accelerate progress within their communities.
Womanity and its network of partners, ignite positive change through innovation, collaboration, and scaling. By providing education and vocational training, Womanity helps scale women focussed social enterprises and replicates initiatives to prevent violence against women.
Working towards supporting outstanding individuals, the Women Change Makers programme is building an ecosystem of partnerships and expertise
which helps the social ventures grow, expand and replicate their work, increase synergies and scale-up their impact.

Notable projects making a difference

Projects like Frontier Markets have empowered women in places like Rajasthan and bridged the gender gap.
Projects like Solar Sahelis have transformed women into change makers and entrepreneurs in their villages, and have earned the hallmark of being leaders in not only bringing radical electrification to their village, but also have become reliable service providers.
Having trained in solar repair, the women are able to conduct business from their mobile phone. The income is serving a livelihood benefit that goes into personal savings and children’s education thereby empowering their status in their community. So far, 1.5 million women have been benefitted by this project.
Womanity helps them with access to relevant network to fundraise as well as facilitate their activities so that they can bring better opportunities for the rural women and their empowerment.
It also lends support to Mahila Housing SEWA Trust, aiming to better the living conditions of poor slum women with institutional development and organisational strengthening. MHST also provides women with microfinance services to fix and upgrade their dwellings and is moving towards becoming a full-fledged provider of pro-poor financing for market-based low-cost housing.
MHST’s work is rooted in environmental concerns and leaving low carbon footprint, and every MHST-supported intervention is tasked with meeting environmental goals. MHST with its band of women leaders is an advocate of urban land planning and governance in pressing for better habitat policies and action.
MHST works with poor women and empowers them through financing, income generation opportunities, training and awareness building in fundamental rights and rights to services, government subsidies and programmes, and enables them to negotiate with the government as bonafide residents of a city.
In essence, one can observe as India is exploring various ways to evolve all citizens, irrespective of gender, caste, or creed, the NGOs are making a colossal difference to the big dream of ensuring a real change in every life in India.



Journey from a sex trade victim to saviour of several women

By Lakshmi Sharan

It was a solemn moment when forty-year- old Jayamma Bhandari stood up to receive the prestigious Nari Shakti Award from the President on International Women’s Day in 2018. Jayamma was awarded for her efforts in helping a community that is often shunned down by the society. From a life where she was forced into prostitution, to being a crusader, hers is a story which is indisputably inspiring.
Jayamma is known for uplifting the otherwise ignored and downgraded sex workers in India. She has been working for over 20 years to rehabilitate sex workers and has rehabilitated over 1,000 sex workers and supports around 3,500 other sex workers.

The dark road

However, her journey from being a sex worker to transforming into the person she is today a tough woman. Hailing from Nalgonda district, she grew up in poverty. As Jayamma was an orphan, she was becoming a burden on her extended family. Her extended family wanted to get rid of her and got her married to a man who physically and mentally tortured her for money. When the family denied fulfilling his demands, he in-turn, pushed Jayamma into the flesh trade. “I was orphaned at a tender age of three. The man whom I was married to, forced me into prostitution,” says Jayamma about her troublesome past. “I considered killing myself several times. This was not a marriage but absolute slavery. My young daughter was the only source of strength and courage during those dark days,” Jayamma recalls.


Light at the end of the tunnel

“I wouldn’t have come out of prostitution, had I not met Jai Singh Thomas, who was then working with an NGO. He persuaded me to set up an organisation that will hone sex workers’ vocational skills. He said that he noticed my impressive leadership qualities in an event conducted by their NGO. That really put me on the track and then I began Chaitanya Mahila Mandali.” Eventually, Jai Singh offered her the job of a coordinator. In 2001, Jayamma moved out of her job to set up CMM in Andhra Pradesh.

Spreading the light of hope

Fondly known as ‘Amma’, she has also won the Exemplar Award in 2010. Today, Jayamma is the founder of Chaitanya Mahila Mandali (CMM), an organization that works in high-risk slum communities to raise awareness on sexual rights and reproductive health. She helps the sex workers in getting respectable sources of income so that they can lead their lives with dignity and financial independence. Jayamma conducts up-skilling and livelihood courses
so that these women step out of the murky business. The Chaitanya Mahila Mandali has reached out to innumerable girls and women who need help through campaigns and activities.

Towards a better tomorrow

To control and to save innocent children of sex workers, Jayamma opened a model home called, Chaitanya Happy Home that has 42 children. Here the children gain new life with the hope for a better future, receive quality education, good nutritious food and a safe, clean and caring home environment.
“Happy Home was set up with the aim to prevent them early from getting forced or lured into the sexual slavery, since they live under the same shadow of sex trade as their mothers. It was to save the girls from falling into the trap of forced prostitution,” says Jayamma.
CMM decided to commit to raising the level of education and literacy in rural India and help disadvantaged children realize their full potential and grow safe. CMM is also providing sports materials to encourage children to engage in sports activities to be fit and healthy, sessions and follow-up counseling on growing-up issues, distribution of sanitary pads and creating awareness on illicit Human Trafficking.  Further, to bridge the gap between urban and rural education standards in India to fight against the illiteracy, backwardness, human trafficking, unemployment and ill health, the organisation also provides computer-based schools with spoken English classes.

The uphill task

On asking as to what is the biggest challenge, Jayamma faces, she says that the challenge is to convince women to leave their past behind. “It’s really a daunting task to convince them, as some of these women become addicted to alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex and living in that environment. They have much insecurity and questions like, will they be able to earn enough to support themselves and their kids? Won’t their situation be more miserable if the world doesn’t accept them due to their past? We have the challenge to win their confidence and persuade them by offering help and support,” she says. “Forcible rehabilitation doesn’t work in such cases and, as such, de-addiction, counselling and slow, long-term therapy becomes necessary to restore their lives,” Jayamma added. Despite all challenges, Jayamma continues to work tirelessly towards her cause and improve the lives of sex workers in India.


National Conference on Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS)

By The Bridge India India Correspondent

A National Conference on Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme (DDRS) was organized on 1st March, 2019 by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India at Dr. Ambedkar International Centre, New Delhi.
The objective of the conference was to sensitize the stakeholders of the scheme i.e. Programme Implementing Agencies (PIAs), District level officers & State Government officers. About 600 delegates from across the country participated in the conference.
Under the Deendayal Disabled Rehabilitation Scheme, every year more than 600 NGOs are provided with financial assistance for running their projects for the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities such as Special school, pre-school and early intervention, Half-way Homes and Community Based Rehabilitation etc. Even though the DDRS Scheme was in existence from 1999, a major revamp has been carried out in its provisions with effect from 01.04.2018. The scheme has been revised for making it more impactful for rehabilitation of PwDs. During the day long deliberation on DDRS scheme the representatives of various agencies shared their views on how the scheme can be implemented better so that the benefits reach the targeted beneficiaries till the last person in the queue.
Dr. Thawarchand Gehlot, Hon’ble Minister of Social Justice & Empowerment gave the key note address. He said that the Government has been taking all possible steps to ensure that the Divyangjan could live a life of dignity. Shri Ramdas Athwale, Minister of State for Social Justice & Empowerment also addressed the Conference. Smt. Shakuntala Gamlin, Secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, in her address described NGOs of DDRS as partners in the mission of empowerment of persons with disabilities and highlighted the need for creation of inclusive society that accepts and respects persons with disabilities without discrimination. She encouraged those present at the conference to continue their laudable work in this sector and presented her vision of an inclusive society that gives opportunity to all.