Women’s Special

How women are playing an important role in making India Self-Reliant

From the desk of Editor-in-Chief

Salutations to women

Dear Readers,

From the available records of modern society, we come to know that impact of crisis has always hit women harder. The Covid-19 crisis was no different. For millions of women in economies around the globe, along with losing income, unpaid care and domestic work burden increased exponentially during the crisis.

It is true that during the pandemic everyone is facing unprecedented challenges. But women bore the brunt of the economic and social fallout of COVID-19 disproportionately. Women who are poor and marginalized have been at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission and fatalities, loss of livelihood, and increased violence at home.

However, undaunted by the negative effect of the pandemic on women, thousands of members of Women’s Self Help Groups (WSHGs) joined forces with the government by taking up tasks such as producing facemasks, running community kitchens, delivering essential food supplies, sensitizing people about health and hygiene and combating pandemic related misinformation. They also played the role of last mile connect between the administration and the communities in maintaining the surveillance and communication network.

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Rural women yet again proved themselves as the backbone of agriculture and guardians of household food security in their communities as more and people joined agriculture as a fall-back measure during the lockdown. They made essential contributions as smallholder farmers, as unpaid labour on family farms, and as wage labourers, including as seasonal and informal workers on commercial farms. Women assumed a bigger share of agricultural production beyond their roles as principal household food producers and fuelwood and water collectors during the pandemic. During the nation-wide lockdown, many women in urban areas quickly launched their own small scale, out of kitchen/home business. These newbie entrepreneurs converted their hobbies into full time successful businesses and proved that talent, passion, dedication, and hard-work with a pinch of courage are the perfect recipe to achieve anything in life.

There have been countless stories of ordinary women who made extraordinary contributions to protect their families and communities from the adverse effects of the pandemic and emerged stronger. The Bridge India is extremely proud to dedicate this edition of its e-magazine that celebrates and salutes the courage of women who stood up against heavy odds and demonstrated outstanding leadership capabilities.

It has made a resolve to stand solidly besides women from all walks of life who came forward to contribute immensely in these trying times. Bridge India will not only specially recognise their stellar efforts in very special ways but also encourage them appropriately to applaud their journey towards a promising future!

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Women entrepreneurs open their heart on The Bridge India Dashboard

In the wake of International Women’s Day, The Bridge India organized an exclusive webinar that advocated ideas for gender equality. Distinguished social entrepreneurs and corporates discussed various barriers and opportunities on empowering women
A report by Karan Bhardwaj

Continuing with its tradition of organizing stimulating events and discussions, The Bridge India celebrated International Women’s Day with a special discourse on Women Entrepreneurs: Challenges and Opportunities. Ace policy-makers, social enterprisers, opinion makers and media personalities assembled online and shared individual journeys and ideas to excel.
Gender Equality, one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has been at the centre of The Bridge India endeavours. “There have been countless stories of ordinary women who have made extraordinary contribution to the society and have carved a niche for themselves. There are many more women who have tremendous potential but all they need is an opportunity and support,” said Seema Jairath, Founder, The Bridge India, in her opening remarks.

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Sehjo Singh, an independent film-maker and a programme design consultant, moderated the session that included panelists such as Madhureeta Anand, Founder, Phree for Safety, Manju Katoch, Independent Consultant, PM&E, Ishi Khosla, Dietician and Nutritionist, Gurmeet Kaur, Founder & Facilitator, 5 Pillar Consulting, Rakesh Jinsi, President, SOS Children’s Villages and Nixon Joseph, President & COO, SBI Foundation.
Rakesh Srivastava, Former Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, graced the occasion as the chief guest and lauded The Bridge India initiatives. “I’m happy that The Bridge India is playing the role of a catalyst between the NGOs and the private sector. They work closely with social sector ministries such as Ministry of Women and Child Development, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Social Justice& Empowerment, Ministry of Education and others. Through all the government ministries and the NGOs associated with The Bridge India, I’m confident that various schemes would reach many more women and they will be encouraged to take up good work,” he said.
Srivastava also highlighted several reforms he led during his impressive career in the bureaucracy. He emphasized on the impact of schemes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, making POCSO Act stronger among several other success stories. Panelist Manju Katoch hit at the basic stereotypes that young girls continue to face. She stressed upon how policy-makers, government and parents will have to work in a convergent manner to create an atmosphere conducive for gender equality. “There are schemes viz girls get education for free, even get incentives like laptops and bicycles to join schools. But what do you do when their institution is headed by an individual who doesn’t even believe that boy and girls require separate rest rooms. How would a girl manage when she hits puberty?” she lamented.
Film-maker Madhureeta Anand deliberated her inspiration behind creating an app called Phree. It’s a mobile application that lets users rate streets, buildings, roads or neighborhood areas according to safety. People can write their experiences and share why they felt unsafe at a particular location. Anand, who was attacked by a random fellow a few years back in a public place, was more worried about her teenage daughter. She believed that an app like Phree was a necessity that ‘would alert anybody in advance about the safety of an area.’ She said that the app, which she developed with the help of her friend from Silicon Valley, would help not only women but also transgenders and even men who wander solo.
Nutritionist Ishi Khosla spoke about her journey of starting her successful food venture, Whole Foods India, which produces and retails healthy food and operates several health cafes. “I was an obese child and chose to heal myself through food. When it happened successfully, I decided to learn nutrition and help others. I realized people were not able to benefit from my advices as there was hardly healthy packaged food in the market. So I took it upon myself to produce healthy food cafes. It started with one hospital and corporate and became a chain,” she said. Khosla also launched ‘The Celiac Society’ for Delhi in 2006 to spread awareness about celiac disease, a condition caused by wheat intolerance.
Gurmeet Kaur, a seasoned ombudsman, said she had never faced discrimination in her personal and professional life but many surveys that she conducted in her professional commitments made shocking revelations.“There are many findings. Like there’s less participation from women in senior and middle management roles. Women would come with unconscious biases that harm their productivity. A lot of women took hostile work environment and sexual harassment in their stride because they have seen it happening and find it ‘normal’. They would accept victim shaming and rather resign than speak up,” she said. Gurmeet said it is important for companies to “invest time, energy and money in grooming employees on the concept of professional co-existence.”
The panel also heard voices from eminent men who are making efforts to make the world a better place for women. Rakesh Jinsi Precedent SOS Children’s Village said they have a module on character building for children to respect women. “Our whole concept revolves around mothers who head the family of the adopted children,” he said. His desire is to create an atmosphere where a woman can take independent decisions in her best interest.
Nixon Joseph President and Chief Operating Officer SBI Foundation frankly admitted his transformation from being a patriarchal champion to a believer of equality. His own prejudices were challenged by his wife who demonstrated that women are not a lesser gender. He proudly shared that he makes sure that there’s no gender-related discrimination in his organisation. “In our Foundation, women represent more than 50 per cent of workforce. For SBI Foundation Youth for India Fellowship programme, we selected 100 out of 12,000 applications. In those shortlisted, over 75 are young girls. These girls are willing to go to the remote areas of India to bring change. They are courageous, daring and passionate,” he said.
The discussion drew to a close with Monica Joshi, Consulting Editor, The Bridge India, giving a vote of thanks. All the panelists were felicitated with ‘Certificate of Honour’ by the chief guest.

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Indian corporates back women as the backbone of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat

The CSR policies of country’s premier business houses indicate an instrumental role of skilled and enterprising women in making India self-reliant.
A report by Karan Bhardwaj

To battle economic and social woes of the pandemic, Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has given a clarion call of Aatmanirbhar Bharat. However, no dream of a self-sufficient nation can become a reality if the gender inequality persists, at economic or social levels. According to multiple reports, women in India only account for mere 6 per cent of mass entrepreneurs. Out of these, only 27 per cent of business women register annual revenue of more than Rs 10 lakh. They contribute only 3.09 per cent of the total industrial output. Therefore, there’s a clear gap that needs to be filled to achieve sustainable, socio-economic goals.
In what should be called as a seed advantage for a self-reliant India, its leading corporates have been working on programmes and ideas to empower women in various capacities. Many of the CSR initiatives by blue-chip companies have even helped women explore and tap their entrepreneurial potential. We take a look at the noteworthy efforts of a few corporate houses.

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Tech Mahindra Foundation: Women lead the show

“I feel the whole idea of self-reliant India is incomplete without the idea of self-reliant women. Historically, the balance has been in the favour of men or rather loaded against women. So, it is critical for social development organizations to include gender equality in their agenda,” Chetan Kapoor, COO, Tech Mahindra Foundation told The Bridge India India in a video chat. Currently out of 180 people working in the Foundation, more than 100 are women.
The Foundation has been working on several projects to make more and more women financially independent. Ever since the inception of their skill development programme in 2012, they have ensured that at least 50 per cent of the beneficiaries are women. “Generally, there’s an imbalance in the workforce in the markets. It’s 80 per cent men and 20 per cent women. But we are promoting a few flagship skilling initiatives, like our healthcare academies, which are dominated by women. Our academy in Mumbai is an all-woman centre. It is probably the only skill development initiative in the healthcare of its kind where not just students but the entire staff including security guards is women,” Kapoor shared. Other centres in Delhi, Mohali and Pune are also led by women. Like the programme heads for Education and Employability departments, HR and Communications are managed by women only.
The TMF’s entrepreneurship development programme for women has raised expectations significantly. Kapoor agreed that since the economy has been hit badly at the bottom of the pyramid, it is important to promote micro entrepreneurship among women.

Rural Electrification Corporation (REC): Achieving a milestone

Setting a benchmark in the CSR sector, REC, a Navratna enterprise of the government of India, has skilled over 10,000 women in the last five years. More than 70 per cent of them have received employment or started their own enterprise. It has also linked women through its partner agencies to avail Mudra Yojana where women could avail the benefit of term loans and working capital loans to become self-reliant. The giant corporate also focuses on cross sectional solutions at large for women. It has established safe and secure hostel facilities in Tehri, Uttarakhand, for engineering girl students, completed construction of a residential building for 150 girls in 24 parganas in West Bengal. Construction of a residential building for 150 tribal girls at Sihore, Madhya Pradesh, is about to start.
It is also supporting a number of labour rooms and other facilities in primary health centres, community health centres and hospitals in aspirational districts, namely Mamit in Mizoram, Chandel in Manipur and other locations.
At the moment, REC is also supporting nearly 1,000 women in Khadi Village and Industries Centre, SevaPuri, Varanasi in not only operational aspects of solar-run charkha and looms but also in managing it as a business. They are undergoing practical training so that they can roll over as entrepreneurs in near future.

Copper Sterlite: Women at the Centre

Copper Sterlite has established an exclusive forum, TUFemina, for its female employees. Its objective is to promote networking opportunities among professional women and offer a platform to share best practices and experiences at the workplace. Young colleagues are given the opportunity to hold leadership roles in the organization for greater visibility and networking.
Sakhi, one of the flagship CSR programmes by Sterlite Copper, is aimed at fulfilling the socio-economic aspirations of women in and around Thoothukudi. The trainings are need-based and range anywhere between 5 and 45 days depending on the specific vocation being taught. Through various awareness sessions, trainings and classes have been given to more than 1,000 women of Thoothukudi under Phase I and 390 women under Phase II. Recently, in partnership with a leading public sector bank, a week-long livestock rearing programme was organised, with over 28 women participating in the sessions. As a follow-up, the bank will disburse Rs1 lakh to each participant to help in initiating an income generation project. Another project, IlamMottukal, supports girl children with a range of social, academic and material support. It was implemented in 81 government and government-aided school of Thoothukudi district benefitting 7,852 girl children, helping ensure a decrease in school dropouts and increase in the learning and awareness of a girl child.
It is true that the pandemic has caused tremors resulting in mass migration and loss of employment. Be it Aatmanirbhar Bharat or ‘Vocal for Local’, success of these ideas would only rely on the participation of women, whose population is almost half in the country. It is important for all stakeholders to work in an integrated manner to address current situations so that the impact of initiatives could reach women at the grassroots level.

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NGOs help marginalized women write their own graph

Women in the remote areas are emerging strong in nation-building with the support of welfare schemes, self help groups and NGOs
By The Bridge India Correspondent

For NGOs working to make women self-reliant, the call for Aatmanirbhar Bharat is nothing short of a validation. As the pandemic crashed economy resulting in joblessness and infamous migration, millions of women from the marginalized sections of the societies across the nation sprung a surprise by contributing not only to India’s collective fight against Covid-19 but also in the making of a self-reliant nation.

SHGs, a holding hand for underprivileged women

For instance, a Self Help Group (SHG) of adivasi women in Chhattisgarh instantly launched herbal hand sanitizer brand called Madhukam, which is made from mahua brew. Mahua is an integral part of adivasi culture and has traditionally been used to prepare alcohol in the region. But with the help of a local researcher and scientist, this women’s group turned the bane into a commercial boon. In another such development, dalit women from Telangana, who once were victims of hunger and deprivation, provided grains for pandemic relief. They are backed by several NGOs and women-centric communities. In Bundelkhand, over 1000 SHGs of women rose to self-reliance by growing neem trees and selling byproducts.

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“Women at local level can play a significant role in making India self-reliant, once a woman fully identifies herself and her potential. Access to skills, resources and financial independence can help in alleviation of poverty, enhance her social status and improve decision. This would however require support from their families and the local communities which calls for redistribution of roles, values, understanding and trust,” says Chandni, Director – Rural Management and Training Institute, Fundraising, Navjyoti India Foundation.
The Foundation has organised around 1,500 women into Self Help Groups (SHGs) in 32 villages in district Gurugram, Haryana. These women have been trained on operational, social and economic aspects to manage the SHGs on their own. As a result, the women who were financially excluded have now access to basic financial services such as savings, credit, bank linkages, insurance preventing them from being exploited from the clutches of the money lenders. “The saving capacities of the women increased from Rs100 to Rs1,000 per month. More than 100 women have become entrepreneurs and have opened up grocery shops, boutiques, running dairy business, selling cleanliness and hygiene kits and much more. These women are further providing employment to other fellow members creating a multiplier effect. Their monthly income varies from Rs3,500 per month to as high as Rs 1 lakh per month,” says Chandini.

Creating women leaders from remote territories

Women empowerment initiatives and livelihood interventions from SOS Children’s Villages of India have taken several women in the remote areas of the country out of poverty, violence and exclusion. Their Family Strengthening Programme is designed to empower women in the households, as primary caregivers of children, thereby safeguarding parental care for the children. The interventions lead families towards self-reliance and dignity by ensuring adequate health and nutrition and education of children as well as skilling, income generation and capacity building of women in a span of three to five years. One of the many successful case studies is of Dhanwanti Self Help Group which was formed in 2013 to support extremely Backward Caste and Scheduled Caste women of Kamruddinpur, a village in Begusarai District of Bihar.
Continuous interventions of the SOS have tripled their monthly income, gave them improved social status and recognition besides access to microcredit at low interest and various welfare schemes from the Central and State governments.The SHG is also linked with National Urban Livelihood Mission which allows members to avail various social security schemes such as Rajiv Gandhi Urban Electrification Scheme, Swachh Bharat Mission and Ujjawala Yojna.
“SHGs contribute to address all the problems of isolation, poverty, indebtedness, inequality and other complexities involved in development in a comprehensive manner. The women attain economic independence that empowers them to take charge of vital decisions in their families including education and welfare of their children. Given the widespread development challenges the rural and urban vulnerable communities are facing due to rapid and unplanned development and migration, these SHGs show a ray of hope on how the isolated, down trodden women can lead affront in securing a better future for their children,” says SumantaKar, Secretary General, SOS Children’s Villages of India.

Skilling women to gain independence

Vocational training in the rural belt has become a major hit. Practical knowledge in disciplines such as beauty, fashion, farming, electricity, finance and tailoring have given wings to several homemakers. A distant Bodoland Territorial Region of Assam presents a transformational story of women. Even though weaving has been an area of expertise of Bodo and Assamese women traditionally, many women left Bodoland during insurgency in search of job and landed up working as domestic workers in Guwahati or outside. To rehabilitate these women and to encourage others to join the workforce with a skill which they inherit, NGO The Ant set up a trust, AagorDagraAfad, with 250 weavers on board including destitute women across Chirang and Kokrajhar district. It’s an all women run trust and produces hand woven fabric and ready to wear dresses for men and women, and now runs a business of more than Rs 1 crore every year.
“We thrive to work for the poorest of the poor and have helped the landless families who were jobless during pandemic. The need of the hour is to focus on the women from interior villages, identify the support required for their upliftment through a participatory approach and act accordingly,” says Pranami, Executive Director, The Ant.
These NGOs have shown grit and determination to create wonders even in far-flung areas of the country. However, given the demographical and social challenges, there’s much more that needs to be achieved. The empowerment of the marginalized women would significantly improve their social and economic status, and will make them a strong participant of a self-reliant nation.

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Unsung Hero

A voice towards ending silent suffering of women

By Monica Joshi

Subhadra started working for women’s reproductive health and rights in 1995. It was a fellowship from the John D and Catherine T Macarthur foundation that gave her the support and opportunity to work on gender rights. While facing the challenges in the area, she was convinced that she needed to study to improve her understanding of society. So she took to graduation in political science followed by post-graduation and M. Phil in Social work and pursuing a Ph. D. as well. All this while she continued to work among the Bhil Adivasi women first and then among the Dalit and Adivasi women in slums in Indore city.
For two decades and a half, Subhadra has been working on gender rights, reproductive health, livelihoods, natural resource conservation, food security and education through the NGO Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti of Indore of which she is the Chairperson at present.

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TBI: What drove you to take up this work?

SK: In India most women have to suffer from serious reproductive and sexual health problems. Feminist sociology has pinpointed the dominance of men in society as the prime reason for this and termed this phenomenon as patriarchy (Lerner, 1986). Analysing all the main institutions of society like the family, marriage, kinship groups, media, religious hierarchies and the state, they have shown that all these play a role in maintaining the overall patriarchal structure of society. Over thousands of years this structure has become so well entrenched that to most people including women it seems quite natural instead of being the social construct that it is.
As a consequence of this secondary status, women have to bear more babies to ensure that there are male progeny who will inherit the property. Along with this there is social control over the sexuality of women. Naturally all this affects the overall health of women and especially their reproductive and sexual health. Since there is a taboo on the discussion of these issues women have to suffer their troubles in silence and this leads to mental problems. Thus there is a deafening culture of silence surrounding women’s reproductive and sexual health problems (Dixon-Mueller &Wasserheit, 1991). Such a scenario gives all the reasons to bring respite to the ongoing pain and suffering.

TBI: What were the initial challenges you faced? How did you overcome them?

SK: The most important challenge has always been to mobilize the community in the face of various obstacles created by vested interests. This is even more so in the case of reproductive health and rights work because women have to convince their husbands to let them improve their situation. The only way to overcome this challenge is to patiently carry on the mobilization work and use the results of the initial programmes to increase acceptability.

TBI: Are there any challenges post COVID?

SK: The biggest challenge has been the loss of livelihoods for the poor with whom we work. Mostly the poor in urban areas work as daily wagers in construction and various establishments. The economic activity has not revived to pre COVID levels and so there is not enough work and the wage rates are also depressed.
In rural areas agriculture is the mainstay of the population and this year agricultural production has been less. This has negatively impacted the incomes of the poor farmers.
Moreover, one of our main projects – the holding of gynecological health camps is in abeyance as doctors are not ready to visit these health camps due to COVID 19 infection concerns.

TBI: Are there any changes in your methodology of implementing projects after COVID 19?

SK: We have stopped working in urban areas because our main work was conducting health camps for women which are not possible at the moment due to COVID 19 restrictions.
In rural areas we have taken up a major programme of training people to take up sustainable organic farming. We support farmers by providing grant so that they can purchase organic manure and use it in their farms. We then sell their produce through retail marketing to consumers in cities. In this way we are able to provide a better price for their produce and strengthen them financially.

TBI: Your most memorable experience in the journey so far.

SK: A domestic helper who was seriously ill because of heavy cervical erosion and her husband was very insensitive to her problems and also indulged in violence. Due to the intervention, a surgical procedure was done on her cervix and her husband was convinced to improve his behaviour. The lady recovered completely from her illness and her productivity as well as earnings improved substantially. She herself paid back the costs of the surgical procedure to the organisation stating that the money should be used to help other women like her who are suffering from serious gynecological problems.

TBI: What have been your major successes or accomplishments in your field work? How did you achieve these?

SK: I have mobilised thousands of women over the past two and a half decades to demand their rights which is my greatest achievement. I have patiently worked to convince women and men that it is essential for women to be emancipated for the benefit of the society. By empowering women I have succeeded in bringing improvement in them

TBI: How are women being empowered and made self- reliant in your project Pandutalav

SK: Chemical agriculture takes all the decision making out of women’s hands as seeds, fertilisers and pesticides are bought from the market and so men control farming. In organic agriculture indigenous seeds, farmyard manure and natural pest management are relied on and so the participation of women in decision making related to farming is more. Seeds have to be selected and stored for the next season and manure prepared on the farm itself and so women have a greater say in the farming work. They are also involved in the post production work of grading the farm products and packaging for dispatch to consumers. Thus there decision making and economic earnings have both improved.

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