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These 8 amazing women are pushing for change in their unique ways through sisterhood, because we are all in it together. Together, we can and we will. #IWD2020 #EachForEqual
It is often said a woman is a woman’s worst enemy. Not only is this a redundant cliché in today’s times, it is also a classic patriarchal statement that blatantly ignores the sisterly bonding that most women espouse.
Those who believe that no two women can be friends haven’t really witnessed the power of sisterhood that women really embody – by banding together and supporting each other, eventually paving the way for other women who may have been struggling against similar or even other barriers, to follow suit. The fight against patriarchy can only be fought collectively and many women across the country are leading the march onward, taking many other women along with them.
Let’s look at some of these real-life warriors who making a difference in their own small way.
“Laja works especially for the upliftment of rural women, who do not otherwise have access to resources and facilities available to the urban working woman”
Riddhi is juggling multiple roles while also providing incredible support to women in their own journeys. She is a Child Psychologist, Performance Skills Trainer, Parent Coach & Child Behavioural Coach, and a TEDx Speaker.
“Kids are mostly sorted. It’s the parents and us adults who need help,” she says about her work as a child counsellor.
Gauging from this response, one would expect Laja to be a mothers-only support group. But it is far from that. A forum for women, by women, Laja has the single aim of empowering more women and making them become better versions of themselves. The conversations range from personal health including mental and sexual health, to expert guidance and sessions on entrepreneurship and professional trainings and workshops.
Unwilling to call it a community, Riddhi explains its role as a forum in making women self-sufficient. “We consciously work towards self-growth through skills development and other professional requirements. Laja works especially for the upliftment of rural women, who do not otherwise have access to resources and facilities available to the urban working woman, and is aimed at making them more aware and self-reliant.”
The success stories are ample evidence of how impactful Laja has been in its mission.
“A group of women that we had trained have now put their knowledge to effective use. They make and sell hand-crafted jewellery through their NGO and have now even begun to get orders from Fashion Designers for accessories.”
Co-Founder, Humans of Patriarchy
“I needed a place to voice everything each of us had ever gone through, and I needed the voice to be inclusive, intersectional.”
Humans of Patriarchy began as a Facebook page, later evolving into a group of over 11,000+ feminists who are constantly fighting the battle against patriarchy.
Anushree explains how the page originally came into existence three years ago as a collaborative initiative of three friends. “I needed a place to voice everything each of us had ever gone through, and I needed the voice to be inclusive, intersectional.”
Together, the trio has managed to offend enough conservatives and right wingers enough times, to have been bullied and harassed incessantly, and for the page to be even hacked once. Clearly, they’ve managed to ruffle quite a few feather. Anushree, however, calls it their “prime success story.”
And a success story it truly is. The group has managed to truly make a difference through coming to the assistance of women dealing with personal challenges by raising funds for women in distress, and providing them professional legal and medical help when needed. “We continue to give them a platform to speak what they want in an informal manner. And, try to somehow continue to keep it a safe space.”
Other such safe spaces on Facebook are Status Single, a group for single women, created by author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, and Womxn Unleashed, an inclusive group for all women (including LGBTQ+) founded by psychiatrist Radhika Mukherjee. Both groups provide complete privacy, and a non-judgemental platform for women to voice their opinions and seek support.
Telecom Professional, Founder, Sangati
Alka has an experience of over 25 years of working with government bureaucrats and departments that are not very happy about having to share space with women who should have managed the kitchen and kids instead. “Women are not really are expected or accepted in the telecom sector,” she says, talking about the misogynistic and sexist attitudes she has battled in her regular job on an everyday basis.
Her words remind me of my own struggles in the hotel industry. It couldn’t have been easy to be the woman among many men, especially in the sector of social development she is working in now.
These obstacles do not deter her from making inroads into providing a more disabled-friendly environment for women with mobility and visibility-impairment through her work. Sangati, the NGO that Alka has founded, is aimed at providing technology-led solutions and bringing low cost alternatives to women (and men) who are differently-abled.
Some of her innovations include a folding portable ramp that is light-weight enough to be carried even by a woman, light-weight single step ramp to climb pavements (because bus-stops are usually only one step off the ground and ramps are either not there at all or not accessible easily) and smart cane with sensors for the visually impaired that will be able to alert the user of smoke, fire, and heat/temperature changes.
Founder, Letters from a Stranger, India
“When you write a letter, it’s addressed to one person and it’s all about that one individual; that person feels heard.”
Have you ever imagined receiving a letter from a stranger? The charm of virtually connecting with someone you have never met, finding someone who not only understands you but also supports you unconditionally, is still alive thanks to this unique initiative by Paromita Bardoloi.
Words have power, and this power if used constructively can work wonders. Paromita not only recognised this but also spearheaded an entire movement of spreading love and kindness through her initiative, Letters to a Stranger. The initiative stemmed from the idea of writing letters to friends when she herself needed love and support. ‘Once I crossed the bridge, I chose to use my wounds to uplift others,’ she says.
With over thirty volunteers at one time and more than 100 letters despatched and exchanged, the initiative has managed to bring hope, love, and acceptance to many women across the globe. It also breaks the myth that only women can give or need empathy, as the initiative was got a lot of requests to make it open to all genders.
The rules include letter-writers being non-judgemental and ensure their letters remain free of any legal, medical, or professional advice. Not only is it a lesson in being empathetic and non-judgemental for the writer but it also provides that much needed safe space to the recipient of the letter. A feeling of solidarity and hand-holding comes through the written words without either the writer or receiver even coming across face-to-face. The impact of this in both cannot be ignored or dismissed. “I often get emails saying how the receivers felt heard and the writers feels healed. It’s a two-way process always. When you write a letter, it’s addressed to one person and it’s all about that one individual; that person feels heard.”
Why do we need this at all, I wonder.
“The basic need of every human is to be seen and heard, and when that does not happen, cracks in a person grow. Letters helps in healing those cracks. It’s happens to both the writer and receiver,” says Paromita.
When strangers can be so helpful, one would expect family and friends to be even more so. But alas, most times, the reality is very different. Many of these women don’t even have support at home, let alone being able to stand up for themselves or provide themselves the help they need. Thankfully, there are women who’ve identified, and already plugged in, this gap in terms of the support system that women have.
Founder and Admin, Hyderabad Moms
“We have together shared the laughs, tears and triumphs of motherhood.”
It’s not just working women who need support. Mothers, whether of new-born or older children, also struggle to keep some sanity in the mayhem. Realizing the fact that women need support and advice right from pre-pregnancy issues to maternal concerns like breastfeeding, doctors, shopping, food and nutrition, schooling, to more serious issues like post-natal depression, work-life management, etc, Chhaya founded Hyderabad Moms to provide them the right advice and support.
“In this phase of maternity and motherhood, mental and emotional support is a pre-requisite not just from one’s own family but also from the society we live in. It is only when women get all the support that society will get empowered,” she says.
The community has not only provided a strong support system in terms of parenting guidance but also provided a circle of support to those new to the city or facing other similar struggles.
“Some got jobs and restarted their careers with help of other moms, others got help and sought counselling when they were slipping into depression. Yet others got the strength to share and talk about their struggles and in turn managed to receive lots of support and positivity.”
It is heartening to know how the group has helped women find support and make the journey of motherhood more joyous. “Yes, we have together shared the laughs, tears and triumphs of motherhood,” says Chhaya.
Founder, The Listening Ear Foundation
“There is a real need for a listening ear in today’s times – someone who can give you time, understanding and empathy.”
Serial entrepreneur Anupama Dalmia’s many ventures, creativity, and talents have encouraged many a women pursue their own hobbies and interests without judgement. But the one initiative of hers that draws maximum women to share their woes is her latest initiative ‘The Listening Ear Foundation’.
“I have already been doing this for two years. It’s only now that I am giving it a formal name of a foundation.”
Fair enough! But, surely, women have their own network of friends and family who support them and stand by them in times of adversity. Why do they specifically need to talk to someone who isn’t even a friend or relative?
“How many around us listen with an intention to listen? How many can lend that ear without judgements to someone who needs to be heard?” Anupama counter-questions, leaving me searching for answers instead.
It’s true that most times all of us are so busy in our own lives that we rarely offer the time and space to even friends to share freely.
“Not everyone is blessed with a friend whom they can trust. Not everyone has the privilege of a loving family for support. Women all around have lots to say and share. Sometimes, they just wish to vent with a confidante. Sometimes, they have deeper and more complex struggles. Sometimes, they have too much bottled up and need an outlet. Sometimes, they need some hand-holding while setting up a business. Sometimes, they are grappling with financial management. This list could go on.”
Isn’t this why we have counsellors and mental health services?
“You’d be surprised, really! Some of them don’t even have access to professional resources like counselling. One woman I am currently talking to as a part of TLEF is undergoing this issue. She works for Accenture and earns well but is expected to do every chore of the house. Putting her foot down leads to loads of arguments at home due to which she avoids and just does everything for the sake of peace. She has become completely exhausted physically and mentally due to the unfair expectations and lack of support,” Anupama explains.
It is interesting to note that The Listening Ear Foundation does not claim to provide any answers. “The endeavour is to get these women connected to trusted professionals who might be able to guide them. So, I am working on building a trusted network of professionals from different spheres. We are also collaborating with life coaches, psychotherapists, established entrepreneurs, etc.,” she explains, refuting claims of detractors who think empathetic listening is only someone with a professional degree can do.
The impact this can have is powerful, in terms of women realizing their potential and, backed by the necessary support, working towards achieving their dreams and even making them a reality.
“All I know is that there is a real need for a listening ear in today’s times – someone who can give you time, understanding and empathy. I see so many around struggling to express what’s within. Maybe this can lead to a more emotionally healthy society.”
Founder, The Saree Saga
“We just need to learn to love ourselves a little more. The Saree Saga has given this confidence to many women.”
One would think that The Saree Saga is a Facebook group for saree aficionados. One would be forgiven. While it is evident that The Saree Saga began out of Vedaprana’s love for sarees and as an attempt to bring back its lost glory, what the group does today is not just about making the six yards garment more popular or fashionable.
This is evident in how the group and its members strive to empower women from all sections of society – a sentiment well reflected in the group’s motto ‘Embrace and Empower’.
From specific incidents of success stories like making a Breast Cancer survivor walk the ramp or inviting a sex worker as a speaker at a prestigious event to more generic ones like encouraging women to come out of their self-imposed shells and expressing their opinions or standing up for themselves, the group has effectively played a crucial role in changing the mindsets of many women.
“The biggest change that I see are the number of resellers flooding the market. The housewives, who had to give up on jobs after motherhood, have taken this up as a profession,” Vedaprana says. The flexibility such a job offers these women allows them to be financially secure while also taking care of their families.
That the group has managed to genuinely make a difference is an understatement.
“We just need to learn to love ourselves a little more. The Saree Saga has given this confidence to many women, who have now built a place for themselves – whether by going back to work, or standing up for their rights, or by taking up entrepreneurship as a profession.”
It is high time, indeed, that women realize their own potential and possible contribution in making the world better.
Farmer, Founder, Kalpavriksha Farms
“I try and get women entrepreneurs on board whenever an opportunity arises.”
One such entrepreneur who has an inspiring story of effecting change in society while empowering other women and also the future generation is Kalpana Manivannan.
Realizing that we were fast getting isolated from nature, Kalpana turned farmer. “It’s a dream born out of the concerning nature of the modern food industry and fuelled by the desperate need to opt out of it,” she explains the idea behind her venture.
With her workshops for adults and farming classes in schools for children, she advocates for urban farming, sustainable living, and encourage use of more chemical-free natural alternatives. “We are weekend farmers living in the city and if we can do it, then it quite possible for others achieve this balance too,” she says.
Her own efforts at empowering women are not far behind either. “I consciously employ women in my field of work, for instance, my farm helpers’ are women. I try and get women entrepreneurs on board whenever an opportunity arises and I am always happy to collaborate with women-centric and women-run businesses.”
It is encouraging to know these initiatives and efforts are not just that. There have been many success stories and to hear about them warms one’s heart.
“Somewhere down the line we have been pitted against each other quite unfairly through social and cultural conditioning, by constantly propagating such images though textual and visual media and of course, stereotyping. It’s high time we change that narrative,” Kalpana agrees.
But this effort of taking other women forward is not free from its own challenges. Fearing that this may well be a thankless activity is a deeply patriarchal society, I wonder about the end result. Is there any outcome one can hope for in this endeavour to make the world more women-friendly?
Anushree says, “I hope it is a mass revolution where working classes try and understand the underlying oppression that probes them into making the ‘choices’ they make, and how they could do better if each of us realized their own potential. We aim to make the world a better place. A radically utopian space where rationalism and fairy tales and fantasies, coexist without violence and mockery.”
“Women empowerment is nothing but social empowerment,” Chhaya adds.
“When we talk about sisterhood where women support each other, we are talking of a fraternity that a woman can fall back on. As women our history is same, privileges might be different. We cruise and experience life differently from men. So, when we create a space of support over shared experience, everyone benefits,” says Paromita.
Anupama agrees. “Sisterhood is important because we are all in it together. Together, we are an unstoppable force. Together, we are a roaring voice.”
It is evident then that the need of the hour is to build each other up, and its impact is particularly visible when women fall short of being able to uplift themselves on their own; because that’s where the unconditional support and the sisterhood comes in handy most.
Traversing through the harsh and demanding world with no outside support is no mean feat but together not only do we become stronger but are chances of attaining success also increases manifold.
These women are ample proof that ‘Powerpuff Girls’ isn’t just a cartoon feature. They not only reinforce my belief in the power of sisterhood and that women supporting women (in fact, going further one step with women celebrating women) is the only way forward for a wholesome and progressive society, but also succeed in walking the talk and effecting the change this world so desperately needs.
For, together we can and we will.
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Piyusha is a sometime sane reader, part-time crazy writer and full-time wacky alien.
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