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Celebrating women who succeeded against all odds

By Rama Srinivasan

New Delhi, 9 March 2007: Declaring a war for independence from violence and prejudice on behalf of all Indian women, the Minister of State for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury pledged on Friday to make India an Ananya (The Incomparable) as far as rights of women are concerned. 

She was speaking at a function to felicitate women achievers from different fields who faced numerous challenges to succeed. Ms Chowdhury quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The event was the last of the week-long celebrations the ministry had organised in association with UNIFEM, UNICEF, UNFPA and The Hunger Project to mark the International Women’s Day on March 8 – The Ananya Festival.

Ten outstanding women including two activists, a noted lawyer and an upcoming sportsperson among others were honoured by the Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, the chief guest, and Sayeda Hameed, member of the Planning Commission.

Anjali Goplalan, the founder and executive director of the Naz Foundation, who was felicitated for work in the field of HIV/AIDS awareness and care of HIV-affected children, talked about children’s right to childhood and a just world, free of discrimination on the basis of caste, gender and sexual orientation.

Indira Jaising was awarded in recognition of her years of struggle in Indian courts for the rights of women. On this occasion, Ms Jaising reiterated her complete faith in the judicial process. “When I enter courts I feel empowered and ready to fight. After the passage of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act I was going to retire but now the Act itself needs to be defended in the court,” the renowned advocate rued.

Aruna Joshi, who represents India at international boxing events, had to fight prejudice to reach this stage. “I was taunted for taking up a ‘man’s sport’. But I persevered and I want to advice talented women not be afraid of the society,” said the champion.

Lalitha Devi and Veena Devi, a government school teacher and a sarpanch respectively, have both worked selflessly for the betterment of people, especially women. Ms Lalitha as part of the Mahila Samakhya Kendra in Gaya has promoted the cause of girls’ education and also converted naxalites to her cause.

Ms Veena, who also participated in the ceremony to unfurl a special flag for Women’s Empowerment on March 6, said, “I prod my sisters in Bihar and all over India to selflessly serve the society.”

Archana Gupta, a housewife from Old Delhi, is one of the millions of women who have benefited from being part of a self-help group. By ensuring small savings and networking, she and her compatriots have able to provide nutritious food to children through the mid-day meal and anganwadi schemes.

Squadron leader Namrita Chandi Naidu, the senior-most woman pilot in the Indian Air Force, like Ms Joshi has broken stereotypes by joining an erstwhile male bastion. Dedicating her award to the “girl child of my country”, she hoped that women will become important opinion-makers in the country.

Dr Vandana Vaibhav Gandhi, who launched a campaign against pre-natal sex selection and female foeticide 15 years ago, works with the motto, “There can be no progress without women, as they are the torchbearers of creation.”

Sabera Khoja, an independent radio broadcaster, from Kutch, in Rajasthan, who works on issues related to women’s rights and that of the fishing communities couldn’t attend the event.

Representing the northeast was Dr Monisha Behel, an independent researcher and women’s rights activist. She had established the North East Network to work with young people and change attitudes in the region. On a personal level, she asked women to only marry men who can give them space. Taking off on this note, Ms Chowdhury suggested the institution of an award to men who accept women as equal partners, which Mr Chatterjee eyed during his address.

Ms Chowdhury stressed on the need to break stereotypes even as she pointed out how women multitask as perfect mothers, wives and successful professionals.
Mr Chatterjee said it was a shame that women made only 8.5 per cent of the Lok Sabha and reiterated his dream that the Women’s Representation Bill is passed during his tenure as the speaker. Hinting that the outstanding parliamentarian’s award may go to a woman this year, he informed the audience that on March 8, several women MPs intervened during the proceedings of the parliament to raise women’s issues. He regretted that this did not find any mention in the newspapers.

Ms Hameed felt vindicated as she had seen at least four of the women felicitated struggle for many years and their efforts had finally been recognised.

 

 

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