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Akshara helps with the two main ways that empower women
Fear and social restraints have held back women of all ages over the centuries. These restrict their education, choice of work, mobility, political participation and expression.
Without education and skills, they end up living life that is incomplete and dependent.
Akshara is a Mumbai-based, non-profit, women’s rights organisation and resource centre that works at empowering women to achieve their true potential. It was founded by
Dr Nandita Gandhi and Dr Nandita Shah who were active in the contemporary feminist movement in the 1980s. Akshara started in 1995 as a resource centre for collecting gender-based material and data for students and activists. It moved on to designing safety programmes for young women and men. One of its strategic goals is to work with young people.
Akshara thinks it is essential to understand the issues and views of this large segment of 430 million Indians in the age group of 15 to 34 years because the country is at the cusp of a social transformation. Akshara asked itself: Can we give a helping hand to young women and train men to be allies in the struggle for equality?
Since 2008, Akshara’s “Empowering Dreams Programme” uses a three-way strategy: to locate the most deserving poor girls in slums to give them financial assistance for completing their education; to introduce them to gender rights so that they can protect themselves from violence and, lastly, provide them with livelihood skills so they can be financially independent. One of the many successful graduates of the programme, Uma, said, “The most important thing I have learnt in the last two years is survival skills. I have learnt to stand up for myself and make my own decisions. I don’t need others to decide for me.” Every year, Akshara engages with about 150 underprivileged girls in two municipal wards around the Gender Resource Centre at Elphinston Road West (Mumbai).
Akshara’s “Youth for Change Programme” aims to engage young men as allies in supporting gender equality and for prevention of violence against women. It works with youth who have joined the social service units of their colleges and takes them on ‘safety walks’. This gives training by experience on safety related to sexual harassment. It takes up advocacy to prevent harassment in colleges and their neighbourhoods. After attending one of Akshara’s workshops, Sagar realised the need to help his mother with housework, something he had never done before. Another trainee said, “As men, it is our duty to prevent sexual harassment. How would I feel if my sister was harassed? I would not want someone else’s sister to suffer.The safety audits helped in making my college safe.”
Akshara believes that it is important to campaign not just at the individual level but also at the city level, to prevent violence against women. Akshara’s “Safe City Programme” works with the Police (with which it has assisted in setting up the 103 emergency helpline for women), and with BEST (by training conductors to prevent sexual harassment by commuters). In December 2013, the chief minister of Maharashtra acknowledged Akshara’s petition containing 30,000 signatures for a comprehensive action plan for Mumbai, saying: “A copy of the comprehensive action plan should be sent to the chief secretary and each department involved should revert on which of the recommendations they can initiate action on.”
Akshara’s future plans are for pursuing its vision of a free, equal and just society for men and women. Akshara has been raising its funds through individual donations, donor agencies and corporate houses and donations from readers are welcome.
Neelambari, 5th Floor, Road No. 86, Opp Portuguese Church, Gokhale Road,
Dadar (West), Mumbai - 400028, INDIA. Tel: (022) 24316082.