India has a complicated track record when it comes to women’s rights. On the one hand, the country is home to a number of feminist icons like Kamla Bhasin, who has been advocating for female education since the seventies, but on the other, around 93 women are raped in India every day. In addition, even in 2019, nonconsensual sex between a husband and wife is not considered rape according to India’s penal code. It is also estimated that 120,000 Indian women a year will be victims of domestic violence.

Fortunately, a number of organizations are tirelessly working to put an end to gender inequality in India. These five organizations fighting for women’s empowerment in India are dedicated to uplifting and protecting women.

5 Organizations Fighting for Women’s Empowerment in India

  1. SEWA – Of the female labor force in India, more than 94 percent of workers make their living in the unorganized sector. Yet this demographic largely remains invisible due to the self-employed nature of their work. Since these women are not part of the mainstream salaried workforce, they do not have access to welfare benefits that laborers in the traditional workforce do, leaving them unprotected.

    Incorporated in 1972, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, or SEWA, is a trade union made up of poor and self-employed female workers that earn a living through self-run small businesses or their personal labor. SEWA aims to organize women so that they can attain full employment and all its benefits including social security, which is defined as health care, child care and shelter. SEWA stimulates full employment and female self-reliance by offering a number of services including health care, child care, banking through the Sewa Bank (a cooperative bank with credit and finance services), insurance via VimoSEWA (SEWA insurance), legal services and housing.

  2. Snehalaya – Snehalaya translates to “home of love” and is an NGO that was founded in 1989 in the Indian city of Ahmednagar. The NGO provides support to women, children and LGBT communities. Snehalaya specifically focuses on these vulnerable members of society that have suffered at the hands of HIV and AIDS, trafficking, sexual violence and poverty.

    Snehalaya has made great strides in raising awareness for these disadvantaged communities and continues to offer safe havens and escapes to women and children imprisoned in the cycle of poverty and abuse. Currently, the organization reaches more than 19,000 beneficiaries a year by offering services including:

    • orphanages for children rescued from the sex trafficking industry;

    • offices that offer emergency care for abandoned infants in addition to medical and psychological support for expectant mothers;

    • 30 emergency safe houses for women and children experiencing domestic violence;

    • 100 25-acre Himmaatgram Biofarms that provide sustainable produce for Snehalaya projects; and

    • a free telephone helpline for children and the public to help at-risk children that receives around 300 calls a day.

  3. NEN: North East Network – NEN is a women’s rights organization that was established in 1995 as part of the Beijing World Conference on Women. NEN operates mostly in North East India and focuses on women’s human rights and gender justice. NEN organizes training sessions, awareness programs, retreats, as well as short film and art competitions all with the goal of merging advocacy with activism. The organization continues to fight against gender-based discrimination while building support for government policies that promote women’s rights and increase female representation in political, public and community settings.

  4. Azad Foundation – The Azad Foundation is a professional feminist organization founded in 2008 that specifically works with resource-poor women living in urban areas in India. The Foundation provides opportunities for disadvantaged women to earn a livelihood as professional drivers and has trained hundreds of women since inception. The Foundation also trained and then employed the first ever female bus driver in Delhi.

    In total, the Azad Foundation has trained more than 1,800 women in a range of topics to including self-defense, sexual and reproductive health, basic first aid as well as map reading.

    The organization, which was founded in Delhi, has now expanded and has training centers in Jaipur and Kolkata. By offering training to women so that they can become professional drivers to earn a decent living, the Azad Foundation bolsters the economic status of underprivileged women while offering them the independence of self-reliance.

  5. MAKAAM – Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch: MAKAAM is a forum for female farmers’ rights that operates in 24 states in India. Even though women make up about 60 to 70 percent of the farming workforce in India, they only account for around 12 percent of landholdings. Since female farmers rarely own the land they work on, they are excluded from important support services provided by the government. However, MAKAAM seeks to empower female farmers by teaching them to assert their rights and gain ownership of their livelihoods and the natural resources that come with it.

These five organizations fighting for women’s empowerment in India are providing important support to all types of women in need all across the country. From female farmers to entrepreneurs and members of vulnerable communities these organizations are elevating an important part of Indian society that is often overlooked or disadvantaged.

– Isabel Fernandez
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