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From Grassroots Women Leaders to Nation Builders

07 Apr 2022

India has produced several women who have excelled in fields as diverse as aviation, arts, politics, sports, and medicine. Yet for every Falguni Nayar, Founder and CEO of Nyaaka, and Gita Gopinath, economist, the first Deputy Managing Director of IMF, there are hundreds of women who are unable to break the economic and social barriers to reach their full potential. 

Although the situation is improving, girls and women in India have traditionally been at the receiving end of discrimination in almost every sphere, be it healthcare, education or livelihood. 

Recognizing how deeply ingrained gender biases are, CII began working towards women empowerment as early as 2005 by recognizing grassroots women leaders through an award. Over the years, the scope of its women empowerment initiative was expanded with other elements such as capacity building and mentoring added to help the women scale up their work for the greater good. The award became a part of the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Program.

The program identifies and recognises grassroots level women from across the country, who have risen against the odds to emerge as leaders in their communities. Each year, fifteen women are identified – 5 each in the categories of Health, Education and Microenterprise – from which three receive an award. The CII Foundation then works closely with the cohort of 15 to coach and mentor them to empower them as leaders who will further empower other women.

The outbreak of Coronavirus, by and large, affected women more severely. It accentuated the gender divide and inequalities. The socio-economic impact was humongous, especially for grassroots women. According to CMIE data, the female labour force participation rate declined due to the pandemic and stood at 9.4% for September-December 2021. This is the lowest ever since 2016, when the data was first compiled.

It was during the pandemic that the grassroots women leaders went beyond their call of duty and areas of work to emerge as Covid warriors. They are at the forefront of leading COVID-19 related initiatives and are playing a key role in reaching out to the marginalised and the underserved communities such as the Dalits and the musahars in rural India and inaccessible regions. 

The exemplars not only distributed ration and other relief material, supported by industry, to the hundreds who found themselves without livelihood such as daily wage earners, contract labour etc, but they are playing a key role in creating awareness about COVID-19 appropriate behaviour through nukkad nataks and interacting with communities. They are also successfully dispelling myths around vaccination and helping mobilise community participation for vaccination. 

Eight women exemplars led a special COVID-19 awareness and vaccination project in 8 locations across India from September to December 2021. Supported by Apraava Energy, the women reached out to communities across India. The women found a range of myths surrounding vaccination such as the vaccination leads to death; COVID-19 affects only the elderly and that the virus is just a hoax, and the medical fraternity is using this as an opportunity to make money. Through one-to-one meetings, mass awareness drives through rallies, engaging with influencers in the community, and other means, these 8 women were instrumental in reaching over 72,000 households with having more than 20,000 vaccine doses administered.

The CII Foundation Woman Exemplars are also leading a project to build community resilience against calamities such as COVID. As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we are proud of the women exemplars, their leadership, and the resilience they are displaying during such challenging times.

To know more about the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Program, click here.

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