I watch Shobhnaben as she expertly hands out tea at the office. She has come before everyone cleaned both the offices and finishes her tasks like clockwork. She will greet everyone with a smile, answer the phone and sometimes throw in some English; she has interacted with hundreds of people and is the primary bread-winner for her family of 6, which includes 3 sons, a daughter-in-law and her husband, who doesn’t keep too well. Shobhanaben is one of the thousands of women who have been able to improve their own lives because she underwent a training through which she has got a steady job, manages to save and take loans and understands the importance of hard work, good communication and the undeniable truth that only you can change your life and has the support of a good employer and a supportive husband.
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In order to empower women to be independent economically, there are many facets one must address. The first and most important is to break-away from age old hegemony of superstitions, social convention and re-define the role a woman can play in today’s world within her own community. It doesn’t matter if the girl is 16 or 45, her immediate surroundings have the strongest influence over her decisions.
Saath, an organization working in Gujarat and Maharashtra runs multiple livelihood programs, and when posed with the question as to what is the biggest challenge they face in mobilizing young girls or women to participate in training and placement, the response, “is the support of the family, if they are supportive, then these girls will go on to becoming empowered, role models and path breakers, if not, they may want to join, but never will.”
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In a world where the newly elected Canadian Prime Minister responds to a question of why a gender balanced cabinet, his profound response of, “Because It’s 2015!” says it all. The empowerment of a woman may have a different start in different circumstances, but it cannot sustain without support and new avenues. If women are offered, they will be empowered, they will go on to become economically independent and in turn they will spread the prosperity.
Keren Nazareth is Deputy Director, of the Humane Society International’s Asia Office.
She holds a Masters in Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She is an Aspen Fellow and has been a participant of the American Express Leadership Academy and the Janvikas Leadership Academy.
She has previously worked as the Executive Director of SAATH from April 2011 – September 2015. SAATH is a non-profit in India that works with vulnerable households in urban and rural areas.