There is something about 55-year-old Madhu Khoiwal that makes you want to stand and listen to her. Standing gracefully covering her head at the India Commemoration of IWD 2023 at the UN Women’s Country Office, she asks me, “Will you write about my story, too? I have just started my work two-three months back.”
The interaction with her seemed even more important now. I was curious to know what she did before she started working, and her story is as empowering as it gets. For decades, women like Madhu Khoiwal were, in her words, “living normally but felt something missing despite a loving family.” When I ask her what was it that was missing, she responds, “My identity apart from my family. You see, for years, everyone in my family had a purpose or did something that gave them fulfilment, and I kept wondering what was it that I needed to do.”
Madhu Khoiwal’s questions to herself were really what led her to find answers which were both scary and exciting at the same time. Today, being facilitated as a grassroots entrepreneur by UN Women India, she tells a larger story about her determination to find her purpose and work towards it. In a candid conversation with SheThePeople, she recalls the time she left her studies as a child, what made her return to school, and why she hopes for an India where no girl child is deprived of education.
Madhu Khoiwal Journey
Madhu Khoiwal belongs to Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh. Growing up in a small village in a state where most girls and women either did not pursue studies or left it midway, Madhu’s story was no different. She dropped out of school during her 5th standard because of a number of reasons. “I was in class 5 when I left my studies. The idea of pursuing education was not considered important in the environment in which I lived. The distance from my house to schools and colleges was a lot too. Like me, most girls left studies midway for the same reason.”
Leaving studies as a young girl left Madhu demotivated when it came to pursuing education, leave alone having a career. She got married young, had children and got involved in everyday family life like most women around her. For her to think that she could aspire to dream beyond it was something that was nearly impossible. What changed, I ask? “My perception towards women’s roles in society and why we are more than just family members in a household,” she responds.
How life changed as a working woman
Another factor that empowered her to change the course of her life was her children’s motivation. Madhu’s children enabled her to understand her strengths and pushed her to dream more for herself. That’s when she knew that she had to go back to school to earn a basic education and work. Thirty years later, in the same place she thought she would never be able to do anything different, Madhu went back to her studies. She studied hard and eventually passed her 10th examination. She proudly tells us, “A tutor used to come and teach me and I realised how important learning is.”
With the help of the Manjari Foundation, she aimed to study for a position as a LIC Agent. Having failed her first attempt, she persisted further and cleared the exam in her second. Madhu, who has successfully completed her secondary education as well, started her own agency three months back. “I have just started but learned so much about running a business. I am learning new things every day and I look forward to applying them in my work with so much joy.”
No timelines for success
Madhu, who changed her life in her 50s, has the best advice for women her age. “I think that idea that one can do something only in a particular age bracket is completely incorrect. We can pick up any hobby, any work or any purpose whatever stage we are at in life; what remains common is the determination to pursue it. Being financially independent at this age is a huge example of the same,” she reflects.
As someone who now advocates for female education in and around her area, Madhu wishes for a country where no woman is deprived of the same. “I hope for a country where no woman is deprived of education. I understand how education can do wonders and I wish that all women become capable enough so they don’t have to depend on anyone financially,” she signs off.
“We can pick up any hobby, any work or any purpose whatever stage we are at in life; what remains common is the determination to pursue it. Being financially independent at this age is a huge example of the same.”
This story is part of the #KisiSeKumNahi series. UN Women India and SheThePeopleTV come together to celebrate women’s leadership with #KisiSeKumNahi, tales of women’s empowerment.
Suggested reading: Stories From Grassroots: From Cooking House To House To Running Her Own Tailoring Shop