New Delhi: In 2015, United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals. The SDGs are basically a blueprint for the safety and prosperity of people and the planet, which 192 United Nations member states have adopted and committed to achieve by 2030. In total, there are 17 SDGs that are designed to end poverty, hunger, AIDS, and discrimination against women and girls.
According to United Nations, the World is “far away” to meet the deadline OF 2030 set out in the Agenda for Sustainable Development. It states that though the progress has been made, but much more remains to be done. Similarly, the recent report released in Lancet Journal that was published on February 20 states that India is trailing behind in achieving more than 50 per cent of the indicators under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the report, India has fallen behind on 19 of 33 indicators and over 75 per cent of Indian districts are off target for eight crucial indicators including poverty, anaemia, child marriage domestic violence, stunting and wasting of children, access to essential services, modern contraceptive use and tobacco consumption.
In this scenario the work done by some warriors is playing a crucial role to help India remain on track to achieve its goal. As we mark international women’s day, we bring to you some of the women and their path breaking work.
Meet The Women Warriors
Shaili Chopra, Founder of Digital Healthcare Platform, Gytree.com
Women always put themselves last. That’s our problem. We land up at doctors with issues when we are in absolute pain and can no longer ignore it. We hesitate and are shy, because
‘log kya kahenge?
Ms. Chopra is known for building digital platforms for women like SheThePeople (backed by Anand Mahindra), which is a digital media website that focuses on women related news and Gytree.com, a digital healthcare clinic especially made for female care in India. The initiative it backed by Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar Shaw.
As per the statistics shared by Gytree.com, 61 per cent women get diagnosed with PCOS after ignoring personal health for prolonged period; whereas, almost 66.4 per cent Indian women are suffering from anaemia; and almost 60 per cent of working women in India quit the work force due to health-related issues. To takcle the issues, Shaili Chopra initiated this platform. The platform uses technology to provide women with an intelligent dashboard, experts and personalised journeys for better health outcomes – from dealing with health-related problems like PCOS and PCOD to providing nutritional support and counselling, guiding women to eat better and giving support with therapy session, this virtual platform caters to every need of women. What’s interesting is that the platform also offers one-to-one sessions with gynaecologist, provides mental health support and regular digital health checks linked to their primary needs. The platform also gives access to at-home lab tests curated for women and round the clock patient care and virtual check-in options.
Vandana Shiva, Author & Environmental Activist
Vandana Shiva is a renowned scientist, ecologist, author, and farming rights activist and has been touted as one of the leading voices in the field of green living. Her interest in environmentalism began during her visits to home, where she discovered that her favourite childhood forest had been cleared and a stream drained so that an apple orchard could be planted. So, once she completed her degrees, she returned to India and started working for the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management. In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), an organisation committed to developing sustainable methods of agriculture, in her mother’s cowshed in Dehradun.
In 1991, she started a movement Navdanya, meaning “Nine Seeds,” or “New Gift” in Hindi. The project was part of RFSTE and targeted to combat the growing tendency toward monoculture promoted by large corporations. As a part of Navdanya movement, Ms Shiva formed over 40 seed banks in India and attempted to educate farmers on the benefits of conserving their unique strains of seed crops. Slowly, she became the strong critic of the Green Revolution, she argued that the aim of the revolution was to increase food security, instead led to several traditional seeds becoming extinct, loss of agricultural legacy, and extensive damage to soil and environment due to chemicals. Through the years, she proceeded to work on grassroot campaigns to prevent clear-cut logging and the construction of large dams.
Not just that, her noted work also includes her advocacy for Ecofeminism, a political theory that promotes a collaborative environmental society—demanding for women to be considered equal and active members. She has published her learnings through the years in her books like Earth Democracy; Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.
Dr Neerja Birla, Founder & Chairperson, Mpower
World Health Organization states that in India, (per 100,000 population) there are psychiatrists (0.3), nurses (0.12), psychologists (0.07) and social workers (0.07), while the desirable number is anything above 3 psychiatrists and psychologists per 100,000 population. WHO also estimates that 56 million Indians suffer from depression and another 38 million Indians suffer from anxiety disorders.
Even though mental health is such a challenge in India, the subject is riddled with stigma in the country. In bid to overcome mental health challenges in India, Mpower was created by Dr Neerja Birla. She says,
Mpower started as an ambitious dream. Then, it became a solemn vow. Now, it is a passionately on-going endeavour to be the Movement to affect change; to promote mental health and well-being in the most holistic manner conceivable.
This initiative by Aditya Birla Group was started 6 years ago with an aim to bring in a paradigm shift in India’s attitude towards mental health by spreading awareness, alleviating stigma, and providing holistic mental health care. Since its inception, Mpower has built a strong force of over 140 trained mental health professionals providing multidisciplinary mental health services with a presence in 7 cities including Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Pune.
The organisation also works towards providing mental health services to the economically weaker section of society, offering mental health services to Rural India and Government run schools and colleges. Mpower also runs a successful Mpower let’s Talk 1on1 toll-free helpline 1800-120- 820050 that was launched during the first wave of covid in 2020 in partnership with the Maharashtra Government and has to date successfully addressed over 1 lakh queries so far.
Recently MPower has also collaborated with NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences) to support the implementation of Tele MANAS services across India. Dr Neerja Birla adds,
At MPower, we empower individuals and their families from all walks of life by creating awareness, fostering education and alleviating stigma vis-à-vis mental health.
Dr Neerja Birla signs off by saying that the ultimate vision for MPower is to create a stigma-free world where individuals with mental health concerns can lead meaningful & productive lives with respect & dignity.
Ananya Malde, Founder Project Pragati
Meet 15-year-old Bengaluru resident, Ananya Malde, who founded a project called ‘Pragati’ that works towards raising awareness about menstrual health and hygiene among the girls in the rural parts of India, with an aim to reduce their drop-out rates from school.
Ananya Malde launched the project when she witnessed her domestic help’s daughter dropping out of school after her menstrual cycle started. Till then Ananya was unaware of the existence of such a practice— leaving school after getting periods. Once she started to research more on the topic, she was shocked to learn that more than 23 million girls in India leave school every year due to menstruation. This incident was imprinted in her mind, and she decided to act upon this and reach out to girls of her age and older to eradicate the practice.
Ananya’s project ‘Pragati’ is primarily based out of her hometown, Gujarat. As a part of her project, Ananya conducts multiple awareness sessions in schools in Gujarat. During these sessions, she interacts with girls and educate them about menstrual hygiene. During the course of her project, she discovered that most of rural India suffered from a lack of proper menstrual education and access to clean and cheap menstrual hygiene products. As a result, she decided to formulate a comprehensive curriculum on menstrual health in three languages: Gujarati, English, and Hindi. She surveyed 75–100 girls in rural Gujarat, spoke with the Sarpanchs of three villages and took note of all the problems to create the appropriate curriculum.
She also set up a fundraiser to provide girls from the rural areas with sanitary pads and incinerators for free of cost. Till date, Project Pragati has managed to impact a total of thousands of girls in the state of Gujarat. Additionally, Ananya has distributed nearly 30,000 sanitary pads made out of straw and bamboo. She was able to install incinerators in two schools in the state. Ananya has also presented her project at the United Nations through the 1M1B’s (1 Million for 1 Billion) flagship programme.
Vani Murthy, Known As Worm Rani
Meet the 60-year-old homemaker, who turned changemaker and now is known to the world as Worm Rani. Using the power of social media, today, she is inspiring youngsters to compost and manage waste sustainably in urban spaces because she feels that’s the need of the hour for the planet’s health and everyone’s health. When asked what made her take this initiative, Mrs Murthy said,
I was not always an eco-activist, I was like any other home maker, who was afraid to step out of the house. Eventually one thing lead to another. Once, I had an encounter with a landfill where I saw mountains of waste that was huge and was contaminating the soil, life around. I thought, this could have been turned into something better if we all would have been sensible. From that very day, I took it on myself to find a better alternative for this ongoing problem of waste dispatching. And this is when I found answers through composting and ever since there has been no turning back.
What’s interesting is the fact that today she is recognised widely for her work and has inspired thousands of other women in India. Her work was recently featured in National Geographic and other digital platforms like Hotstar.
Upasana Kamineni Konidela, Founder of URLife and Vice Chairperson of CSR at Apollo Hospitals
Meet the wife of a mega star, Ram Charan – Upasana Kamineni Konidela, who believes the title that suits her best is that of ‘a passionate lover for health.’ And it is because of this passion she started URLife – an all-in-one wellness platform that aims to inspire people to live life to the fullest by harnessing the power of technology and promoting healthy lifestyle choices. The platform is committed to help people achieve good health through simple, creative and fun practices that make it an enjoyable experience. The platform curates content like health tips, nutritional tips, expert videos, diet plans, lifestyle hacks, consultations, healthy recipes, fun DIY’s and personalised services that equip one to live a fit and wholesome life. The content is backed by experts and nutritionist to provide people with holistic approach to live a fitter lifestyle.
Apart from this, Mrs Upasana has been working to uplift the status of tribals in India. Through Apollo, she has been doing work with the Chenchu tribe at Aronga village in Thavanampalle Mandal in Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh. Speaking about the initiative and the importance of such initiatives, she said,
It’s important to focus on tribals, their health and uplift their status in the community. Through this project, we have seen that once you give tribal population a bit of education and empower them, it has a significant impact on their health. I am very proud to say that with this project, we have given the women of the region a sense of livelihood, a sense of ownership. As a by-product, the tiger population has actually grown in the reserve.
Apart from this Upasana has also been associated with project Arrjava – a green skilling initiative that helps women by providing them different skills. Upasana says that the main job of the project is to create Arrjava warriors in different sections of the society and empower the people working as ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, with education on healthcare, hygiene, and how to preserve the planet. She adds,
We want these people to become the champions of their communities. I believe Arrjava warriors would be a great help in the country’s growth as a healthier nation.
Rukmani Katara, CEO of a solar company, Durga Energy
Rukmani Katara, was married at 13 in Mandava village, Dungarpur district, Rajasthan. Like every other girl of the district, Rukmani’s fate too would have been confined to a life behind the ghunghat, but she decided to change her life and those around her. She studied only till eighth standard, but today she is a proud owner of a solar company that is igniting a renewable energy revolution in rural parts of India.
Rukmani’s first step toward the change was when she was introduced to the Rajasthan State Rural Livelihood Mission or Rajeevika, which encouraged her to start a Self-Help Group (SHG) in her village. She started a kirana shop in her village, however, it was Dungarpur Initiative launched by IIT Bombay in 2016 that really turned her life.
Headed by Professor Chetan Singh Solanki, a project called Solar Saheli under which women like Ms. Rukmani were trained in assembling and familiarising with solar panels. Soon, a MoU with IIT Bombay was signed to start manufacturing solar panels and lamps in the region and the entity was named Dungarpur Renewable Energy Technologies Private Limited (Durga Energy).
Ms. Rukmani started as an employee in the company, she went from house to house to set up those panels. She says,
I trained myself at every step of the process and worked hard year after year. Initially, I was made a supervisor and within a year, I became the CEO of Durga Energy.
Ms. Rukmani’s passion for the cause today has helped ignite the region with all things solar. She has helped distributed 40,000 solar study lamps, one lakh torches. Moreover, 50,000 lanterns have been manufactured and five lakh solar panels have been installed in the area.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.