In a decade, India will have the largest number of women in any country. This should be a cause for celebration, yet in India, women are discriminated against. Over 700,000 girls are killed in the womb. Over one million children below the age of five are lost each year, a majority of them are girls.
More than 50% of girls fail to enrol in school. A large number drop out at puberty. Nearly 45% of girls in India get married off before the age of 18. Almost 70% of women are not part of the work force.
A world where women lag behind is not only an unequal world but also an unjust one —it’s an unfair world. Can the world be different from what it looks like?
I believe it is quite possible. We stand at a very important point in time in history. A time when a crucial difference can be made.
Through the Reliance Foundation’s work across the country, I have met several remarkable women who have had a positive impact their communities.
Take Vajaben. A single mother of three young children from Netrang, one of the poorest of villages in Gujarat.
Our foundation assisted Vajaben to set up a nutrition garden. Within three months the garden was producing 200 kilograms of vegetables. She was now self-reliant, but did not stop there. She motivated other women from the village to set up similar gardens. In a male-dominated community she rallied other women to transform her village.
Today, thanks to Vajaben, there are 44 nutrition gardens in Netrang; no child goes hungry and every child goes to an anganwadi. Vajaben has been elected president of the village farmers’ association.
Another example is Prakash Kaur from Jalandhar, in Punjab — a state that has high rates of female infanticide. Unwanted girls are thrown into garbage dumps.
Kaur gave them a home and became their mother. Today, she runs a ‘Unique Home’ where she is the mother to 70 abandoned girls. When I look at hundreds of courageous women like these, I know there is hope. I believe there is a Vajaben or Kaur in every village. We need to find them. Empower them.
Today, empowering women is not just about equality between the sexes, it is about creating a healthier and happier world. When we empower every single Indian woman, the combined power of half of soon-to-be the most populous nation on the planet will undoubtedly help create a better India and a better world.
Nita M Ambani is founder and chairperson, Reliance Foundation. The views expressed are personal.