Empowering the Girl Child - Let's get empowered


Prof. Jyothi Raghavan
Regional Director
Rai Business School
Balanagar, Hyderabad-500037

According to Page, Nanette and Czuba, Cheryl (1), "Empowerment is a multi-dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power (that is, the capacity to implement) in people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important". We can substitute 'Girl Child/Woman' for 'People' to get an acceptable definition of their empowerment.

Much literature has appeared on the above topics; seminars and conferences have been held and action plans initiated. Let us try to understand some of these aspects and realize our own responsibility towards this cause.

Women and daughters are held in high esteem according to several scriptures.  Let us have some insights into it as per Islam, Hinduism and Christianity and the Current Times.

As per Islam:  Fatimah was the youngest daughter of the Holy Prophet Mohammed. In dealing with her, he set an example of fatherly love, which is a model for mankind. "Fatimah," he would say, "is a part of my being; whosoever annoys her annoys me" (Mishkat-ul-Masabih, XLIV: S)

He also emphasized preferential treatment towards the female sex and said "When you bring anything for your children for distribution, begin with the girls first because the girls love their parents more than the boys."

Status of Mothers in Hindu Scripture:  "The professor is equivalent of ten teachers, the father is equal to hundred professors, the mother exceeds a thousand fathers in honour."

"One conquers this world through respect for the mother, the middle religion (the firmament) through respect for the father, and through service to the preceptor one gains the region of Brahman."

From The Bible:   "A capable wife who can find? Her value is far more than that of corals" (Proverbs 31:10-31)

Current Times:  The best example of empowerment of the girl child in India in present times is 'Project Nanhi Kali'.  This was initiated in 1996 by K C Mahindra Education Trust (KCMET) with an objective of providing primary education to the underprivileged girl child in India. In 2005, KCMET entered into a partnership with Naandi Foundation , a reputed NGO, to jointly manage the programme. Through this partnership the two not for profit organizations aim to extend 10 years of quality education to the under privileged girl children.

It is interesting to note that eight-year-old daughter Suhana and seven-year-old Sana are part of Project Nanhi Kali (2). Well, who are these 'Laadlis' (Adorables)?  Well they are none other than the daughters of Shahrukh Khan and Saurav Ganguly respectively who are active patrons of the project. According to Khan, "Every daughter is a 'laadli' (adorable) and she is very special".  Ganguly on the other hand says "Everybody questions me about my most memorable moment - is it making a  century in my Test debut or winning a series in England or getting into the world cup finals? But the most memorable time  is the time that I spend playing hide and seek with my seven-year-old daughter;  Her smile is priceless - no trophy and no award come closer to matching it," .

Inspite of the past and present being 'glorious' as indicated above, we all know that the situation is not as glorious as above. In fact, the umpteen instances of women and girl children being exploited physically, mentally, emotionally, economically, socially, religiously and politically are too well known to be elaborated here. It is in this context that here is a need for empowerment.  

The empowerment can be successful under the following conditions:

* Information availability
* Information Processing ability
* Self Motivation
* Realization of alternative means for achievement
* Commitment to continuous improvement {Kaizen)
* Self Confidence to overcome limitations

Now let us try to understand these factors one by one. All empowered women have all or most of these qualities. However, specific examples are sighted to highlight some specific factors:

a) Information availability & Processing Ability : It is rightly said that "information is power" and "knowledge is the supreme power!".  When one has the right knowledge, nobody can subjugate her, however mighty he may be. The recent example of Ruchika Case in which a Director General of Police has been convicted to rigorous imprisonment for the molestation  of a minor girl is the best example of the same. He is likely to lose his best service medals also. This goes to prove that moral turpitude on the part of a hig ranking official can never be condoned, especially when the dignity of a girl child is involved.

b) Self Motivation: The empowered woman is self-motivated.  Nobody is going to tell her to achieve what she does.  Take the example of Poomari  of Tamil Nadu, India. When her father became invalid, this polio affected young  girl  took to the seas all by herself  to support her family and educate her brothers and sisters.

c) Realization of alternative means for achievement: It is said that when one door closes another opens. However, many a time we waste our precious time lamenting on the closed ones failing to see the open ones. The empowered woman always sees and pursues alternate means for achievement. Brahmacharini Kamala Bai(3), born in 1923 at Kuchaman town of District Nagaur of Rajasthan got married at the tender age of 12 and was widowed barely two years thereafter. Being totally illiterate, she found herself totally destitute, without any help or support. She learnt to read and write at Sri Mahavir Mumuksha Mahila Ashram. Soon she developed an inspiration and motivation to spread the message of literacy among the women and the girls in the backward areas. She founded Adarsh Mahila Vidyalaya, which presently has more than 2000 girl students from the deprived sections of society. Her organization has grown by leaps and bounds with a present annual budget of more than Rs. 65 Lakhs. Her untiring efforts in empowering self and others won her Rotary International Award in 1998 and Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar Stree Shakti Puraskar, 1999

d) Commitment to continuous improvement {Kaizen): Lilatai Pradkar(4), born in 1925 at Indore, Madhya Pradesh is a classical example of Kaizen. She, an M.A.; B.Ed. was an inspiring teacher for nearly three decades. She spent most of her salary for financially supporting the needy students. She also served in the Medical Center of the Vivekanada Kendra, Kanyakumari for two years. Later on she devoted her entire time for the cause of education among the backward tribal people of Madhya Pradesh. In 1975, she established the Vanabasi Kalyan Ashram for Women in Raigarh to offer vocational training to women. She also started the Nivedita Vanabasi Kanya Chhatravas to provide boarding and lodging facilities to the tribal girl students.

For a woman of achievement, the sky is the limit! Thus, in 1980, Lilatai started working among the Bhils and established Nivedita Vanabasi Kanya Chhatravas providing boarding and lodging facilities to the tribal girl students. In 1990, she started a hostel for the postgraduate girl students. Lilatai Pradkar was awarded Rani Gaidinliu Stree Puraskar, 1999 in recognition of her untiring efforts towards empowerment and education of the marginalised tribal girls.

Self Confidence to overcome limitations: In all the above cases, we have seen that all the empowered women have scaled the pinaccle of glory not because they were born with a silver spoon in the mouth but because of sheer determination and hard work. Let us conclude our discussions with the example of Ashamma from Karni village in Mehbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh(5) who is a socially marginalised woman who won the coveted Neeraja Banot award recently. She was made a "jogini" when she was seven years old and married off to the village deity. . In her own words "Since the day of the initiation, I have not lived with dignity. I became available for all the men who inhabited Karni. They would ask me for sexual favours and I, as a jogini, was expected to please them. My trauma began even when I had not attained puberty." When in her teens she became an unwed mother, "I bore the child from the man I loved, but he did not marry me. Later, I escaped from the village," she says. However, all the time she was reminded that she was a jogini and should not act like a chaste woman.

She joined and in 1997 became the head of Andhra Pradesh Mahila Samatha Society Sangham, which empowers sexually exploited women to lead a life of dignity and grace.

Her commitment was to foil the attempts of villagers to initiate young girls into this evil practice. She still remembers how hard she had to fight in order to save a nine-year-old girl in her village from being made a jogini. The police had blatantly- refused to help her and no one in the village was prepared to cooperate with her. Nevertheless, Ashamma sat in protest until she succeeded in preventing the initiation ceremony.

Now I think that all of us are convinced that "faith can move mountains!". Do we need any further example of Self Confidence to overcome limitations in women's empowerment?

In conclusion, we can say that any one can play an effective role towards empowerment of women and girls. One neednot belong to the well-educated class or a high society. When totally marginalized women like Ashamma can become a role model for empowerment, is it not our turn to contribute something towards this cause? Let us remember, "It is better to light a small lamp than to curse the darkness!'


Finally, I wish to thank Dr. T. Thomas, Dean (Academics), Rai Business School, Balanagar, Hyderabad for his inpiration and guidance in preparing this article.


1. http://www.joe.org/joe/1999october/comm1.php
2. www.nanhikali.org/nanhikali/about_nanhi_kali.aspx
3. http://www.indusladies.com/forums/snippets-of-life-non-fiction/14698-women-achievers-of-india-1-a-2.ht ml
4. http://tamildownunder.blogspot.com/2007/12/women-achievers-of-india-there-are.html

Prof. Jyothi Raghavan
Regional Director
Rai Business School
Balanagar, Hyderabad-500037

Source: E-mail January 8, 2010


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