A Billion Steps to Equality: Empowering Every Girl
We celebrate the effort of marketing professional Srishti Bakshi, who has undertaken a 3,800 km journey on foot to raise awareness about gender equality
By Aparna Rao
Every day, women face inequality at various levels -- as the wife and mother who gets less nutrition because she eats the leftovers, as the sister who has to give up studies because her brother can access college education and the little one, who was never allowed to be born. We all tell our children inspiring stories about great people, but how many of us educate them to be gender sensitive?
Gender equality and women empowerment issues have not kept pace with the country’s economic growth. But, marketing professional Srishti Bakshi has lit the beacon of change through her campaign to empower women through digital and financial literacy, all over India. As part of this campaign, she has started an arduous journey on foot from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, which is a distance of 3,800 km. A marketing professional based in Hong Kong, Srishti was named the United Nation’s ‘Empower Women Champion of Change’ for the year 2016 – 2017.
We at ParentCircle met up with Srishti near the Madurai – Dindigul Highway, where she spoke about the cause and the need to educate children about women empowerment.
So what triggered the Project Crossbow initiative?
“When I was working in Hong Kong, my colleagues always had nice things to say about India but on many occasions, they also raised questions about women safety issues in our country. On one of my business dinner meets, a colleague asked me why Indian men are rapists. I am a retired Army officer’s daughter and this kind of generalisation irked me. We had a heated debate and the next day I received an email with links to several news articles about rapes and molestations in India. That is when I decided that I had to do something to address women safety issues of my country or I would regret this for the rest of my life," says Srishti.
She was egged on by the encouragement she received from her husband and immediate family when she told them about the plan to go on this difficult journey.
Srishti believes that change begins at home, so parents have an important role to play in bringing up gender sensitive children. It is important to break the stereotypical images children develop such as 'mother cooks and father works'.
"This image is constantly played and replayed in cartoons, books and in children’s songs that many of them don’t question it. Both parents should come to an understanding that they are equal partners at home and there should be no gender assigned roles. If mother cooks then father cleans up while the kids help or vice-versa. Kids learn more from parents’ actions than their words.”
Addressing gender inequality issues in schools
"It is possible to address these issues at school level through various tailor-made programmes. Schools should make it a point to celebrate women achievers just as equally as their male peers. There are many activities that can instil gender equality and fair treatment values among children. If schools earnestly dedicate themselves to the gender equality cause, then we can hope to see a lot of positive changes in our society."
As part of the gender sensitisation activities in schools, Srishti and her team use flash cards to teach primary students about women in non-traditional roles such as firefighters, scientists, surgeons. They also split the class into smaller groups and allocated a profession for each group– police, surgeon, army, chef, pilots and so on. Then children are asked to write the attributes of that profession. High school students are asked to write a script for a short role-play of two scenarios - domestic and workplace. This is basically to reverse stereotypes about boys and girls.
Bringing change the digital way
Through her journey, Srishti wants to create a community of changemakers who will take up the cause of safety and empowerment of girls and women through digital and financial literacy. "I would also like to collect one billion steps from supporters through our mobile app. This will enable people to render their support from their own location and still make their steps count. Through our campaign, I hope to raise awareness about many initiatives that spearhead various women development projects such as skill development programme for underprivileged girls, assistance for burn victims, educational support for flesh trade workers’ children and many other such initiatives.”
The support from the public and some government officials has been overwhelming. "Collectors of many districts have extended their guesthouses for our stay. Police officials have offered patrol cars for our protection on highways on many occasions. This campaign has the potential to culminate into a national movement and it can be achieved only through teamwork and support from everyone. Many individuals and NGO groups have also come forward to help our cause. It gives us such a huge boost of energy to see that many people relate to our cause and are doing everything they can to help us. I am truly humbled by their response.”
Srishti has only just begun her journey and she has many miles to go, but with her every step she is carrying forward social messages that will hopefully reach the right people.
Supporting a worthy cause
“Srishti’s cause resonates with our belief that education and empowerment is the cure for many social problems that plague our country. To do our part, Ladies Circle India has planned to contribute footfalls both physical and virtual towards the one billion steps goal. In addition, Ladies Circle India will be prepared to pitch in for logistical and other assistance whenever she needs it,” says Dr Vidya Vijay, Chairperson of Ladies Circle Madurai Chapter.
Project Crossbow extends an opportunity for all smartphone users to be part of the '1 Billion Steps' campaign through a downloadable app for both Apple and Android users. The virtual steps collected through this app will facilitate contributions from campaign partners and sponsors to selected charitable organisations that work towards the cause of women's safety and empowerment.
“Our country cannot hope to achieve its full potential if we were to leave behind one half of the population. Gender equality issues are getting a lot of focus and attention than it ever did before and it needs to continue until there is a sweeping change in the mindset of people," says district collector of Tirunelveli, Sandeep Nanduri, who has helped Srishti organise her workshops at various places in the district.
Digital and financial literacy of women in our country will address a lot of underlying issues that for many households have become a way of life. This modern-day Dandi march will touch many lives and will change a few for good.
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