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Joining forces from around the world for women’s empowerment

Dr. Bhavani Rao stands with participants
Amrita University’s UNESCO Chair in Gender Equality, Prof. Bhavani Rao in pink sari in front, gathers with colloquium attendees. The participants came from all strata of society in order to share the challenges of daily life and discuss ideas for solutions.

Key Points

  • Amrita University’s UNESCO Chair in Gender Equality hosted its first International Colloquium for Women’s Empowerment at the Amritapuri campus, bringing together over 90 village women from 21 Indian communities and various international delegates, officials, professors, and experts.
  • The colloquium aimed to address women’s empowerment in the context of sustainable development and focused on six specific areas of vulnerability, including education, healthcare, safety, economics, socio-political issues, and climate change.
  • The event celebrated the successful completion of the joint project between the UN Democracy Fund and Amrita University, which empowered women in Indian villages with training in various aspects of community development. These empowered women have initiated discussions with government officials and filed grievances to improve village infrastructure and rights, contributing to policy changes at the central government level.

A historic event took place at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham’s Amritapuri campus. Amrita University’s UNESCO Chair in Gender Equality hosted its first International Colloquium for Women’s Empowerment from December 17-19.

More than 90 village women from 21 communities across India met with international delegates, Govt. of India officials, professors, representatives from UN partner organisations, technocrats and researchers.

The primary goal of the colloquium was to bring together the women sanitation champions from India’s villages, international experts, professors, policymakers, NGOs, UN partner organizations, technocrats, and researchers to take part in serious thinking, spirited dialogue, and debate on the latest issues that surround empowerment of women in a sustainable development context.

Village woman speaks at the microphone
Bhag Jogan Debi is a woman from the village of Hadiabad, Bihar. She spontaneously stepped up to the microphone at the colloquium to share her gratitude for the knowledge shared, the support given, and the trust bestowed upon the village women.

“We are thankful for the knowledge shared, the support given and the trust bestowed upon us,” said Bhag Jogan Debi, a villager from Hadiabad, Bihar. In one of the sessions, she spontaneously ascended the podium to share her experience in working with Amrita University’s Women’s Empowerment Project.

“In our language, when thoughts are pure, actions automatically become good – and when your actions are good, your children automatically become better people. This project has planted seeds for a better future for our community.”

Debi’s words clearly moved all present in the conference room. They were a testament to what it means to a woman to feel that her voice is not only heard, but matters.

Forum for discussion with several women
An interactive session where village women and policy makers joined together to formulate new ideas.

Prof. Bhavani Rao is the Amrita UNESCO Chairholder. She shared, “It was inspiring to see so many women from all strata of society take part in this remarkable event and then come together in a unified voice to further women’s empowerment. Before this, many of these women had never ventured outside of their small communities, interacted with government officials or made efforts to improve the situation in their village.”

The colloquium addressed six specific areas of vulnerability for women – Education; Healthcare and Sanitation; Safety and Security; Economics and Livelihood; Socio-Political Environment and Legal Issues; and Disasters and Climate Change.

Keynote speakers at the colloquium included Dr. Deepa Narayan – international poverty, gender and development advisor and renowned author and speaker; the Hon. Judge Swati Chauhan – founder of Swayamsiddha Foundation, an initiative for women; and Andy Carmone – global health expert and Director of Clinical Science at Clinton Health Access Initiative.

“Voice is one of the most powerful things that we have,” emphasized Narayan. “And yet women are told to speak softly – or not to speak at all. Reclaiming voice is important because without voice one is not really human and there is no empowerment.”

Ultimately, the colloquium celebrated the successful completion of a joint project between the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF) and Amrita University called “Women’s Empowerment: Community Sanitation through Democratic Participation”. In the villages, 300 “Champions of Change” and 5,000 “Change Agents” took part.

The program offered intensive training on women’s health, clean water and sanitation, community development, financial literacy, self-confidence and more. The village participants were supported in conducting community action events, initiating meetings with local government offices, and ensuring community-led total sanitation.

Rao said, “With the empowerment and education gained from the Amrita-UNDEF project, these women successfully led discussions and shared their perspective on how policy can better reflect the issues that they really face in their daily lives. Their discussions will form the foundation of an upcoming Policy Brief to be submitted to the proper channels in the Indian Central Government.”

Rao also explained, “What’s most remarkable is that these women have initiated close to 400 formal meetings with local and state government officials to seek advice and to request assistance in launching useful programs. They’ve even submitted right-to-information requests and filed grievances for improving village infrastructure and securing their rights.”

The UNESCO Chair’s activities and research are based on the vision of Amma, who is Amrita University’s Chancellor. Amma said, “Like the two wings of a bird, women and men are of equal value. For without the two in perfect balance, humanity cannot progress.”

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