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Why We Should Celebrate Our Feminist Changemakers!

Since the women rights movement in the 60’s, the participation of women in the workforce has increased exponentially both in terms of quantity and quality.

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In the public square, when organisations and elected bodies are unable to take up their responsibilities, it leaves a space for change agents to play an immediate and vital role of enforcing what is right and required. Their skill and commitment then become integral to the entire movement towards an equal society.

The Rizwan Adatia Foundation along with PRIA (Society for Participatory Research in Asia) identifies and celebrates such change agents through the Martha Farrell Award for Excellence in Women’s Empowerment. These change agents are not widely celebrated, yet they are indispensable to the causes of which they take ownership.

Dr Martha Farrell played such a role during her lifetime, where she mainstreamed gender in institutions and within every day discourses about rights and entitlements.

Since the women rights movement in the 60’s, the participation of women in the workforce has increased exponentially both in terms of quantity and quality. The increase in number has shown a remarkable increase in productivity in the business world.

A report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Ernst and Young analysed results from around 21,980 global, publicly traded companies, in 91 countries and it stated that organisations with at least 30% of women in leadership positions add over 6% to net profit margin. A basic cost-benefit analysis roots for enabling women to be more productive and efficient, yet the reality is opposite.

The recent public uproar over the episode of Harvey Weinstein’s predatorial behaviour and the subsequent ‘#MeToo’ campaign brought the grim truth to the forefront. Laws are in place to tackle this problem — the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 — mandates organisations to have Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to conduct a fair and prompt inquiry into complaints.

However, within India, a survey conducted by the Indian National Bar Association (INBA) found that out of the 6,047 participants, 38% said that they faced harassment at the workplace and out of these around 70% did not complain.

The reason stated is the existing culture of stigma and gender-focused power dynamics and the state of organisational apathy.

‘Reining in Sexual harassment at Workplace’ a 2015 study by Ernst and Young found that two in five IT companies were oblivious to the need to set up ICCs and 50% of advertising and media companies had not conducted training for ICC members.

The big picture here is that the gains made by women all over the world remain fragile in the face of entrenched male domination, unenforced laws and organisational indifference.

This is a reality that lifelong women rights activists like Dr Martha Farrell recognised when she explained that, “One of the most pervasive ways of subjugation, intimidation and discrimination against women in the workplace is sexual harassment.”

Respected in India and around the world for her work on adult education, women’s rights, and gender equality, Dr Martha Farrell was the co-director at PRIA, alongside her husband, Rajesh Tandon, PRIA’s founder.

She pioneered work on sexual harassment at the workplace in India, also the subject of her PhD thesis awarded from Jamia Millia Islamia, a university in Delhi, in 2012. Her efforts at training thousands of grassroots women leaders as part of PRIA’s work on citizen engagement in the Panchayati Raj (local governance) transformed the political and social landscape in rural India.

An individual of enormous influence, she spearheaded a methodical dismantling of the power factors and strengthened accountability and the mechanism to sustain the actions. She took women’s rights seriously and strongly advocated for public awareness of harassment against women.

Her lifelong work was to challenge negative attitudes that condone and perpetuate gender inequality and violence and initiate activities to enable women and girls to understand and feel empowered to claim their rights.

In the year 2015, terrorists attacked the guest house where she was conducting a gender training workshop at Kabul, Afghanistan, and she was among the 14 people killed in the attack. ‘Martha Farrell Foundation’, an organisation formed in her memory, continues to promote her ideas and have trained over 25,000 employees on the prevention of sexual harassment at workplace in the last one year.

Jointly instituted by Rizwan Adatia Foundation and PRIA, the Martha Farrell Awards honours women and men who push the boundaries of everyday feminism, women empowerment and gender equality. We encourage you to join us in promoting the award by sharing the story and bringing it to the notice of those, whose work should be rightfully acknowledged.

Know more about the award here.

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Rizwan Adatia Foundation is an international development agency committed to improving the quality of life of the marginalized and underprivileged through strategic investment in focused areas of Asia and Africa.