International Day of Rural Women (October 15): Breaking The Generational Cycle: Five Inspiring Women Driving Change in Rural India
Dolly Sarpanch, Roshni Perween, Mausam Kumari, Rohini Patnaik, and Varsha Raikwar are blazing new trails for other women.
In a report this year, the World Bank stated that even though women constitute half of India’s population, their benefits from the country’s economic prosperity remain disproportionately affected.
In rural India, women face unequal access to education, acute gender discrimination fuelled by patriarchal control over their lives, are often pushed into early marriage, and have limited overall agency.
Lack of employment opportunities, gender restrictions, domestic work, and childcare responsibilities clip their wings and restrict them to conventional roles. However, some women are changing this narrative and showing how to break new ground. They are contributing to the rural economy and changing social dynamics within their communities.
Hailing from different parts of India, these women are standing up to counter gender bias in climate action, opposing child marriage, and challenging social stigma and prejudices in the heart of rural India through their brave initiatives.
As a two-time woman Sarpanch in Bihar’s Gaya district, Dolly wants to encourage greater women’s involvement in policy-making processes and is challenging societal norms that associate seats of power with men. She has petitioned the Ministry of Panchayati Raj in Bihar to issue directives to penalize government employees who promote the ‘Sarpanch Pati Culture’ in Bihar.
Her demand is clear: those found supporting male representation on behalf of elected women representatives must face consequences. She has also fought gender discrimination herself, and with the help of Nguvu Collective, an organization actively working towards empowering change leaders from marginalized communities, she aims to spread awareness about the power of women leaders.
A resident of Kishanganj, Bihar, Roshni is a survivor of child marriage. A Muslim woman from the Surajpuri community, she is now a fierce advocate of women’s empowerment. She wants to bring change in a community where illiteracy and child marriage are rampant.
The Change Leader has garnered significant backing from the Nguvu Collective for her efforts to prevent multiple child marriages within her village. Roshni has embarked on a journey of digital advocacy by initiating an online petition aiming to end child marriage in the Seemanchal region of Bihar by 2024.
Since 2016, Mausam has held a leadership position within a Kishori Samooh (Adolescent Group) in Bihar, where she actively champions the cause of adolescent health. Recognizing the urgent need for menstrual hygiene, she mobilized her group to collectively procure and distribute sanitary pads with the support of the Population Foundation of India.
During a meeting with the Bihar Health Minister and Executive Director of State Health Society Bihar, Mausam also highlighted crucial concerns, including the lack of information on adolescent health and the unavailability of sanitary pads for economically disadvantaged girls.
Consequently, an adolescent health corner was set up at the Sub-Divisional Hospital in Rajauli. Trained ANMs now offer counseling services, representing a significant stride in meeting the healthcare requirements of adolescents, especially girls, in Bihar.
Rohini Patnaik is inspired by the nutritional richness of millet, one of India’s oldest staple foods. The leader of a self-help group (SHG), Patnaik, decided to establish a ‘millets cafe’ to bring the goodness of this wholesome grain to the larger community of rural Raipur.
Empowered by Transform Rural India (TRI), designers of development solutions that work on bringing equal opportunities to rural areas, she founded this cafe, which quickly captured the hearts of Raipur’s residents with its diverse and delicious offerings. Its resounding success also drew the attention of Prime Minister Modi, who visited and lauded it.
Varsha is much more than a vibrant radio jockey from Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh. Having experienced first-hand how conversations about climate change often exclude women, she now passionately strives to inspire more women to volunteer and join initiatives related to climate action.
For Varsha, inclusivity marks the starting point for any lasting change in rural India, and she is wholeheartedly committed to helping women with solutions in resource management and eco-friendly choices.
Guided by the Women Climate Collective (WCC), she is also a proud United Nations Young Climate Leader (2021) and organizes street plays and seminars to spread awareness about climate issues.