Malala Yousafzai, activist and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, once said, “If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”
And what better way to drive change than standing up for what is right? Across the world, women activists have played important roles in fighting against many evils, and their contribution to activism is unparalleled. In India too, numerous women have, for decades, stood up for the right kind of change.
Let us look at some of the women activists whose passion and hard work has brought about a lot of change in the society.
An alum of Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry and Indraprastha college in Delhi, Aruna quit her teaching job and became a civil servant (active between 1968 and 1974). She played a crucial role in making the Right To Information Act see the light of the day.
She founded the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a grassroots organisation that works for the upliftment of workers and peasants. Aruna believes clearly on the question of her Right to Dissent.
In 2011, she was named as one of the ‘100 most influential people across the world’ by Time magazine. For her contribution to the society, she received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2000.
In 2010, she also became a recipient of Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for Excellence in Public Administration, Academia and Management.
Born in Dehradun, Vandana’s love for nature was sown by her parents. She has written and spoken extensively about agriculture and food, actively assisting grassroots organisations of the green movement in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Ireland, Switzerland, and Austria. In 1982, she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology.
Vandana’s activism has mainly been against genetically modified seeds and protection of native seeds that led to the formation of Navdanya, a national movement aimed at protecting the integrity and diversity of living resources. Navdanya has been able to set up more than 122 community seed banks. Shiva received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize, and was named in BBC ‘100 Women list’ in 2019.
Best recognised for being the founding member of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Medha holds an MA in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Science. Her social work revolves around issues faced by tribals, farmers, dalits, labourers, and women facing injustice in India.
She is also one of the founders of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), which is an alliance of hundreds of people’s organisations. Earlier, Medha was a commissioner on the World Commission on Dams, which analyses the environmental, social, political, and economic aspects of building large dams globally.
She has been a recipient of many local and international awards for her work towards the environment and for fighting for the rights of the downtrodden. She won several awards, including Right Livelihood Award (1991), Goldman Environmental Award (1992), Green Ribbon Award by BBC (1995), Person of the Year BBC (1999), Mother Teresa Award for Social Justice (2014), and many others.
The 50-year old activist from Kerala was instrumental in the ‘Right to Sit’ activism by female shop workers in the state. Viji was among the three Indians on BBC’s prestigious ‘100 Women 2018.’
Seeing injustices meted out to shop workers in Kerala, she created Penkootu, a women’s group in 2009, which means ‘women for each other.’ Viji is the leader of Asanghaditha Mekhala Thozhilali Union (Union for workers of unorganised sectors). Based on her activism, the Kerala government changed the laws to secure a better working environment for women- proper breaks, fixed working hours, and the “right to sit”.
The first graduate in her family, Pramila is an Indian lawyer and a well-known women’s rights activist. She is the first woman to be elected in the past 50 years to the Karnataka Bar Council as Chairman of the Bar Association.
She has submitted various reports to the Government of Karnataka and Government of India on issues such as child labour, house and rent control, domestic violence, prisoners plight, and sexual violence at work.
Pramila heads Samragni Swa Udyog Trust, an organisation whose objective is to uplift women and special children. In 2018, Power Brands awarded her the Bharatiya Manavata Vikas Puraskar for being a powerful negotiator for the law and working for women’s rights and the underprivileged.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)