Not that many years ago, Asma, a Muslim woman from Jaipur, was living an intolerable existence with an abusive husband and extended family who beat and verbally bused her. By chance she heard about the Muslim Women’s Initiative (MWI), a USAID supported program that has been working in Rajasthan and Karnataka to increase Muslim women’s awareness of their rights under Islam and the constitution, to build their self-esteem, and to encourage discussion on stemming domestic violence. This initiative is part of USAID’s broader program to promote women’s legal rights in India. With the support of the women and men involved in the MWI in her community, Asma was able to confront her family, secure in the knowledge that she was no longer alone. Today, those who know Asma marvel at the transformation of the broken and desperate woman of three years ago into the confident business woman who now employs ten people – including four men – in her own sewing business. Asma credits the MWI program and the support it provided for this remarkable turn around. In addition to gaining self confidence and enterprise skills, she also re-enrolled her daughter in school, thus ensuring a second generation of empowered women. As a result of the initiative, thousands of Muslim women are now emerging as development agents within their communities, helping to empower women like Asma, who are some of the most vulnerable in India: those who have the triple burden of being poor, female, and from a minority religion. Many of these women were in Jaipur last week to celebrate their successes and the award of a new grant from the OneWoman Initiative (OWI), an international women’s empowerment fund administered by USAID and the U.S. State Department with the resources and experience of a diverse group of private sector co-chairs. OWI invests seed grants to existing projects that have demonstrated success in enabling women to realize their potential.
Building on USAID’s program, OWI awarded $100,000 to the Group for Urban and Rural Development (GUARD) for its work helping women realize their legal rights, social empowerment, and leadership potential through the MWI. Because knowledge is only the first step for women to realize their full potential, Guard will use the additional support for a new initiative, called “Burlandi” (Hindi for “uplifting”), to focus on enterprise development.
The joyful event, held in the shadow of the beautiful Amber Fort outside of Jaipur, included songs, speeches, skits, and poems. But by far the most moving and resonant element of the program were the many testimonials from the women who have been and will continue to benefit from the work of the Muslim Women’s Initiative. One by one, women stood up to tell their often painful but always inspiring stories.
The OneWoman Initiative is bound by the belief that one woman, with appropriate support, can help transform whole economies and regions. Nine year old Aisha perfectly illustrated that sentiment. Although little Aisha witnessed her mother, Rafat’s, first abusive marriage, she also saw the support her mother received from the MWI that enabled her to divorce the husband and move on. Now happily remarried and confident, Rafat is an inspiration to her daughter, who recently formed her own group of young girls committed to working on issues of domestic violence, cleanliness, and education. Realizing at a young age the power of one person to transform others, Aisha led a school procession against terrorism following the tragic events in Mumbai. Aisha and her mother spoke eloquently of their experiences and, with Rafat’s mother proudly looking on, three generations of empowered women were together at the event.
More success stories from India can be found on http://www.usaid.gov/in/newsroom/inside india.htm