Giving Wings to Women in India: Healthy women make a happy society
PRAVDA.Ru: Sheba, can you tell us what Pankh means?
Sheba Rakesh: "Pankh" is a Hindi word which literally translated would mean "Feathers" or more appropriately, "Wings"... for us at Pankh it translates into doing everything possible to provide Wings to Women---this specially to women, who for one reason or the other fail to map the sky of life.
In other words, in India, being a complex social set up, the lives of women face challenging situations and this is not necessarily with regard to or in stark opposition with men. Unlike the "normal feminist" beliefs that set up women against men or vice-versa; Pankh aims at developing the inner strength of women so that all feelings of "gendered competition" come to an end with women knowing the art of knowing what they deserve in life...and this stands true to emotional situations as well...
More often than not, one finds that that faced with challenging situations like the dowry onslaught, lack of education or socio-sexual harassment, women tend to believe that their lives have almost halted. Pankh aims at providing Wings of emotional and psychological strength to such women to enable them to see life as a part of a greater canvas...and let them know that accidents are only a part of life ...not life itself!
....And this is more so, because the emotional well being of women is the most underplayed aspect of their lives....so, Pankh , is Wings, Wings of Confidence , Strength and Freedom...yes...:)
PRAVDA.Ru: What does Pankh do to help women?
Sheba Rakesh: Pankh's mission is to empower women emotionally, sexually, financially, and protect them from humiliation by enabling them to lead healthy, happy and dignified lives -- because healthy women make a happy society. The following can broadly be listed as the major points that we intend focusing on...of course not to mention any other issues that encompass women's lives in general.
To provide expertise in the areas related to gender sensitization, women empowerment, community development, Information/Education/Communication (IEC) in issues pertaining to women's health, women's development, mother and child care, training, research and study work.
To provide facilities in the sectors of dowry, domestic violence, female foeticide, workplace harassment, sexual/emotional/financial atrocities on women.
To create awareness among women about self - reliance and to generate employment through self-help skills and honing potential development of women.
To develop the skills of women entrepreneurs in the area of management, marketing, research and product development.
To organise conferences, seminars, meetings, discussions, exhibitions, study tours pertaining to women's issues.
To promote, sponsor, submit, present deputation/memorials/petitions representations to local, state, union and other authorities of better laws.
To generally do all such things as are incidental to, and/or conducive to the attainment of the above objectives or any of them.
To promote conservation of water, trees and create awareness among the masses about drinking water and sanitation.
To create awareness about environmental protection.
To provide consultancy in health, hygiene, water, sanitation, family planning, child health, girl education through information, education and communication (IEC) activities with prior permission of the Government.
The trainings, as and when organised, will be imparted without charging any fees from the participants, and will be performed in social interest. We have already begun following our goals.
Pravda.Ru: When was Pankh set up and who is behind this initiative?
Sheba Rakesh: Pankh is one year old. Set up last year around the same time it has succeeded in doing some quality work for uplifting the status of women who needed its help. I have always been attracted to the idea of the upliftment of women who are not as fortunate as some of their privileged counterparts. My education, some of my very close personal experiences, and my family support helped me to go ahead with the idea of starting Pankh. After the completion of my Doctoral thesis in English Literature, activism had to be the next obvious step, and here was Pankh...
We have a team of experts backing us strongly from almost all the areas that need to be explored for the benefit of women. Pankh has been blessed to have received the support of medical experts, educationists, legal experts, counsellors and the much required media support to date. Also, since we understand that grassroot work needs "rooted" opinions, we have a continuous inflow of ideas and the timely gauging of social needs pertaining to women. I would say that as a token of appreciation, for the work being done, Pankh was selected as the Field Partner of the Safe World For Women Campaign , being run from UK and that of course gave recognition to the merit of our ideas and good work being pursued....although we understand and insist that much more needs to be done and we are working towards it. Indian women have their own complex set of issues and problems...we sincerely hope we shall be able to do something about it.
Pravda.Ru: What are your immediate and long-term plans for Pankh?
Sheba Rakesh: We at Pankh believe in spreading awareness...both about the atrocities being perpetuated on women and the best means of combating them...as also to sensitise people on why such atrocities should NOT be perpetuated at all...(And this is not easy again...because in some cases women are pretty strongly culturally conditioned into accepting their abuse happily).
So apart from telling women about the problems and the possible ways out of those problems; we believe in counselling men who need to be given measures to develop a more respectful approach towards women in general and (if possible, and we realise, this shall take a long time doing) look at them with a vision of being something more than mere sex/sheer sex objects...this of course shall need a very highly evolved psychological approach dealing with how the sexes, specifically speaking, are "wired" to think...:)
As you can see, the issue is rather complex and needs a delicate strategic handling....so we not only have this as our immediate goal but is also our long term planning. As I said, onus lies on Pankh to further the growth of women through financial empowerment via the "psychological strength" route. This happens to be a perpetual and long term plan for us....and of course, this with all the goals enunciated above.
Pravda.Ru: How can readers help?
Sheba Rakesh: Well...as I stated, over the last one year, we have seen much and tried much. At the same time like any organisation that is in the nascent stage, we do need help, specially monetary help. You see, being associated with The Safe World for Women Campaign, right in the initial stage has definitely helped us to project our goals in a clearer fashion and put them across with greater credibility levels, but the brass tacks remain so and at the end of the day activism does need financial backing. In the very first session on sexual and reproductive health that we had organised for the village girls...while we were able to handle issues verbally, when it came to helping them with things needed on larger scale, we did feel helpless...there are locations one would want to adopt and do something about but again the same issue. This is of course the larger picture, whereas regardless of all the problems faced, we have successfully tried raising of funds for our purposes. To quite an extent the challenge has been to create resources from an absence of them...:)
Ironically, the Indian system of governance, for all the good that it does on a social level, still does not dole out help to organisations in the initial stages...whereas I personally believe that this is the very crucial period when the organisations need to have a level of encouragement and help. Ever since we began we have been helping out with the help of private donations, patrons who think we are making a difference as well as our own funds, but indeed readers from all over are most welcome to donate for our cause as also to join in and send in their ideas about what would they like us to work on so that the lives of women can be made better in any possible way. The support sometimes may not be all monetary but even the smallest of it counts a lot for us at Pankh.
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PRAVDA.Ru interview carried out by Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey