International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8th every year, is a day to recognise the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, while also highlighting the ongoing challenges they face in achieving gender equality. In India, gender inequality remains deeply rooted in society, leading to numerous challenges such as low literacy rates, limited economic opportunities, and widespread discrimination and violence, particularly affecting women in rural areas.
WOTR has been working towards sustainable development since 1993 and has been addressing these challenges through its theme of women’s empowerment. Empowering women in rural areas has been a significant part of its mandate, recognising the crucial role they play in the economy and development. With women being particularly vulnerable to the effects of Climate Change, WOTR has doubled down on its efforts to offer a more equitable space for women.
However, WOTR initially faced stiff challenges in empowering women, such as women’s lack of confidence and their reluctance to accept interventions from outsiders. While most development programmes include women-centric activities like Self Help Groups and livelihoods promotion, these are aimed at the economic and social empowerment of women. WOTR realised early on that for true empowerment, women had to be free from generations of bias and prejudice and this required the healing of the inner self.
Atma Darshan – WOTR’s Inner Life Integration and Healing approach
To address this, WOTR adopted an innovative approach called the “Inner Life Integration and Healing” or Atma Darshan approach. At the core of this approach is meditation, which is used as a tool to help individuals connect with their inner selves, reflect on their lives, and make sound choices. The aim was to address deep-rooted cultural biases against women. The approach was not just limited to women but also included men, as changing mindsets requires their involvement too.
Through Atma Darshan exercises, both men and women were sensitised to their own biases against women, leading to the empowerment of women. The meditative relaxation exercises in a safe space helped women feel more confident about their capabilities. It also ensued in fruitful discussions on raising awareness about the importance of gender equality.
In response to the alarming cases of female infanticide in certain villages of Maharashtra, WOTR launched its “Save the Girl Child” project in 2015. The main goal of the project was to empower women and enhance awareness about the significance of girl children. It was a comprehensive effort that involved working with the entire community, including men and adolescents, not just women.
As expected, WOTR faced numerous challenges during the project, including overcoming deeply ingrained gender biases and social norms. However, the Atma Darshan approach played a significant role here too. The approach helped communities develop a deep understanding of the value of girl children and see them as equal members of society. In six years, selected villages of Aurangabad district in Maharashtra saw the sex ratio dramatically improving, from 863:1000 to 1113:1000 (girls:boys).
The success of the “Save the Girl Child” project is a remarkable example of community engagement and empowerment, demonstrating that lasting change is possible when communities are involved in the process. WOTR’s use of the AtmaDarshan approach provides a model for similar initiatives to create gender-equal societies that value and respect all children, regardless of their gender.
In conclusion, WOTR’s innovative approach to women’s empowerment through Atman Darshan has helped women gain self-awareness, self-realisation, and self-confidence, while also sensitizing men to their own biases against women. On this International Women’s Day, let us celebrate the achievements of women and their efforts to create a more equitable world through various innovations.
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