Who is an achiever? Is it someone who has innumerable accolades to their name? Perhaps. At Her Circle, we think of an achiever as somebody who makes a difference. It doesn’t matter how old this achiever is, what their identity is, or how many awards they have under their belt. As long as their life’s work helps you strive to learn more, improve, be proud of the voice you have, and set off to chart your journey, it is more than enough to qualify you as an achiever. We have been privileged to be able to share the stories of such inspiring women achievers from all walks and fields. As Her Circle completes six months, let’s take a look at the experiences and life lessons these women taught us.
Girls who dream bigAge cannot limit your dreams, and these young women prove that. In a year when the acceptance rate at Harvard University was only 3.4 per cent, Seema Kumari not only secured a place in the undergraduate course at the reputable institution, but also bagged a full scholarship for the same. Kumari’s advice to those girls who want to pursue an education and a career is to be self-assured and confident. “We know the choices that we should be making,” the girl from Ranchi suggests. Three young sisters in Indore—Vanshika, Advika and Mahika Sangla—made just such a confident choice during their summer vacations this year. They decided to send nutritious and delicious snack boxes to frontline workers in their city, whether it’s doctors and nurses or police and sanitation workers. More kids joined their initiative, Little Hands, and by mid-June, they had delivered more than 5,000 boxes across Indore. “We really want to continue [our initiative] even after COVID because the problems of the world, they don’t end just like that,” the Sangla sisters told us.
Education, awareness and rights are linkedBut what do women really need to be able to grow, thrive and become achievers themselves? Dr Sangita Reddy, Joint Managing Director, Apollo Hospitals, Immediate Past President, FICCI, highlights two focus areas: women’s health and ensuring that women are enabled and empowered enough to be able to have careers in STEM fields. Education is therefore vital. Dr Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research, Delhi, believes that education is indeed the “spirit and essence of empowerment”, but one needs to go beyond just getting a degree. The focus has to be on challenging norms and stereotypes that hold us back. Naina Lal Kidwai, the former head of HSBC India and Past President, FICCI, also highlights the same: “For too long women that were ambitious were seen as demonstrating inappropriate behaviour. It was okay for men to be ambitious but not for women. I think that has to change.”
Ira Singhal, an IAS officer and the first disabled woman in the country to top the UPSC exam, suggests education needs to be more inclusive, and raising awareness about key issues is vital here. Learning sign language, for example, is one initiative we should all be taking. Singhal’s work with the transgender community also underlines the fact that increasing acceptance of those who are seen as different is a vital part of awareness campaigns. Pragya Pallavi, the indie musician behind India’s first “for LGBTQIA+” album, clearly proves that you could use art and music just as much as new laws and policies to raise awareness and educate people.
Striving for sustainabilityOne of the key issues the world is increasingly becoming more aware of is climate change and the need for climate action. Sustainability is not just a buzzword, but a way of life that needs to be adopted by all if we are to make the world safer for generations to come. Leading the charge in bringing about the much-needed change in the fashion industry, is designer Anita Dongre. Apart from starting initiatives and collaborations for fashion sustainability, she is also striving for social sustainability. Dia Mirza, actor, producer, UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador and Advocate for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, is also leading by example. Not only is she aiding campaigns like Beat Plastic Pollution, but also showing the world that it is possible to have beautiful, sustainable weddings.
Women entrepreneurs like Anamika Sengupta are proving the same through their own lives and businesses. Sengupta, who is raising a child without any plastic or gadgets around, is also making similar choices available for parents across India and the world through Almitra Tattva and Almitra Sustainables. Ruchi Jain is bringing a similar revolution in the Indian agricultural and food scene through Taru Naturals, and its wide network of small-scale farmers who grow organic crops and products. Changing our lifestyles and making smarter choices as consumers are the needs of the hour, according to Jain.
They bring change where it’s needed the mostSustainable living and more access to education aren’t the only things women today need to know more about. Navya Naveli Nanda, through her healthcare startup, Aara Health, is proving that reaching the grassroots is the best way to initiate awareness and change in the world. Gayatri Gandhi, India’s first Marie Kondo certified decluttering specialist, is trying to convey the idea that maintaining a minimalistic, decluttered lifestyle can improve your mental health like nothing else can.
One of the things that impair the mental health of women, especially mothers, a lot is guilt. Mandira Bedi, during her conversation with us, insisted that whether you’re a working parent or not, taking time out for yourself should be guilt-free. “Just be kind to yourself,” she insists. Captain Shalini Singh, also a brave mother, insists that looking at ourselves beyond what society thinks we should be is crucial. It’s only with courage and a passion for independence that women can strive to be truly empowered.
Women in SportsProving that courage and inner strength can indeed help women win the day is Deepa Malik, the Paralympian who has not only brought glory home for herself, but for the entire nation. Malik’s refusal to be bound by her disability and wheelchair led her to use the same wheels to bring momentum to para athletes in the country today. Making a mark in another field that people rarely associate with women is Geeta Saini, a bodybuilder who is a national-level champion aspiring to win global glory for India. These are the women building remarkable legacies for girls in the country to be inspired by.
Women who rule world kitchensIndian-origin women around the world are slowly but steadily making a mark in the culinary world, which was previously dominated by men. Chef Romy Gill, who is also the first Indian-origin woman restaurateur to be given the MBE by Queen Elizabeth II, has proved by example that you don’t need to essentially be a trained chef to go far in the field. Hemu Basu, a Houston-based cake sculptor, is also leading by example to inspire women who want to break into the culinary industry. Another Indian-origin woman doing the same is Depinder Chhibber. She might not have won MasterChef Australia, but she proved that an amateur chef can cook just as well as professionals from around the world, while juggling the pressure of a reality show and reputed culinary competition.