TheRED ELEPHANT FOUNDATION An Initiative for Peace and Gender Equality through Storytelling


With nearly 70% of professional sports offering equal prize money between men and women we wanted to take a closer look at the prize money and endorsements associated with certain events and competitions. James Smith took a top male and female athlete from a selection of professional sports to see how their salaries and sponsorship deals compare.

As expected the men are earning a substantial amount more in professional football than women but both sexes are entitled to same prize money for winning a grand slam tennis event. The infographic contains a range of detailed statistics on money individual prize money offered across a number of events as well as a history of equal pay in professional sport and an insight into sponsorship and TV deals which affect the levels of money in sport.

Written by Hafsa Badsha

There’s this warm, pleasant medley of scents that hit you as soon you enter 1777 Fifth Ave, San Diego, home to the Tomorrow Project. The source sits on a table in the centre of the room; neatly arranged packages of soup, ranging from flavours like Tropical Lime Pink Peppercorn to an Indonesian Curry Spice Mix. In a room to the left, stationary spills out of every corner, in all sizes and shapes. These are just some of a few projects the women at the Tomorrow Project have been working on, products that will go out into the market to be sold, under the guidance of staff member Shayna Jennings.

It’s a busy, bustling morning when I arrive to meet Shayna, and as decided, we have 30 minutes to wrap up our interview, after which work proceeds. The Tomorrrow Project runs like clockwork, everything precise and in perfect order, qualities needed for an institution that helps rehabilitate homeless and unemployed women and prepares them for employment.

“It’s a job readiness program for homeless and low income women in San Diego,” Shayna explains to me, “It began in 1994 as program of Catholic Charities and was initiated by Sister Raymonda and Martha Ranson,. In ’94, we realised that though we had other services for women, like a drop in day centre and night shelter, but we saw that with the women coming through those programs, there was a need for job training. They needed something productive to do with their time, and to be able to move forward.”

The women come from a diverse range of backgrounds, with their own struggles and stories. “Some women have Master’s degrees and have literally lost their jobs and have literally lost their jobs, women who may have recent issues and women who are still in recovery. We’re seeing higher barriers that women are combating,” says Shayna, “Whether that be mental illnesses (which 80% of the women are diagnosed with), substance abuse, criminal histories, or physical disabilities. When they go out to seek jobs, these are the factors that hinder them and make it challenging. We want to instil the tools and training that enables them not only to get a job, but to keep it.”
Creating a work environment at The Tomorrow Project’s centre is vital, says Shayna, as well as helping women adapt and settle into a new space. “It’s not like a typical job where if you don’t show up on time, it could get you into trouble. Instead, we look at the situation, using it as a coaching opportunity and say, ‘Ok, what happened and how can we fix this?’” Helping the women get back into the flow of a workplace is also something they work on, “We’re trying to help them get back to coming into work on time, to remember what it’s like to work for six or seven hours.”

The job market has drastically changed the way it approaches potential employees in the last few years, a turn of events that hasn’t always worked in their favour, “I think the biggest challenge now is electronic, you don’t have that face to face interaction anymore,” says Shayna, “You don’t have quite the human touch that you once did. For the women that we work with, the internet is a very different environment, considering most are 50 and above.”

The Tomorrow Project has utilised its space wisely, channelling it into a job hub of sorts. They help the women source jobs, with different companies approaching them directly for employees, and also have various tasks within the organisation that create products that are sold locally, like their soup. “We have an assembly line process that creates simple tasks for anyone to be able to; it creates a level field for everyone to start on,” says Shayna, “The soups are one part of what we do. We also do piece work; we have companies that send us product and we put them together. We’re working on charm bracelets right now, as well as a stationery company called the Loom and a coffee roasting company called Café Modo.  They said us huge bags of tea, and we weigh it, portion and box it out.” The women are giving a stipend for the products they make, an amount that is used to slowly help them get back on their feet, “There was a woman that did not finish high school and didn’t have a diploma,” Shayna tells me, “One of the things that we worked was saving the money that she earned here to take some of those classes and get her GED.”

Around us, what has been a quiet environment for nearly half an hour is slowly coming back to life. Women start moving to their workstations to work on piecing together the charm bracelets in front of them. With Shayna and her volunteers are quick to remind them of their tasks, both motivating and encouraging them, The Tomorrow Project Centre is as energetic a force as when I entered.

I look up. It’s 12:30 on the dot. Back to work. 
Written by Vaishnavi Pallapothu and Sneha Sridhar 
Geeta Madhavan is the first woman in India to receive a Ph. D in Law on International Terrorism. In 1997, she crossed off an important milestone of her life when she was awarded the 'Doctoral Scholarship for Advanced Research in International Terrorism' by the The Hague Academy of International Law at the Hague, Netherlands. She was the only person from Asia to be awarded in that year! In addition to being an avid blogger, Ms Madhavan is also a teacher. She teaches at University of madras and Dr. Ambedkar Law University as a guest lecturer. Her specialization lies in International maritime law and International law and Nuclear Energy. Ms Madhavan is also noted for publishing numerous articles, papers and even published books on international issues such as terrorism, maritime laws, human rights, refugees. Upon invitation from the US government, Ms Madhavan was invited to take part in an 'International Group Project on International Security Issues'. She has also attended the prestigious and well-known Salzburg Seminar and Wilton Park Conference at Brighton, UK. To top it all off, she is also a practicing advocate at the Madras High Court and is a partner of the legal firm, Madhavan & Associates. She is a founding member of the Chennai based, Centre for Security Analysis.      
On 27th April, we had the privilege to interview Dr Geeta Madhavan at her quiet household in Besant Nagar. When we first learnt about her, we must admit that we were completely clueless about her and her achievements. After reading up about her biography, we went to the interview with a lot of curiosity. 

If there was one word to describe our rendezvous with Ms Madhavan, it would have to be eye-opening. She provided such insightful answers to our questions. She was patient and thoughtful and she answered our questions with enthusiasm. After burning through the initial apprehension and hesitation, we were delighted to be able to speak with her freely even after the interview. She spoke to us about her hobbies and passions. She also gave us advice, which as students, I think we will go home and take to heart. 

Excerpts from the interview:

Law on international terrorism seems like a very specific and unique topic to do a Ph.D on. What inspired or motivated you to pursue a thesis like this?
When I was doing my Masters in International Law, I did my dissertation on International Drug Trafficking and Control and while I was working on that subject, I discovered that there was some kind of a nexus between drug trafficking and terrorism. Terrorist groups were using drug trafficking to generate money, so they could buy arms, recruit people and so on. After that, I finished my Masters on Law and subsequently thereafter I got married and took a six year sabbatical from my work. Only when my son went into regular school, did I decide to register for the Ph.D. But even before that, my interest only developed towards terrorism, because during this period the erstwhile prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was blown up by an attack by the LTTE in Sriperumbudur. So in that sense, I realized that terrorism had already come to India. Before that, we had what we call domestic terrorism. This means the people resorting to terror were citizens of India, whether they liked to be called that or not. The problem was internal. But this was the first time a terrorist group from another country committed an act of terror on our soil. That was when I realized the area had expanded, that it was no more going to be problems of terrorism within one country.

Coming from India and especially back then, when career choice was pretty binary with either engineering or medicine, what was your family's reaction for choosing this field?
I was one of those people who was very lucky to have found somebody who has always been extremely supportive of me. My husband has done so much to stand by me and he has always been there for me. My son has also been incredibly supportive. When I got into the thick of my Ph.D, my son said he was proud of me and adjusted to all the times when I could give him all my attention. He and I would actually sit together and study: I would do my work and he would be doing his work. My mother, of course, asked me 'how long are going to keep studying?'

Who is your biggest inspiration? Is there somebody particular who made you develop an interest in this field?
There is never one single person who affects you. Like, my father, he was very ambitious for me. I'm an only child and he always gave me the freedom of thought. In my time freedom didn't mean physical freedom, it meant intellectual freedom. My father was very supportive throughout my schooling and college. He gave me very tough timetables to live by and I had to follow it. Even my summer vacation had a timetable. So discipline, ambition and drive came from my father. The idea of deadlines, punctuality and keeping myself focused came from a lot of people around me. And then of course patience and perseverance, I think, comes from my husband. I don't think a single person ever acts as an inspiration; a lot of people contribute to it.

How was your experience at The Hague Academy of International Law?

The Hague Academy is King Solomon's mine for anybody doing International Law; it's a pool of gems. When I went there in 1997, I was very fortunate because I was the only one from Asia; I was selected as one of the three as you know. The campus town was very beautiful. I used to be at the library at 10:00 am and I used to work till 5:00 pm, that's when they closed the library. Then from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm, I used to go to the beach, because the sun sets at 10 o'clock in summer. I would just chill with all my friends and hit the pub at night. It was one wild roller-coaster ride, in the sense that it was fun, it was intensive work and balancing both was really amazing. Now, coming back to the Hague Academy, the library was just fantastic. The environment is so research friendly, it encourages you to read and learn more. If I ever had to run a library, that's how I would do it. The systematic borrowing is amazing there and even if we can't do it in public libraries, I wish at least school libraries would try to use that system. The campus is also really beautiful, it's got trees, flowers, ponds, black and white swans. When you enter, you are so calm and happy and it makes you work very hard.

You have a PHD and you also write several articles, papers and reviews for various platforms. Do you think there is a significant difference in terms of content and tone while writing each of these or is your approach the same for all of them?
Yeah, of course. When I write for international legal journals, it is obviously much more technical with more legal terms and conversation. When I write for newspapers, I have a hard time trying to simplify it and yet somebody recently told me “I read your article, I read it again and I couldn’t understand it”. That surprised me because I thought I had really simplified it.  That was an eye-opener and next time, I will try to make it even simpler. You will probably find some of my journal and newspaper articles on by blog and they are very heavy, tedious and didactic but you can also find some simpler ones like what is piracy and what are the myths about terrorism that I think even school children can understand.

What do you think is the main reason for the existence of terrorism?
Terrorism has been a part of human history for a very long time. The people who commit acts of terror have been doing so for a long time and for various reasons. Religious, ethnic and political reasons for example. But international terrorism has changed over time and what started as an opposition against regime has moved onto a lot more intensive, virulent and frightening form of terrorism. Today, civilian casualties are much more higher than it used to be before. Terrorists want larger and more theatrical actions thus mostly target innocent civilians who have no direct connection to the regime. They find it much easier to hit the softer targets since the leaders are usually heavily protected. To gain attention, they target the public spaces like subways, train stations and markets. That is why you find that even the USA only refers to the world trade centre incident and not the Pentagon one. They won’t mention it because the Pentagon is not considered a civilian target.

What do you think the future of terrorism looks like? How relevant is it in today’s world?
It will be there. You can only counter it and you cannot eradicate it. The cycle of terrorism starts with recruitment, it grows, it gets flushed with funds because of support, it becomes more and more ruthless to that point it thinks it is invincible, it takes on the state or country and ends up being annihilated. Every group somewhat goes through a similar cycle and you find that when one group is tamed, another one is usually rising someplace else.

Why do you think research on terrorism is important for the future of our world?
I consider my research to be important because it focuses on how countries under the international law can tackle terrorism and how to come together to tackle it. Even if it takes a long time, the countries should take steps and start working towards it. Unfortunately, many countries have their own selfish political interests and that is why we are where we are today. There is a mutual consensus for piracy: pirates are considered enemies of all mankind so any country can act against a pirate. Until we (all countries) agree that terrorists are enemies of all mankind, and not sponsor or fund or train them or even give them logistic support, we cannot eradicate it.

*Edited for length and relevancy to answer

Malvika Iyer is a bomb-blast survivor and a motivational speaker. A bundle of power and energy, Malvika leaves you feeling incredibly inspired and moved as she tells you her story. 

Malvika Iyer
My story begins when I was 13 years old. It goes back to 2002. I grew up in a lovely city called Bikaner which is famous for its bhujia and lovely coloured clothes. I was a very friendly child – in fact, my family tells me that I was so friendly that I was always smiling, even at strangers. It didn’t take me a moment to break into a smile at a stranger even if I had absolutely no idea who they were. I had a very happy and a beautiful life as a child. My parents were very sweet. I lived in a very joyful environment with a lot of friendly people around me. I was a tomboy, and had a gang of girl friends and boy friends. It was a very healthy childhood.

This was when I had just entered my 9th standard. It was 2002, I had just turned 13. The accident happened during the summer vacations, on a Sunday afternoon. Six months before the accident, there was a fire in an ammunitions depot near my place, and as a result, there were many scattered shells in the city. A lot of pieces had scattered across the city, my house included. That was how I came across the piece that wound up causing the accident. It was a diffused shell, and it was something that everyone had seen and been familiar with. It looked like an oxygen cylinder and didn’t appear to have anything within. Everyone mistook it for a diffused shell that had already exploded. The inside was hollow, and it also had a top part that looked like it had needles, and everyone thought it was a hollow shell.

Some background - as a teen, I was very creative. I used to make a lot of art and craft out of waste. For instance, I used to go to a tailor shop nearby and pick up pieces of cloth to make wall hangings out of all of them. That Sunday, since the pocket of my jeans had torn off, I wanted to stick it back with a patch so I could use the jeans again. It was my favourite pair and I didn’t want to throw it. I had a patch of cloth and wanted to stick it onto the pair of jeans, and to make it sit, I wanted to find something hard to hit the cloth into place, and went to the garage to find something hard to hit it with. In the garage, fortunately or unfortunately, I found this shell. I assumed it was a diffused shell and was harmless, so I took it back to my room. I hit my jeans with the patch of cloth with the shell on the hollow side at first. Then, I turned it upside down and hit it again. I think it was fate calling. Just then, there was an explosion. This was an already diffused shell, so the explosion was of a low intensity. Everyone was there in the house, but I was the only one in my room when this happened. When it exploded, nothing happened to anyone else apart from me. The area I was sitting was completely damaged. It was full of blood, there was a smell of flesh burning. I lost my hands immediately. There was no hope of saving my hands. I was squatting down, and my legs were completely disfigured. The flesh and bones – it was all a mess. My leg was literally dangling on a tiny piece of flesh. My parents came running into the room the moment they heard the explosion.

At first, no one understood what had happened. They all thought some electrical appliance had burst, and no one thought a shell had done this. I suffered 80% blood loss and my Blood Pressure had dropped to zero. I was taken to the hospital. They didn’t think I would survive. My four main nerves on my limbs were cut. The doctors had given up completely. But somehow, miraculously, I survived and made it out of danger that night. They didn’t give me anesthesia because my body was in shock and I had zero blood pressure, so I watched everything and observed everything that was happening. I was not in pain for three days because of the shock that my body was in. But, I apologized to my mother immediately – I was a naughty child, and I did get into trouble a lot of times before. She told me that I would be fine and that I was not to worry. I didn’t realize the intensity of what had happened, but I remember seeing everything around me very clearly. I did know that something terrible had happened, but beyond that I had no idea. My mother was the one who screamed, “Meri beti ke haath chale gaye,” so that was when I understood that I had lost my hands.

From then, for two years, I had painful dressings being done and re-done on my body. My legs had to be cleaned continuously as there were splinters stuck to them. For two years, it was a very painful time. My mother asked my sister to stay with my aunt in Chennai, and we were in Jaipur. From then on, my mother took care of me.

My mother was always very positive. No one sat and cried next to me and told me that my life was over. But people outside of my family, i.e., strangers, would see me in hospital and feel sorry for me. I was a little girl and my hands and legs were bandaged and plastered and people would look at me with pity and say things like I was a child, and a terrible thing had happened to me and that my future was a dark place, and that nothing would go to me. That was when I realized that I didn’t want to be in a public place. I was very protected and nurtured by my family and friends. They were never negative and never made me feel negative. They never passed such comments, and were always happy and cheerful, and were confident that I would come out of it. My mother’s project was to get me out of this. But outside, it was a very scary place. Everyone would stare and talk, and it was very scary. I refused to go out – I was very happy when my family and friends supported me.

I then went to Chennai, when my treatment began to address my legs, as they were not healing in Jaipur. My mom literally carried me to Chennai, where the treatment began quite soon. I began responding to the treatment, and personally, made small steps – taking the television remote and operating it with my elbow. I didn’t complain much, but I would cry when it hurt while they did my dressings. There were never thoughts of “why me”. I was confident that I was going to get better and that my family was taking care of me. Maybe one day, I would walk. There were no negative thoughts at all – and it was surprising, too. We just never let anything negative hit us. After almost a year and a half after the accident, I started tying a rubber band around my hands and fixed a pen to write letters to a friend of mine in Bikaner. She told me that she was preparing for the tenth board exams, and I felt bad that I wouldn’t be able to take the exams. My surgery had been done and they asked me to use crutches, but I couldn’t use crutches because my hands couldn’t hold them. But I wanted to do the exams.

My cousin had attended a coaching centre in the next lane. I was not going to be able to make it as a school student because there were only three months left, so I had to appear as a private candidate. I told my mother that I wanted to attend the coaching centre and take my exams. That was my first step to recovery. I couldn’t stand the idea of lagging behind by a year, and my mother took me on her two-wheeler to the coaching centre each day. It was scary, at first. I was fitted with artificial hands and I wore short sleeves. Artificial hands are different from real hands and people looked at me. I was conscious and even felt a bit inferior as well. But I wanted to give the exams a shot, and I told the people at the coaching centre that I would come there every day.  They were very supportive and did not question my decision.

It was not easy learning all of it at first. I went to the coaching centre each day and my mother would come to feed me. I couldn’t write, so I had a writer to write my tests. Initially, I was reading maths and trying to learn maths and science. It was difficult – imagine learning geometric figures without writing. The first two tests took place and I did very well. The coaching centre spotted that I had some talent and they decided that they would encourage me. Before the accident happened, I was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. I was a trained kathak dancer and I would hardly study. But this time, since I couldn’t run around or do anything with my hands and legs, I decided that I would channelize my energy into studies. I wanted to, as well, and since I couldn’t dance or swim or skate, this was what I wanted to do. I studied very hard over those three months.

I didn’t hope for anything great, I just wanted to do my best. I did the exams well, and gave it my best shot. I dictated all my answers to a scribe. It was painful, I had a lot of pain in my throat after all the dictation. I spent time to see that all the spellings were right and that the writer had taken down all that I said. A month later, the results came. I did not expect it – I had turned out to be a state ranker! I had scored 100 in math, and in science, and I scored 97%. It was like a dream. After that, things changed.

Local news outlets covered my story, and then came the major newspapers and television channels. Then, I was invited to meet Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who invited me to the Rashtrapati Bhavan with my parents. He spoke to me in Tamil and asked me what I wanted to do, and my dreams. I told him that I just wanted to go to a regular school and no longer be a private candidate. Many schools then invited me to study at their place, but my mom picked the nearest one as she had to pick and drop me. I did my twelfth, and wanted to study at St. Stephens. I studied very hard, and knew that the cutoffs would be very high. I made it somehow.

In school, life was different. In college, I had simple dreams – to walk a little more, to stand for a little longer, to climb stairs and to write. I had kind of begun accepting that this was how things would be, but I hadn’t accepted my body. I met amazing people from all over the country. I was shying away a lot at that time, wearing full sleeved clothes and not encouraging shaking hands. I did that a lot in college, trying so hard to be normal and what I am not. I then did my masters in Social Work and worked with a lot of differently abled children as part of my fieldwork. That made me realize that it is okay to not have two hands and still be a perfect person in what I did.

The fieldwork experience opened my eyes and I felt that it was my true calling. I felt like I could associate with them. I was also different, but I was going to make a mark. I came back to do my M Phil research on people with disability. I had hidden myself and not told my story. People never knew about my story until they met me. So for the first time, I wrote my story on social media, and TEDxYouth Chennai was the first outlet to find out about my story. I then talked about my story with a lot of people.

After that, on the tenth anniversary of my accident, I wrote about my story on Facebook, again. A lot of people wrote to me, telling me that they appreciated me. I felt like I had a greater degree of responsibility now that a lot of people were beginning to hear my story. I then began to talk about issues such as inclusion and universal designs, and also hosted the India Inclusion Summit. I was called to South Africa, Jakarta and Norway, and talked about accessible elections. I was also selected as a Global Shaper,an initiative of the World Economic Forum.

I started my PhD and worked on the concept of attitudes towards disability. I designed my own questionnaire and about a thousand students took the survey. I came up with my own module and wanted to introduce modules to address the attitudes that are formed against disability, and then wanted to structure approaches to shifting these very attitudes. I submitted my thesis to the Madras School of Social Work recently. I was also invited to attend the Women in the World Summit in New York this year, where I was awarded the first Women in the World Emerging Leaders Award.
I worked with the NIFT and the Ability Foundation, and as someone who loves fashion, I realized that finding clothes that fit around my artificial limbs was very difficult. I began to advocate for accessible fashion. It was an amazing experience for me to walk the ramp in the beautiful outfits that NIFT had designed or me. My feet hadn’t yet healed so I walked wearing floaters and not heels. I now promote accessibility of fashion, too.

I have had the chance to speak across different platforms, but what really makes a difference to me is how some people have come back to tell me that they were inspired to act or do something in their own lives. For instance, once, a lady who was aged but wanted to learn to drive, actually got out and made the effort to get her license. My favourite part of all my speaking opportunities remains these stories of determination and grit. This is what the last three years of my life have been like.
I am currently living in the US.When I look back, I realize that I had never planned any of these things. I realized that people give a lot of credit and importance to success. Everything is outcome driven and norm-based. It is important, though, to embrace failures, and that is what my mother taught me. She told me always, that even if I had never scored so well and got such high marks, it would still have been an accomplishment for having given those exams my best shot. At the end of the day, it is how you survive your challenges that matters the most. Acceptance is the greatest reward we can give to ourselves – the day I accepted everything, I was able to understand things better.

By Manmeet Kaur

Uncompromisingly bloody red water stood in my veranda. My feet itched with its lightness as I struggled to drain the water through the perpetually choked drain. Covered in sweat and water and miserably tired of the unyielding task, I sank into the pool, pulling the red chunni off the drying rope with me. I sat there for a long time, staring at the masterful scores of zardozi that had covered me from top to bottom on my wedding night. My hand slipped to the patch which had proudly carried the chaashni stain from the rasgulla my friends had forced down my throat right before the ceremony. I had just finished washing it off, discolouring the cloth and erasing even remote signs of what it looked like for those few moments before the circumambulations. Those few happy moments: the last ones I truly was in possession of. Below me, the water at the edges of the dupatta began to change colour- becoming bloodier and thicker by the minute. I laughed at the possibility of it turning white if I sat soaked there for a long time.

The teak door to the bedroom at the end of the corridor gleamed like a lonely paradise in the dark with faint hints of residual light from an oil lamp. I wiped my face with the white dupatta that I had carelessly draped over my flimsy blouse and let it drop on the floor as silently as dew drops. The news had been slightly unbelievable, though not unwelcome by any standards. I had laughed silently under my veil after feigning a stupor, feeling like an undeterred murderess through and through.
The funeral had been a quick affair: no one cared for an old man with no wealth, or children. That helped. No one expected me to cry once the wave of first intimations died out. I sat calmly near him, as his lifeless frame stretched from one corner of the room to other. It was a humungous task to hold the laughter back- the tininess of the room forced the men to place his body diagonally across the room, reducing him to a plaything for the ones yet far away from the finality of such a posture. For once, their callous, unreasoning traditions helped me walk back to my room while the men carried my husband to be burned. And here I was, sitting on the floor near my room, not wanting to open that teak door.

I had always found the teak door to be a massively miscalculated move. It simply did not go well with the otherwise decrepit curtains which passed for doors and the damp, cracking walls which held this equally fragile family together. It was only after seven years of my marriage that I had understood how the teak door came to be where it was. It was my father’s desperate attempt to safeguard my privacy with my sagging, useless husband. I was 13, he? 45. What was my father even thinking? It was a funny story for another day if you come to think of it. But today, today I was in triumph, and while in triumph frivolous amusement feels like an utter waste of time.
It had been nine years since I came through these doors and entered the life of a married woman. Initially, I was ecstatic. It felt like being inside of one of those dollhouses. But gradually, the permanence of the shift began to sink in. I had never been fond of my husband but almost unknowingly, I fell into an irreversible detestation. I never wanted to kill him though; I just wanted him to die. And today, he did.

I walked up to the teak door. Its unwelcoming, cold touch allowed me to pass right through the room and into the veranda. She was waiting. Her face stared back at me like a portrait by an amateur artist- lines still deepening, eyes still growing.  
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
I looked right into her eyes and waited for her face to soften. In a moment, eleven months came rushing down in thick drops of kohl till my face was wet with her words and memories.
I had met her eleven months ago in this veranda. She was doing what I had done nine summers back- washing and drying her bright red wedding dupatta. I smiled at her from my veranda and bent over to continue with my washing, but she was not to be ignored. Next moment, I saw her leaping across the wall and standing in my veranda, her red phulkari in hand.

“Help me dry this.”
It wasn’t a request. Without looking at the thick red cloth, I held an end of it and set it in motion. It flew welcoming the winds through its wet, oozing red pores. Our eyes twitched as the moisture fluttered all around us, setting scarlet droplets free. Soon, we were laughing as in a trance of the first rains jolting the lazy summer afternoons out of their slumber.

Before we knew it, we fell into a manufactured tradition. She would leap into my veranda, coming with a different coloured dupatta every day. Silently, we would talk while draping the folds of the tame cloth again and again. Wetting and washing, drying and draping...our mornings became sacred hours of solitude, leaving remains of a smile throughout the day.
I felt her hand on my cheek and saw the soot coloured tears washing her palm.
“I’m happier than I have ever been.”
She looked at me with an expression of one who knows, but doesn’t say.
“Wait for me.”
She went into her house as I wiped my face with a corner of my white kameez. An unexpected outburst of untainted, consummate love born out of the absolute knowledge of former sacrifice and falsity lay there, greying and softening the starched white cloth. I dreaded the thought of keeping up the white facade for days and years to come.
“Help me dry this.”

This time she stood in her veranda, her eyes urging me to leap over. I laughed with my face in my hands, in an effort to catch the involuntary tears. We sat there for a long time, sitting with the soaking wet red phulkari thrown over our shoulders. I shivered under its wet weight even as it coloured my white, dripping and daring to happily paint my future red.
Gender-based violence - any act of physical, sexual, and/or psychological violence towards a woman or girl -  is a major public health and human rights issue. Statistics reveal that 1 in 3 women experience some form of physical or sexual violence, often by an intimate partner (U.N. Women, 2016). Although organizations and women’s centers dedicated to gender equality and violence prevention have been established for women around the world, mental health treatment for violence survivors remains a vital concern across the globe. Mental health treatment is often stigmatized due to societal, cultural, and/or religious factors. Female survivors of violence are typically blamed for causing and continuing their perpetrator's abuse (Roodman & Clum, 2001). Nevertheless, abuse victims usually remain in abusive relationships due to the societal and/or economic barriers placed upon their gender (U.N. Women, 2016). When surviving abuse - physical scars may heal - however the  psychological consequences are serious as thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are influenced.
This research project investigates the psycho-social effects of interpersonal and gender based violence, mental health treatment for female violence survivors, and the social context affecting mental health and treatment for violence survivors. 

Tabish Khair
Picture by Christopher Tommen
Tabish Khair’s books are on most bestseller lists: and it isn’t any surprise why. Besides his eloquence and gripping narratives, the themes he addresses hit home hard. Here is an interview with him, on his work, his writing and his views that shape his writing.

Take us through your childhood, your work, your family, your education - all to the extent that you believe informs what you do currently, and why you do it.
I was born in a Muslim middle class family in the small town of Gaya in Bihar, basically a family of doctors and engineers. I was educated in the local Nazareth Academy, and the local Gaya College and finally, for my MA, in the local Magadh University. Early on, I had realised that I had to write, and I started publishing, mostly poems, when I was in high school. My first serious publications were in the poetry page edited by Jayanta Mahapatra in The Telegraph. Later I won a national book competition, organised by Rupa and Co (Delhi), and had my first collection of poems published by them as a consequence. Then I moved to Delhi, mostly because a group of Islamists got angry at me in Gaya, where I started working as a journalist for The Times of India. After a few years I decided that I needed more time to read, write and think and that I had met enough murderers and politicians to last me a lifetime, and hence I ended up doing a PhD from Copenhagen University.

What got you into writing? What inspired the choice of topics and themes in your writing?
Well, as I said, I have to write. It is not a choice; it is more of a compulsion. It is what gives me the greatest feeling of completion, of being alive, of meaningfulness and sense – the only thing that compares to it (and it came much later, obviously) is the experience of being a parent. My themes and topics have to do with life. I am known as a literary writer, maybe even a cerebral one, but I am not driven by ideas and abstract words – I am driven by life and its experiences. I am interested in ideas to the extent that they are an essential part of human life.

Let's talk about Jihadi Jane. How did the idea come about?
I was born and brought up in believing Muslim circles, but at least my immediate family was unwilling to let mullahs and bigots tell them what to do, think, or wear. We were not ‘westernised progressives’ either: for instance, my father did not want even his sons to wear (tight) jeans! Coming from those backgrounds, I could not ignore what is happening. I could not just dismiss religion and religious people, as I know that the former can provide much solace and the latter can be good too. On the other hand, I could not ignore the evil that is done in the name of religion – often by people who see themselves as genuinely religious.

What went into the research you did on the subject? There's so much information out there on the ISIS and what's happening with the ISIS, but the authenticity of it all seems a bit unclear. How did you grapple with it?
It is not a study of ISIS, but rather a novel about two young women – from Asian families but born and brought up in England – who are attracted to ISIS and its notions of ‘jihad.’ These two women are very different from each other. And yet, they end up running off to Syria and Iraq to join the so-called jihad. That is what I was interested in, and I could draw upon a lot of religious people (some fundamentalist, some not) I have known, and my own observation of Muslims being attracted to Wahhabism, or being angry and frustrated at their inability to save other Muslims from persecution. So, yes, I did read about ISIS etc. – and autobiographies of Muslims who joined and left fundamentalism as well as ideological tracts by Islamists – but finally there was enough around me, in life, for me to draw upon. If there hadn’t been, I would not have written this novel – or completed it. The book is to be published in the UK and USA (Aug / Sept, respectively) as Just another Jihadi Jane.


As a person who views women and men as equal, and supports the principles of gender equality, you're also probably encountering terribly misinformed ideas like those of Trump (that Muslim women are oppressed and don't speak, for instance). What are some of your challenges as you reassert the ideas of equality through your work?
This is a very difficult question. When Trump, with his huge male ego and his trophy wives, makes a statement like that, he is essentialising and generalising in one direction. He is lying to himself or others. But when religious Muslims deny that there are some tendencies in many Muslim societies, supported by certain interpretations of Islam, that allow men to decide over women, and circumscribe the living space available to women, then they are also lying to themselves or others. Honestly, I feel that all the biggest socio-political challenges today – ranging from Trump to radical Hindutva and Islamism – are at their core sexist reactions: these, in different ways, are basically attempts by largely sexist men to continue dominating their families and societies, or to express anger at their inability to do so as much as they could in the past.

Would you like to elaborate on the line ‘But when religious Muslims deny that there are some tendencies in many Muslim societies, supported by certain interpretations of Islam, that allow men to decide over women, and circumscribe the living space available to women, then they are also lying to themselves or others.’? Perhaps if you could share a few examples that can help readers relate contextually?
There are too many examples, sadly. Let us take an obvious one: the hijab. A year ago, I met a well-known Palestinian poet, an intelligent Muslim woman dressed in what people would call ‘fashionable Western clothes’, who started decrying France for banning the veil. Note, she was not veiled at all, but she felt she had to take up this matter as a critique of the West. ‘Why don’t they ban the bikini too? It is just as demeaning for women. The veil is just a personal choice too,’ she said. Even though I am against bans that prevent women from going out and working or gaining an education, I had to point out that she was not being honest. Even if we overlook the technicality that the ban in France is not aimed only at Islam but at all religious symbols in public spaces, one has to point out that neither France nor any other ‘Western’ nation imposes the bikini on women. (Though, unfortunately, not all in the West understand this difference: witness the idiotic Burkini ban proposed in Cannes!) Still, you can walk down a beach fully clothed if you wish, and many people do. But some Muslim states impose the veil on women – and even secular Muslim societies often put compulsive pressure on their women to be veiled. So, alas, the veil is not a personal choice in these spaces. Until it becomes so, one cannot compare it to the bikini. At the moment, it is basically a limitation of the living space of women – imposed politically and by force. It is time to stop reacting to the West to such an extent that we keep lying to ourselves!

How difficult or how easy was it to write about a Jihadi Jane, as opposed to a Jihadi John? What role do you think radicalization continues to play in the lives of young Muslim women? Do you think they are doubly vulnerable now with the ISIS?
I would not be interested in writing about a Jihadi John – basically for the reasons given above. Jihadi Janes are a different matter: more complex, more torn, not just an ideological bully but also the victim of circumstances and ideas. And yes, women, in different ways, have been vulnerable in all male-dominated societies, and they still stay vulnerable. ISIS is just an extreme example. The only way to create a fair society is to give all human beings – including women – equal rights, without any excuse or sub-clause.

Ameena and Jamilla come from two totally different perspectives, and their lives dovetail with the most surprising of turns one can imagine. What went into your thought process to speak from the minds of both these girls?
It was important not to portray these women as automatons or zombies. I had to show that these women are driven by different reasons, that they think about their choices, that they are not just ‘brain-washed’ or ‘dumb’. This was important to me, partly because I know that it is true and partly because I was a man writing about women. This explains the differences between Ameena and Jamilla, and the dovetailing of their lives.

Let's talk about "How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position" - it was an exceptionally interesting book. What inspired that? - Islamophobia appears to be one of your recurrent themes - perhaps broadened into Xenophobia. Do you believe that we can shift mindsets when it comes to these issues?
How to Fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position was a more funny novel on religious prejudices – especially the prejudices that exist in Western and secular circles about religious Muslims. And yes, my Oxford study, The New Xenophobia is an exploration of xenophobia in general – which includes anti-Semitism, Islamophobia etc. But no, I am not just interested in Islamophobia – or in prejudices. My earlier novels, The Bus Stopped, Filming, and The Thing About Thugs, were about different issues and set in different spaces. What all these books do share is a concern with how people react to each other, how they shape themselves and others, how they lie to themselves or to others, how they manage to live despite obstructions, etc. – but then that is what most novels look at in any case. As far as Islamism is concerned, I feel I have now said everything I had to say about it. My next books are going to be about different issues.

Dr. Huma Ghosh
Written by Hafsa Badsha

I’m painfully early to meet Dr. Huma Ghosh, and it shows. Our meeting is scheduled for noon, and at 11:57 a.m, I shuffle outside her office awkwardly until she sees me. She catches sight of me, and with a surprised, “Oh, you’re already here!” waves me in with her tea flask.

If I’m overeager, it’s for good reason. Dr. Ghosh is the head of the Department of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University, and has spent publishing dedicated research that centres on the relationship and collaboration between two topics that most consider on the very ends of the spectrum of ideologies; Islam and Feminism. With fierce debate about the validity of the label Islamic Feminist, and a growing tribe of women coming to embrace it, Dr. Ghosh contributed her own voice to the dialogue in her paper Dilemmas of Islamic and Secular Feminists and Feminisms. It’s a hefty, detailed piece of work that argues how a comprehensive understanding of Islamic feminism could create positive dialogue regarding the future of Muslim women in both secular and Islamic states.
To Dr. Ghosh, feminism and strong female figures were never contained to academia, they were always a consistent presence in her life. “I grew up in New Delhi, India,” she tells me, “It was a feminist household where my mother was one of the earlier feminists, and her family background was also very liberal. I grew up with many aunts who were encouraged to pursue a higher education. Even my grandmother, I remember, did not cover her hair. Growing up, we had a sense of freedom and rights, and we saw our family fight for those rights.”

In the world that exists today, identity is a confusing avenue for many Muslim women to navigate through. Call yourself an Islamic feminist on top of all of it, and you’ll be marked a paradox, accused of either co-opting your stance as a Muslim, or a feminist.  In Dr. Ghosh’s experience, identity is often an image constructed for an individual by those around them, a series of constructs that ultimately lead her to her research. “Identity is how others perceive you, and not necessarily who you think you are.”

Both Islam and Feminism have their own bones to pick with other; Western feminists write off Islam as too primitive and held captive to the patriarchy, and Muslim women claim that mainstream feminism is too tinged with a saviour complex and underlying racism. The Islamic feminist is then left to try and tie two worlds together and find a place in both, and bridge building in something Dr. Ghosh finds essential. “We cannot underestimate the power of indigenous movements,” she says, “They exist. The tension between these two ideologies comes from male politicians, both in Muslim majority countries and in the west.” Dr. Ghosh believes in the existence of a hybrid feminism, a feminism that branches out from the mainstream to encompass other ideas and cultures, “If you go into women’s groups into these countries, you’ll see that their ideas are mushrooming and expanding. There is also a myth that women were not fighting for their rights until Western feminism came along. Women’s groups all over are digging back into their history and finding that women’s rights in India and Islamic states preceded the ones in the West. Feminism has to be culture specific, and it has to be based on mutual understanding and respect.”

The politics of a region is also what defines the presence of Islamic feminism. While Islamic
feminism may be growing in secular states, Dr. Ghosh brings light to the fact that in Muslim majority countries, the causes that women fight for are what she terms “issue-based” and still yet to counter or address gender hierarchies and norms. “In countries like Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, they come about to challenge certain issues, not the patriarchy as a whole. In Pakistan, there was a political women’s caucus in the Parliament. Women across different parties came together to work on the domestic violence bill. They were able to work on that issue, but they were unable to take things a step further, where they could talk about the gender hierarchies, or even about the power relationships between gender.”

So how do women in these countries take that step, I ask, when do they begin to question the rigidity of gender norms and inculcate feminism into their spaces? Dr. Ghosh carefully considers her answer for a moment.

“It has to be through education,” she says. “I think it has to do with working towards a high representation of women in politics and in decision making bodies. You have to take chances for change to happen. Keep at it.”

While Dr. Ghosh doesn’t personally identify as an Islamic feminist, she believes they’re on the right path, by going back to the Quran and deconstructing it, using the concept of ijthihad to apply religion within the context of its time. “There are many people who have both feminism and their faith within them, and I respect that. Change is happening in countries like Iran and even here in the West; there are many believers who quote the Quran and engage in deconstruction to claim their rights. While they may conform to certain roles as wives and mothers, they challenge the men in terms of their patriarchal roles.”

With the understanding of more hybrid forms of feminism growing, Dr. Ghosh sees a warmer reception for Islamic feminism in the Muslim community. “While there’s been more writing about gender and Islam, there’s also more visibility about being Muslim, especially amongst the women, and also a deeper engagement with women’s roles in Islam.” And with Muslim women going back to reclaim symbols that were considered oppressive, like the hijab, I ask Dr. Ghosh if this is also a mark of liberation. She responds in the affirmative.

There’s a long way to go for Islamic feminism, but a comprehensive understanding of it could impact a community significantly. “It’s the first step,” Dr. Ghosh says firmly, “You have to start somewhere. Secularism is ultimately what ensures women’s rights through a human right’s discourse.”

Trisha Shetty
She Says, an initiative that works as the step forward in educating, rehabilitating and empowering women to speak up and take direct action against sexual abuse, was founded by Trisha Shetty. In an interview with us, she chronicled the efforts that culminated in the project.

Often, people tend to ask me if I started She Says because I suffered abuse. Starting from a place of prejudice like that makes it appear like the issue is being marginalised. As a woman, I represent a social demographic that faces plenty of abuse and violation very regularly. People express a lot of anger about these issues, but it really needed strong engagement in order for us to address it.
The birth of She Says was really on the premise of “Zomato has everything.” If I go on Zomato, I have all the information I need on where I should eat. Menus are available, information on rates are up for everyone to see, there are reviews and even maps to help navigate. I don’t even need to call on a friend to ask for their help. That’s what I wanted to create to bridge the gap between the existing state of affairs and addressing sexual violence. Sexual Violence leaves one with an alienating feeling. It is a very difficult thing to pick up the phone and say that you’ve faced this situation, and that you need help. So, for someone in that situation, a step-by-step account of how to take action, the complete A to Z of all that one needs to know to get help was necessary.

Sexual violence is a public health issue. But there isn’t enough sensitization around it. The police isn’t always sensitive to the issue. Sometimes, they even chide the women for bringing up a complaint for something they don’t see as severe. People tend to be apathetic and tolerant of abuse – if you are hit or pinched under your waist, it doesn’t matter. If someone slapped your bottom, you keep quiet. But if you’re pinched on your boobs, you get furious. It is this climate of apathy that tends to look at certain crimes as okay and acceptable – but the point is that every crime becomes a gateway to an even greater crime. No one understands the nuances of sexual violence. Instead, they cry about it if it is a horrific rape – but the everyday occurrence under their noses remains ignored.

She Says was an effort to look into creating self-sufficiency in getting help. But it also came with a challenge. We need to keep our privilege in check. One of the things we understood in our journey so far is that the delivery and manner of communicating an issue makes a very big impact. It is a sad truth that people hear so much about these kinds of issues that they get de-sensitized about it. We should package and communicate the issue in such a way that we don’t polarize anyone. It can get too disconnecting for a person to be bludgeoned with talk of violence and abuse. But if you went to a community space where people congregate and package the communication in a way that they feel comfortable receiving, you can work wonders. For example, I once went to a bar that had a sign board that said, “Your woman. After a drink, our woman.” It was appalling – I later learned that it was a bit of a popular signage. Later, when I went to Delhi to attend a conclave, one of my friends had his girlfriend with him. His roommate told him that he was not intending to move out of the flat for him and his girlfriend to indulge in their dalliance. To that, my friend – who is generally very well meaning, and thought nothing of what he was saying – said, “It’s Delhi. There are plenty of buses.” This was right after the gang-rape incident in Delhi of December 16, 2012. It shocked me that we make these derogatory and jocular statements with such casual abandon – that it only made me realise that we should check our privilege.

Once, I was at the airport in Delhi, eating. Behind me, a man of about sixty was busy talking to people accompanying him – women and men around the same age. He casually dropped sentences like “If you excite a man, rape is inevitable”. He then described a case where a woman who was raped in the relative recent past was sitting in the front seat of a taxi, and blamed her for sitting there. Soon, he began to add to his diatribe, speaking of how marital rape is no crime at all because, “who else will a woman sleep with but her husband?” When he belted out a line to the effect that “inserting anything nowadays means rape”, I was outraged. The women in his company said nothing after a feeble attempt to tell him to leave it. I shared a piece of my mind, but was met with silence from him – which meant that he was conscious enough to keep quiet about it – but he was still unapologetic. This is the kind of mindset that needs to change.

On the other hand, there is also the glaring issue of how very few people know that they have rights that are actionable. For instance, there is a common notion that sexual relations that come from a place where a woman was promised marriage is often brought to court as rape. I don’t agree that it is rape, but an incident showed me how much of a premium is placed on certain parameters that stem from a gross lack of understanding. A young woman had come to us and told us that there was this man who had promised to marry her, and he kept trying to get her to come to a hotel to sleep with him. She refused, but he forced her, and there were CCTV grabs that showed that she was crying and upset about it all along when he dragged her into the room. He had sex with her, but did not marry her, and instead, married someone else. He didn’t let her marry, and spoiled her reputation in their social circle. She filed a case of rape – and wasn’t aware that the public prosecutor handles these cases, so she spent a large sum of money on a lawyer. He took a bribe from the other side and tried to pressure her into dropping her case. I tried explaining to her that her case did not fit within the definition of the term, but she genuinely believed that there was no role for consent to play in all of this. She believed that her body was his, and that now that she had lost her virginity, no one would marry her. It is important that we work around these mindsets.

 To deal with this, at She Says, we make it a point to ensure that whoever works with us gets sensitized about the issue. We sit and talk about it, and we also make it a point to stand up to point out or fight something that is not okay. We situate ourselves in spaces where people already congregate. We worked with the Music Festival team pre and during the duration of the festival to make concerts safer for women. This is part of SheSays’s premise of working with established institutions, where we are building a nexus of support to ensure safety of women in Public Places. We are also collaborating with Bars/ Restaurants across Mumbai in a similar capacity. We had posters like “No Dress Code, Check your Penal Code” and the like. We’re also working on a prevention and education module for schools and colleges. We are also trying to get the dialogue going on depression and PTSD as consequences of sexual abuse, and are attempting to help women reach out and get help. Right now, we’re also working around educating people on their rights, so that they can seek justice. We’re constantly advocating the criminalization of marital rape, and the release of a Sex Offender Registry List. 

Weighing in on the conversation with their powerful thoughts, two other team members of She Says add as follows:

Nishiki Bhavnani - Operations Director, SheSays and Matrimonial Lawyer - 
During the recent criminal law amendment ordinance, the reason for not making any changes to this marital rape law was that it would "weaken the institution of marriage".
The UN Population Fund states that more than 2/3rds of married women in India, aged between 15 to 49 have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex. The statistical data pertaining to marital rape in India clearly show is that sexual violence within marriages is undeniably common.
Rape is rape in every form when there is no consent. A person’s marital status shouldn’t justify or make a crime against humanity valid or legal. The importance of consent for every individual decision cannot be over emphasized.

Krutika Pursnani - Outreach Director, SheSays
As was brought out recently by an article published about an area in Delhi, a city becomes safer not when we give up the public spaces; it becomes safer when we reclaim them. 
Women must not base their comfort on the presence of men or the lack of it, t
he streets belong to 
Cities like Mumbai, especially in the youth dominated spots, must be well equipped to provide this safety. This is the idea behind SheSays tying up with bars; to get institutions to take direct onus towards safety of their patrons.

Caitlin Figuerido is a true humanitarian: whether it is in her personal beliefs or in the work she does. Here is her story in her own words. 

My name is Caitlin Figueirdo, and I am the Australian Global Resolution Ambassador, a UN SDG Task Force UN Goal Keeper and I work to empower the youth to create an equal world.
My vision and motivation for empowering youth and young women stems from my childhood, growing up in a multicultural migrant household and her experience of gender based violence and oppressive gender stereotypes. With my families' background, I recognised that while my experiences silenced me, youth and young girls in particular faced far worse situations. This recognition fuelled my determination to work with influential international organisations and build an interactive non-profit initiative that creates increased opportunities and empowerment for young women.
I come from a family of political migrants from Kenya. I am of Portuguese-Indian descent, having been in Goa. My grandfather got a job in Kenya, and left India – but when there was unrest there, my family moved out to Australia. When they came to Australia, they didn’t have much by way of means, so my grandmother gave up her dream of becoming a doctor like her father to take care of the family.  As far as I can remember, I always knew that it was my calling to help people, and to unify the world. Right from the time I could talk, this was all that I wanted to focus on. At home, my grandparents made it a point to instill these values in all of us – to the point that dinner table conversations had centered around the idea of how much we can do to help others. For my grandparents, life was not about how much money you could earn, but how much impact you could generate. At that point, I wanted to help people get out of lives of poverty, and access resources and facilities for a sustainable life. But, my tryst with gender equality began from my own story, as a survivor of gender based violence as a child. 
From age four to twelve, I faced gender based violence. I had to hide this, because people around me didn’t believe me. The abuser was too close, and used a cloak of lies to mask what was really happening, so the person who attacked me got away with what they did. I suppose I was attacked because I was a girl, and also because I was fiercely vocal against what we now call and recognize as Gender Stereotypes. I always stood up to injustice, and always called out stereotypes, and my attackers didn’t like that. I tried to defend myself – but I was beaten, and they tried to drown me. Despite the threats my abuser posed on my life and the psychological toll the abuse was taking on my life, I knew I did not want to become a victim. Instead, I withdrew into a shell, only pretending to be a happy child on the outside. However, after a while of constantly embodying a façade, I couldn’t do it anymore - I stopped socializing which caused my parents to constantly worry about me.   I began to actively take myself out of the spotlight – I couldn’t help others as much as I wanted to, because I was still fighting my demons.
As a coping mechanism, I tried to act like boy, to be more like my brother.  After a while, I realized that what was happening was happening only to me, and not to my brother, so as a method of deflection I had to act like a boy to protect myself. When I turned 12, I had built up the courage to defend myself from my attacker. But, the damage was done. I began to become depressed and show symptoms of bipolar disorder. But the troubles were far from over.
I had faced severe bullying at school, to the point that I had to change schools. It was the worst decision I had made. I was the only new entrant out of a class of 65, and each of those 64 children made it their mission to target me, and to break me. The bullying got so bad, that I wound up either crying to myself in class, or I would avoid going to school. Sometimes, I would go in halfway, claiming that I missed the bus – which was a lie, because I lived ten minutes from school and everyone knew that. The kids bullied me because unlike the other girls who wore skirts and dresses, I decided to wear shorts and pants like the boys. This led to me becoming disconnected from the girls, after a while I had forgotten how to interact with the girls all together. I had chosen to cope with life’s challenges by behaving and dressing like a boy. I had developed the conception of associating strength with masculinity.
Over the years I've been told by teachers and people around me that I would fail, and even received death threats.  I kept it all to myself, internalizing my pain and these nasty messages that kept coming my way. Meanwhile, my mental illness took over. I tried to commit suicide. I didn’t know about mental illness or gender stereotypes until I turned sixteen, when I got very sick. Life, for me, seemed to have deteriorated. I had to leave Grade 11 because of my health, and I also had to cope with my grandmother’s passing. Then one day, after a long period of depression and isolation, I woke up one day and decided that I had to go back to that little girl inside me, who was just waiting to fulfill her mission in life. I decided that I would use my pain to help others around me.  
When I was 19, I founded World Vision's youth movement, Vgen within ACT, and at 20, I co-founded Peshawar Arts for Peace, which inspires young Pakistani women and the wider community to engage with gender equality, build intercultural harmony, help transition marginalised girls and women back into the education system and assist youth and young women to reach their leadership potential.
I turned my mindset around, and began to think positively and about the future. I decided that I would reconnect with myself, and I did it – I went back to the little girl who dreamed of changing the world. I joined World Vision and founded the youth movement within Canberra. I began to help promote the Sustainable Development Goals, and help promote the youth. When I worked with World Vision, I went to Cambodia, where I visited several rural areas to see how the funds were being used at the grassroots. I went to the UN earlier this year, representing Australia, and that was when I joined the working group for young women and gender equality. It feels weird, in a way, to be the person that everyone is suddenly turning to, for advice and information to create impact in their social groups. I am now designing a global equality initiative for the UN, and am working on Art for Gender Equality, an initiative that can help achieve Planet 5050.
At World Vision, I started off as a Director – even though I was technically not qualified, I was chosen because of I  was driven by the passion for the task. That position really launched my passion and reaffirmed that this was exactly what I was meant to do. I am inspired by the youth I connect with around the world. These are the people who battle hardships every day, and are yet so positive and hopeful, and strive for peaceful futures. I know that I can make a change, and it drives me. I believe that the youth can be great changemakers if they harness their passion.
I face challenges every day. Being a woman whose age puts her in the early side of the youth demographic, and not having a degree in hand yet, I am considered uneducated. People don’t take me seriously – and in a way, that’s the dilemma most of the world’s youth face, because youth voices are not taken seriously. Breaking into that is a tough task, but it has to be done.
I also find that I am juggling a lot to do – that work-life balance remains elusive. I sleep about three or four hours a day, I go to the Australian National University where I study a double degree in Law (Honours) and International Development, spend time with my friends, come back to work on all my voluntary initiatives, and then, do some work to get paid to pay for my own gender equality and peace initiative in Pakistan. It’s not a joke! But, my family has been amazing throughout – without the support of my mother, brother and father, I am sure I wouldn’t have been able to do this. Having been brought up in a social set up that places a premium on Indian values of prestige, it was refreshing that my parents didn’t and don’t care for any of that, and instead, just want me to be happy. My grandparents’ support and aid has helped me a lot. I am a passionate change maker and I am eager to shift the dial towards equality and empowerment. A youth and gender equality advocate, international speaker, Ambassador and the Co-Founder of Peshawar Arts for Peace, I have been involved in successfully delivering education, gender inclusive and career opportunities to scores of young women all around Pakistan and India. I have a passion for visionary ideas and intergenerational partnerships, which led me to be ranked alongside Chelsea Clinton and the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo as an International Influencer and Mogul Ambassador to an online platform of 18.5 million women from 196 countries. I was also given the privilege recently, of being recognised by The White House and The First Lady, Michelle Obama, where I was named a Global Change maker for Gender Equality. Committed to public policy and institutional reform, I am one of the youngest UN Inter-Agency Task-Force on Youth and Gender Equality members. I work with a number of agencies and professionals around the world to design and implement innovative gender equality and young women's empowerment initiatives.
I face a fair amount of abuse and resistance for the work I do, especially online, where people threaten me because I work around gender equality. I try to push them out of my mind, and focus on my work. I’ve survived the worst, and if I could survive that, I can survive anything.   

I am driven by the goal of working with the youth. I’d like the youth to know that they should be their own person, to be in their own shoes, as they each have their own dreams and goals. If one tries to be like someone else, they won’t make it. Only when I realized that I was my own person, I started to make it. I think the youth are invincible and huge agents of change – and are incredible powerhouses. If they have the heart to do the work, they will change the world.  
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