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Women’s Empowerment & Gender Equality

Amma often explains that the ultimate goal of women’s empowerment is to achieve a state of balance between the genders within society. Like the two wings of a bird, women and men are of equal value. Without the two in perfect balance, humanity cannot progress. At Amrita in 2016, the United Nations inaugurated India’s first-ever UNESCO Chair on Women’s Empowerment & Gender Equality. The mission is designing tools and methods for effective interventional strategies towards the empowerment of women and strengthening gender equality with the active and inclusive participation of communities. The Chair carries a specific focus on rural India.

Amma’s work is based on six holistic dimensions of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals defined as: safety and security; economic vitality; education; political, social and cultural environment; environmental quality; and health.

Major Initiatives

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Center for Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment (CWEGE)

CWEGE is a research-focused academic center for promoting gender equality and fostering women’s empowerment with a special focus on technology and other innovative methods. The center offers diverse courses on key focus areas, pilots forward-thinking ideas, and collaborates with leading universities and institutions. It also acts as a major resource for the implementation of various development projects undertaken by the Ashram.

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Amrita Self-Reliance, Education & Empowerment (AmritaSREE)

AmritaSREE includes 15,000 self-help groups (SHGs) in 21 states across India and has more than 250,000 members. Most of the SHG women are from villages and other isolated rural areas in India. Amma began AmritaSREE in 2005 in the wake of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, after which families that depended upon fishing were completely devastated. Amma’s firm resolve is to empower rural women to independently earn a living via professions not reliant upon increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, especially fishing and farming.

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Saukhyam Reusable Pads

Saukhyam produces reusable menstrual pads with banana-fiber as the main absorbent, which is then encased in cotton. The goal is to establish an alternative to the use of disposable plastic pads—a major global pollutant. Saukhyam supports women’s self-help groups in rural India to manufacture the pads, an accessible micro-business for them. It also distributes the pads free-of-charge to adolescent girls, especially in the villages, and holds menstrual awareness classes to address both health issues and negative social attitudes.

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Women’s Empowerment: Rural Toilet Builder (WE: Sanitation)

WE: Sanitation leverages skill development to address the problem of sanitation in India. The initiative trains women in masonry skills to build toilets and, at the same time, teaches them about the importance of toilet use, hygiene, and sanitation. Such vocations are traditionally considered male occupations. The project aims to counter this historic stigma by empowering women, who are then able to complete the sanitation process from start to finish. The profession also brings an alternate source of income to the women’s families, as earnings via agriculture and as day labourers are not consistently reliable.

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Community Sanitation through Democratic Participation

aims to empower 5,000 women as champions of sanitation by providing a platform for democratic participation. Through coming together to address the issues of inadequate community sanitation, women’s health and water management in rural India, the village women improve their representation as community leaders and local governance. The project is in villages in 21 states of India and is a UNDEF co-funded project.

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Women in Sustaining the Environment (WISE)

WISE works to address the disappearing traditional practices in rural India that women are leaders in sustaining the environment. To counter this, WISE is fostering a return to community resilience and natural resource management through women’s empowerment and skill training. Concrete action centres upon measuring the quantity, quality, and use of a resource, which helps lead to a basis for measuring economic value.The project is a collaboration between Amrita and Tel Aviv University and is funded by the Consulate of Israel to South India (Bengaluru).

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Transforming ‘MEN’talities: Gender Equality and Masculinities in India

In a partnership between UNESCO and CWEGE, Transforming ‘MEN’talities: Gender Equality and Masculinities in India was collaboratively written to explore the ways in which society can achieve a paradigm shift. The book addresses the essential role men and boys play in women’s empowerment and gender equality within India. So far, males have been largely excluded from the discourse, as most efforts focus exclusively on providing women and girls more opportunities and resources to lead a better life. Research shows that the effects of these programs are too often short-lived, and long-term women’s empowerment is not achieved, as the larger community is not ready to support this change in their cultural norms.

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