Martha Farrell Award Winners 2017

On Friday, April 7, 2017, the two winners of the first Martha Farrell Award for Excellence in Women’s Empowerment were announced and felicitated at the Martha Farrell Award Ceremony at Teen Murti Bhavan. Here is a brief note on who they are and what they do.

Most Promising Individual: Rakhi Gope

Resident of a tea estate in Falakata in Alipurduar District of West Bengal, Rakhi Gope is a community-based social activist and student of social work, who has been at the forefront of the fight against child marriage and human trafficking within her community for the last 11 years.

Rakhi belongs to a socially backward family. Inspired during a workshop conducted by Child in Need Institute (CINI) in Falakata, Rakhi decided to work for her community, which is characterized by patriarchal socio-cultural practices, unsafe migration and human trafficking, by becoming a volunteer with the North Bengal Field Unit of CINI in 2006. Currently, she works as a District Resource Person with CINI, is pursuing her Master’s in Social Work from Rabindra Bharti University, Kolkata and serves as a member of the Local Committee (LC) for the prevention of sexual harassment of women at the workplace.

Over a decade, Rakhi has developed both curative and preventive measures at the community level to tackle child marriage and human trafficking. She has established safety nets in her community, which help in receiving information about any instance of child marriage or human trafficking, which she subsequently takes up with the relevant state authority. She has been part of various rescue operations and helped victims of trafficking and child marriage to access safe government shelter homes, linking them to state-sponsored vocational and livelihood programmes. Rakhi sensitizes her community, especially women, adolescent boys and girls, towards the issues of child marriage, human trafficking, HIV/AIDS and other STIs. Mobilizing state and civil society actors to support her cause is part of Rakhi’s agenda. She works closely with 22 gram panchayats in the district,  the Block Development Officer, Superintendent of Police, Child Welfare Committee and the Border Security Forces (BSF) to track and prevent human trafficking.

Rakhi has received numerous threats to her life in her fight to eliminate human trafficking in her community. But she remains courageous and resolute, values that Martha embodied and the Martha Farrell Foundation salutes.

This is the first time that I have received a national level award. It is not just encouraging, but also reinforces within me that what I am doing is right, and that I need to continue with determination.

~ Rakhi Gope
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Best Organization for Gender Equality: Majlis Legal Centre

Established in 1991, in Mumbai, Majlis Legal Centre started in response to a growing need for lawyers with a gender perspective, dedicated to evolving innovative legal practices to defend women’s rights. Headed by Adv. Flavia Agnes, Majlis is an all-women team, comprising lawyers and social activists. Their agenda for social change is to ensure quality legal representation of individual women in court, changing mindsets through advocacy and training, and evolving gender-just ideology through campaigns and interventions.

Till date, Majlis has defended over 50,000 women litigants all over Maharashtra in their struggle against domestic violence and sexual violence. They have an ongoing collaboration with Department of Women and Child Development and The Commissionerate to monitor and ensure the effective implementation of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) 2005, in Maharashtra. They have evolved various court-approved protocols and guidelines to create awareness among state agencies (including lawyers and police) about rights, procedures and best practices to be followed in offering comprehensive socio-legal support to victims and survivors of sexual violence. In the long term, Majlis seeks to ensure implementation of laws that are there for the protection of the rights of women, instead of merely providing legal support to victims who choose to file cases. For this, they have begun a training programme for young lawyers, magistrates, judges and the police, and conduct awareness campaigns in schools and colleges.

Majlis Legal Centre exercises “positive discrimination” and has employed only women since its inception. They believe in women’s rights lawyering by women and take forward the vision of bringing more women lawyers within the ambit of human rights litigation. Today, Majlis is a team of 35 women lawyers and social activists working in a caring and supportive workplace. Employees who have recently given birth or have young children are provided work suitable to their needs (part-time/flexi time/work from home). They can bring their children to office. Also, regular employee welfare activities, for example, yoga sessions, ma-beti melas (mother-daughter fairs), and capacity building sessions are organized.

At Majlis, creating a workplace that enables women to fulfill their potential within the organization is the key to engendering institutions.

"25 years ago, when we started Majlis Legal Centre, as an all-women's organisation, we did not know how long we would be able to sustain it. Though the concept has taken its roots today, it continues to pose a challenge. But this award gives it legitimacy and reaffirms our faith in it. I hope it also serves as a small contribution towards actualising Martha Farrell's own dream of mainstreaming gender. Thank you Martha for the life you led, for the choices you made, and for the beliefs you propagated. I hope our organisation will be guided by your ideals, values and principles of women's empowerment and gender justice."
~ Adv. Flavia Agnes, Founder and Director of Majlis Legal Centre 

Click here to know more about Majlis Legal Centre