It’s that time of the year again! With preparations for the fourth edition of the Martha Farrell Award (MFA) for Excellence in Women’s Empowerment underway, we must talk about what constitutes this ritual of our annual recognition we give to the enterprising individuals and organisations who’ve led initiatives to bring feminism in everyday life.
As a capacity-building organisation with a focus on alleviating sexual harassment and all forms of gender discrimination, Martha Farrell Foundation considers it a responsibility to identify and enable our peers who are engaged in similar work, and who share our ethos when it comes to women’s empowerment. Launched in 2016 and inaugurated in 2017, in the memory of Dr. Martha Farrell and her ideals, the Award seeks to promote multi-sectoral and intersectional work in mainstreaming gender and to bring about development in their respective communities, starting with the organisations they work in.
Together with our partners, Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) and Rural Development Trust (RDT), the Foundation actively seeks to empower leaders to organise in creative and impactful ways so they can generate real change in their communities and become a beacon of gender empowerment in their respective sectors and the society at large. We are committed to supporting the Most Promising Individual working in government, business, industry or civil society organisations in India, and the Best Organisation for Gender Equality whose efforts at creating gender sensitive spaces aren’t limited to programme implementation but also looks inward.
Over the years, we have shortlisted nominees and organisations whose work covers the entire spectrum of Gender and Development (GAD) from combatting human trafficking and child marriage, making online spaces safe for women, improving women’s participation in governance, to promoting gender justice and accountability, empowerment of Dalit women and literacy among adolescent girls, and providing mental health assistance to survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
These nominees hail from all walks of life, from all corners of the subcontinent, and they bring their diverse experience and background to the table. Organisations ranging from government, business, industry, educational, health, media, unions, federations or civil society now embellish the award’s growing alumni. We’ve had Gender and Diversity Cells that work to sharpen workplace policies in their IT firm to make a safe and equitable place for women employees. MFA has recognised lone crusaders who have developed curative and preventive measures at the community level to tackle child trafficking. Legal aid forums and rural women-led collectives that defend the rights of women by delivering justice and restorative aid to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault have gone on to win the prestigious grant. Not only do we look for innovative, practical and comprehensive approaches to mainstreaming gender in the field, MFA pushes such trailblazers to introspect on the culture of safe spaces they’ve helped cultivate within their institutions, at home, in their immediate communities and campuses.
Our jury this year comprises eminent members and experts from the arts, academic, development, corporate, and media sectors – rounding off a panel that achieves a sought-after balance and democratisation of gender-based development work – the onus of which fell only on certain sectors until recently. Journalist and writer Namita Bhandare, theatre director Feisal Alkazi and KPMG partner Nandita Tripathi will be overseeing the rigorous selection process for this year’s MFA, along with General Secretary of Association of Indian Universities, Dr. Pankaj Mittal, and eminent development practitioners Dr. Rajesh Tandon (Founder-President, PRIA), Moncho Ferrer (Programs Director, RDT) and Deepthi Bopaiah (Executive Director, GoSports Foundation).
The award ceremony also serves to bring these luminaries, community leaders and organisations together on a single forum to share and showcase the kind of work that goes into making a real difference, in un-tipping the scales. It serves as a culmination for a three-day long event – Antargoonj – with youth from our Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC) programme, who help organise the felicitation ceremony.
It gives us immense pleasure when we hear back from our past awardees, to see them spread their wings wider and scale up their contributions to creating a more egalitarian, just and sustainable society. Furthermore, it is a matter of great privilege for us, to have provided a fillip, however humble, to some of our MFA alumni.
In India, widespread gender discrimination and violence with the lack of understanding of the same, has consolidated the need for such an award today. As the award enters its fourth year, giving us some time to evaluate its impact and significance in today’s ever-changing landscape of how gender equality is framed in the development paradigm, the MFA has come to symbolise something more than a token of appreciation. For us at the Foundation and our winners, it marks the beginning of a shared journey in disrupting the status quo, debunking gender roles and deepening the understanding and discourse around feminism in everyday life, the way Dr. Farrell envisioned it.
Prarthana Mitra is a writer who works on the intersections of gender and culture. She recently completed her Masters in literature and has joined Martha Farrell Foundation as Programme Officer-Media and Communications