For the past four months, we have been working on Martha Farrell Award for Excellence in Women’s Empowerment. We started with the vision of reaching out to all those persons and organizations, which in their own way, are making gender equality a lived reality. And when we say “all those”, we really mean anyone and everyone, who, in his/her everyday life, is working on women’s empowerment/ gender equality, in his/her respective spheres, including the ones who do not fit within the gender binary.
The struggle started here, when we made up our mind to reach out to “all those”. A jury member, during one of the meetings for the award, spoke about the importance of breaking away from the “usual”, and recognizing different forms of activism for gender equality. Be it artists, sportspersons, government officials or teachers! Be it corporates, government line departments, media houses or the NGO next door! Activism has no limits and neither is it the sole propriety of a few. We knew this and we wanted to realize this, that like Martha, gender equality is an everyday goal and has no address, name or a brand.
Easier said than done! We, of course, suffer from our own lacks. We are a civil society organization, whose universe comprises similar organizations and development professionals (of different shapes and sizes). How can we ever manage to reach out to a different universe?
Our lacks did not deter us. We were sure that this award, while it will acknowledge change, it will also stand for change through its own ways and methods. Our six-member jury also comprises personalities from various fields and age groups.
Then, we started reaching out. We called, emailed, met, watsapped, tweeted and Facebooked people and organizations from everywhere. Our jury helped us in contacting many such organizations and people, who are very different from our perceived notions of change makers. And one would want to think that we would have, by now, attained our goal of tapping different universes. Alas, it just didn’t happen this quickly.
I remember speaking to an artist, who through her illustrations and storytelling, works on body positivity, sexuality and desire. She was simply taken aback by my request of considering herself to nominate for this award. A police-officer asked me point blank that is this award even open to people who are not from the civil society. An organization working on the rights of Transgender people, told me that when they apply for awards related to women’s empowerment/gender equality, their nomination is disqualified at the first stage because they don’t work with “biological” women. People and organizations could not register the fact that an award on women’s empowerment and gender equality, launched by a civil society organization, is meant for people and organizations beyond the civil society sector and beyond the binaries.
Yes, we were hard to swallow at first but we were also determined. We supported people from villages of Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh etc, to fill up their nomination forms. We did not want the urban-rural divide to fail us. We did not even want the elite English-speaking classes to eat every bit of the cake. And so we continued to reach out to people from diverse backgrounds and encouraged and supported them in filing their nominations.
The fruits were sweet. We concluded the nomination process with 125 nominations – 62 for the individual category and 63 for the organizational category. We managed to cover 18 states, covered all the four directions of the country and had a rich bank of nominations from villages, cities and diverse fields of work.
It didn’t end here. We had to now read through all these nominations and find a way to assess them, which would take cognizance of their different contexts and natures. We were simply amazed by the amount and the type of work people and organizations have been doing for women’s empowerment and gender equality and could hardly rate one over the other. And as we sifted through the various nomination forms, we realized that these are not just nominations, but our stories and alternative histories, of all the change that is taking place around us. These nominations were the most simple and the quickest way of navigating from one universe to the other, to understand that however small our respective universes may be, our commitment towards change is never small.
Dr. Rajesh Tandon, Founder-Director, PRIA and member of our governing board, shared with us on one occasion that there are infinite solar systems and every star has its own unique glow in its solar system. The star cannot be delineated from its solar system and the solar system is never complete without the star.
So we had to let these stories speak for themselves. First, they came to us and now, we had to go to them. We visited and met a number of our nominees within their contexts, to understand the importance of their work. A whole month went by and our team would call us from hamlets, towns, cities or metropolitans to tell us how each of these nominees, each and every day, despite numerous constraints, have been resolute in their commitment towards women’s empowerment and gender equality. Be it a community-based social activist, a head of a media company, an academician or a dance therapist … be it an international organization, a collective of sex workers, a university or an all-women’s organizations … all their stories of change have their own significance and impact.
And we realized that this award is not validating the work of these nominees. In fact, the work and the resilience of these nominees are validating this award. That these stories of #FeminismInEverydayLife are a true tribute to Martha and there couldn’t have been a better way of realizing her dream of making gender equality a lived reality.
We will celebrate this diversity and these stories at the Martha Farrell Award Ceremony on April 7, 2017 at Teen Murti Bhavan in New Delhi. While we will felicitate the two winners, we also dedicate this ceremony to all our nominees, who like Martha, have continued their journey, to light up a new future and to imagine an alternative reality.
You can now follow these stories on the hashtag #StoriesOFChange and #MFAWard, which are being shared on our Twitter page at https://twitter.com/FoundationMf and Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/marthafarrellfoundation/?fref=nf.
- Neharika Mahajan