Wednesday, December 27, 2017

SDGs are Transformative. But what about CSR Investments? 

Often when we are sitting passively listening to others talk in a conference there is a certain sense of De ja vu ... You feel you have heard the speaker speak earlier on the same issues. I did not frankly expect much from the UN Global Compact’s conference on SDGs  organized at Leela hotel in Mumbai on 8th December 2017. But I was in for a pleasant surprise as there were some insightful presentations and sharing which were quite enriching.

Just as I was thinking that the conversation is totally taking place from the point of view of the corporates,  there comes on stage Nisha Agrawal, Chief Executive Officer, Oxfam. If I say she was passionate it would be an understatement. I suddenly felt as if I had got an opportunity to express my views on the stage.

I have been witness to the changes in the approach of corporates to engagement with social  development  issues after the CSR guidelines were formulated in 2013. While it is good that some money is being earmarked for socially useful work, I often remember the socially useful and productive work (SUPW) assignments of my son when I see the CSR engagements of some of the corporates. True there are some amazing corporate initiatives but I continue to feel they are not as many as we would like.

Nisha in her brilliant presentation had analysed the short comings of the CSR as it is being practised today in an objective manner articulating the issues sharply. I am sure many of us, particularly those working in the area of rights based initiatives, community empowerment and gender advocacy, would endorse her stand completely.To put it briefly, these are the points that she made.

·     One third of the money, according to her, goes for education. A major chunk of the remaining money goes to sanitation programmes. Has the fact that these are the two programmes which are personally driven by the Prime Minister influenced the choice of CSR investments of the corporates? What about the myriad other issues?

·         The CSR guidelines also encourage and promote CSR investments in the project and field areas of the corporates. Inspite of the consistent good work that many NGOs are doing in remote areas or areas where there are no corporates, they are facing a huge fund crunch often forcing them to cut down their activities. These are the communities which are left out of the ambit of development. Focus on backyard investment leaves many critical areas and issues  out of the CSR investments.

·     The requirements of reporting and monitoring as well as Return on Investment indicators has made it easy to measure service delivery projects popular with the CSR departments, often overlooking issues related to sustainability and people’s participation.

·     This in essence means advocacy initiatives for gender equality, women’s rights and rights of the other marginalised communities are totally overlooked.

·     Policy research is yet another important area which is starved of funds.

·     Most of the corporates have established their own foundations and are channelising their CSR funds through them. This is undermining the role of civil society organisations and NGOs as the watchdogs, the catalysts and the change makers.

·     The CSR agenda keeps changing at the corporate level every few years putting hurdles in long term investments in a particular sector or a particular issue.

·     An off shoot of this is the short term funding that is granted to NGOs for a couple of years with insistence on measurable impact.

Nisha very forcefully argued that this approach to CSR goes against the spirit of SDGs which are about transformational change, which does not happen with short term service delivery projects. We cannot agree more.


Gender equality is a cross cutting SDG which should be at the core of achieving many of the other SDGs. Gender equality and a society free of gender based violence is possible only when we change mindsets, mainstream gender sensitivity into institutions, policies and programmes, create champions of the cause across sectors and bring about a transformative change that would create a culture and ethos of inclusiveness. These require investments as well. They require long term investments.  We need greater commitment, support and engagement of corporates to make the above happen because a peaceful, inclusive and egalitarian society makes good sense for business as well.

Written by Dr. A.L. Sharada, Director, Population First

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


She was eleven years old. Freshly bathed and changed into her new school uniform, she was walking towards the bus stop humming a happy tune when suddenly someone slapped her on her pubic bone and zipped by on his bike. She instantly felt the slow burning in her cheeks. The pain, embarrassment, shame and shock welled up along with the tears as she quietly walked on – keeping her soul-shredding secret – never to be shared with anyone for the rest of her life. Five years later she was dodging commuters at the railway station making a beeline for her breasts as she rushed to make it to her 9:00 a.m. lecture on time.  She also has a vague but vivid memory – vague in terms of time but startlingly clear as an image – of a dark man masturbating in his car outside her bedroom window.

Most girls have experienced some form of sexual abuse at some point in their lives and at some level – either at the hands of random strangers, close relatives, friends of their parents or even their own drunken fathers. Many cannot even tell their mothers – or if they do it is often stoically swept under the carpet of denial, quite likely leaving those mothers to spend their lives resigned to the fact that their own husbands have violated their daughters. And this is way before the girls have discovered their own sexuality or even understood the concept of masturbation; leave alone experienced the arched ecstasy of an orgasm, the tenderness of a considerate cunnilingus, or the virtual reality/fantasy of a wet dream. A book I am reading quotes a lady telling her daughter: “The only thing a woman has to ever do in life is ENDURE. That is all she is capable of, what she is made for and has to prepare herself for.”

To ever dream of, let alone expect any form of pleasure of any sort is considered insolence and insubordination in many parts of the world (female circumcision being a case in point). But let us not kid ourselves. It is happening all around us – even in so-called educated and liberal societies. Behind closed doors and under soiled sheets – men expect to be serviced, waited on, cooked for – while they go about living their lives free to indulge in whatever they desire and to be excused for the most heinous behavior simply because they are providing for their families, which somehow gives them the right to be selfish, abusive, self-indulgent and for the most part – absent. Absent from familial obligations and any other responsibilities that might take them away from their own perverse pursuits. Of course – not all men are like that. Of course women are also providing for their families. But then they are harassed at the workplace. There is no escaping the ugly face of sexual abuse.

Yes we have all heard of sodomy and other horrors perpetrated on little boys and hapless men in prisons or during ragging in colleges. But have you ever heard of a woman swinging by on a bike and yanking a man’s penis and speeding off? Or a woman charging down a railway platform just to collide with some passenger’s smelly crotch?? Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Women are just not capable of such abysmal behavior.

The point is we are living in times of “coming out”. People are speaking and writing more about sexual abuse than ever before. Campaigns like “Me Too!” help abused women realize that they are not alone. That there is no place for shame. That no more can the blame be put on their shoulders. That they can speak about it, process it and can grow up to be fine, accomplished adults, instead of living in constant fear of it being ‘found out’. As the articulate jazz and blues singer Joni Mitchell sang so beautifully: “He was out of line girl, you were not to blame.”

Written by Suneeta Rao- Singer, Performing Artiste and Writer

Monday, November 13, 2017

Rain rain go away!!!

The continuation of monsoon into October was seen as a nuisance by many of us…our romance with rains was over and we were looking forward to bright sunny days. But I was anxious. I was remembering the bright faces of women who said “yeh bar achchi fasal hui madam” and the heavy loss of standing rice crop that followed such unseasonal rains a few years back. I was praying that there should be no repetition of that year this time.

 So, when I visited our villages I was very nervous…as expected there was deafening silence, people going about their work with a sense of resignation. “Koi bhi diwali nahi manaya madam… poori fasal Kharab hogai hai” said Sadhna, our village volunteer. And it was heart wrenching to see stretches and stretches of farms with the crop flattened and drowned in water, the rice plants growing wild and the rice kernels turned black with fungus. I was told that the grain cannot be used even by the family as it has not hardened yet. Now, most families are coping with the burden of paying for labour to clear the fields to prepare for the vegetable crops which they hope will sustain them through the year. Not all families engage in a second crop.  For them the only hope is the grains saved from last year and the PDS supplies.

Crops damaged by excess and untimely rains
For villages which have kitchen gardens, farms and forests surrounding them, we hardly find any sparrows, butterflies and bees. We had to abandon a bee keeping project because we could not find and retain bees required for bee-keeping. The heavy and indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides could be a cause. The white sediment on hard cracked fields during summers that we see also indicates the havoc that is being played by chemical fertilisers on the soil. The rising cost of farming and poor returns are making the villagers sell their land to realtors to develop gated communities. Many of the small hills are blasted and flattened for road extensions and timber lobby has cut hundreds of trees in the interiors of forests taking advantage of the desperation and ignorance of the very poor tribals in these interior villages of Shahapur. Is it any wonder that the rain patterns have changed in the last few years?

But in this desperate situation I was surprised to see small plots of rice fields which were intact. I was told those were the fields where they have not used hybrid seeds or chemical fertilisers. The plants are short and sturdy and could withstand the heavy unseasonal rains. It reminded us to go back to our old methods of farming.

To address some of the issues mentioned above Population First, through its field project AMCHI has been promoting production of vermi compost and organic farming in villages through women’s groups for the past few years. Women are trained not just on production process but also to undertake promotion, marketing and organise farmer melavas to educate other farmers. The transformation this is bringing about in the women is tremendous and slowly but steadily the farmers are showing an inclination to use organic manure in their fields after seeing the results in the demonstration plots where only the organic manure produced by the women is used.

Currently, our women engaged in vermi compost project are working towards taking land from landlords on crop sharing basis and do organic farming. We are excited about it. This is just the beginning and we are hoping that we would succeed in making women farmers spearhead the change in the farming sector.

Women engaged in vermi-compost enterprise
You could be part of this movement. If you are involved in organic farming or marketing organic products you could provide us technical and marketing support, if you are a journalist, photographer or a film maker you could help us document the process, if you have disposable income and the heart to support us financially you could do that small act of signing that cheque. And I am sure all of you can wish us well. Please draw a cheque on the name of Population First and can send it to us at our office address: Ratan Manzil, Ground Floor, 64, Wodehouse road, Colaba, Opp Hotel Happy Home, Mumbai – 400005.
Contributions to Population First are exempt from tax under section 80-G (5) of the Income Tax Act. Population First is registered under Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act 1976.

Written by Dr. A.L. Sharada, Director, Population First

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Role Model and a Change Maker

Pramila of Gokulgaon village

Pramila Dhirde, 45, lives in Gokulgaon – a village with population of 280 people, in Shahapur block of Thane district in Maharashtra. Most families in the village are engaged in agriculture, cultivating rice and a few vegetables. Pramila is educated up to 10th std., considered a high qualification for a woman of her age in the village. She lives with her two daughters and husband. Her husband has barely gone to school and is engaged full time in agriculture on a small plot of land he inherited from his father. Pramila works equally hard in their farm in addition to taking care of the household work. The household income of around Rs. 45000 per annum is enough to cover basic necessities including the school education of the girls.

When PF, under it's AMCHI field project introduced vermi-composting as an income generation activity in the village in March 2015, Pramila was one of the first women to enroll for the activity. As the initiative was agro-allied and did not require much travel outside the village, Pramila was keen to try. She was eager to get the additional income that it promised.

Pramila said, "Apart from the vermi-compost enterprise, I got lot of information from sessions on ante-natal and post-natal care which were being conducted in my village. I make good use of the information. I share this with other women of the village. I am able to talk to the doctors at PHC and RH very well. This has increased my confidence further."

Pramila convinced her sister-in-law to have the delivery done in the government hospital instead of private nursing home. She accompanied her to the hospital alone and had her delivery done. As soon as she notices any pregnant woman in the community or family, she ensures that her registration is done with the ANM / Anganwadi Centre.

Pramila and her group mates were trained by the AMCHI team in production and marketing of vermi-compost.  The group not only learned the skills quickly but also took various initiatives to develop the enterprise.Pramila along with the group members printed a pamphlet describing the benefits of the manure. They packed 5 kg bags of manure for distribution as sample to farmers. With this investment the members went around the village and met farmers and farmhouse-owners. The farmers were appreciative of the benefits of the manure as well as the effort made by the women. 

Pramila (left) working in her vermi compost unit
Pramila and her partners did not stop at that but regularly followed up with the farmers who had shown interest. The communication skills learnt in the training sessions came handy to them. The group also made a tie-up with a nearby buffalo-owner who steadily supplied them with good quality animal dung at reasonable price. The group thus established links in the market as well as for obtaining raw material.

The effort paid off and the sale increased gradually. The group made a good profit in the second year of the enterprise. Pramila got around Rs.10000 in the year and was very happy to support her younger daughter’s higher education and elder daughter’s marriage. Besides having the purchasing power Pramila now commands respect of her immediate and extended family. She is respected in the community too as she is a member of the first group of women to have a successful business.

Going beyond what was taught in the training sessions, the group now plans to increase their production by increasing the number of earthworms in the pits. They are developing clients outside Shahapur who would pick up the manure regularly. They are targeting farm houses of Murbad taluka. They wish to sell manure under their brand name “Sanjivani” – the life-giver. All the group members have been able to garner the support of their husband as well to give boost to the production and sale.

Pramila explains benefits of vermi-wash
Like Pramila there are around 175 women across 24 groups in different villages of Shahapur who enjoy the small financial freedom the enterprise has given them. For the first time in their lives they are getting money for their work. They are enjoying the mobility and enhanced social interactions too which the enterprise brings along. Women feel confident and hopeful of achieving much more. They wish to do something for the development of their community. They are being role models for so many girls and women across villages.

Written by Ms. Meenal Gandhe, Programme Manager, AMCHI

Friday, May 5, 2017


Over the past few years, Indian movies have consistently made efforts to bring forward inspiring stories of women from from all walk of life. Laadli applauds this welcome effort by Cinema and it gives us great pleasure to announce that the South Asia Laadli Media and Advertising Award for Gender Sensitivity 2015-16, Feature Film category, goes to:


Directed by 

Leena Yadav

Writing Credits 

Supratik Sen

Leena Yadav


Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte, Suvreen Chawla, Lehar Khan

In the parched lands of a desert the three protagonists long for meaningful relationships with the men in their lives, who fill their lives with only violence of the most heinous kind. The perverted and skewed perceptions of masculinity, the fragility of male egos and the violence  perpetrated by men is starkly contrasted with the warm friendship and bonding between the women which makes them acknowledge and explore their own desires and sexuality, ultimately exercising their agency and choice to chart their own path. The women of Parched rescue each other, triumph over their insecurities and unleash their inner strength.


Directed by 
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Writing Credits (in alphabetical order)  

Nitesh Tiwari, Ashwini Iyer Tiwari,
Neeraj Singh,
Pranjal Chowdhary


Swara Bhaskar, Ratna Pathak, Riya Shukla

Nil Battey SannaŠĻ≠a, sensitively tells the story of the conflict between a single working mother from lower economic strata and her adolescent and defiant daughter. It brings out the conflict between the despair of the daughter who sees no value in education and no hope for her future except to be a maid like her mother and the aspiration of the mother who sees hope for her daughter’s upward mobility in education. It is an inspiring story of a mother teaching her daughter to dream, aspire and achieve. This film tells the story of aspirations of a working class single mother with sensitivity, simplicity and humor that resonates with the audience.

Both rousing and powerful films, Nil Battey Sannata and Parched make a statement on sisterhood between women of all ages and social strata, united in their hope of a better future. 

We congratulate the winners and hope to see more and more of such gender sensitive movies in the coming years!

Written by: Dr. A L Sharada

Monday, May 1, 2017

"Where a woman is unpaid, unheard and unrecognised"


It is only fitting to announce the South Asia Laadli Media and Advertising Award for the Short Film category, on Labour Day. "The Water Wives" is a short film released by ActionAid India, which is based on true stories. It draws our attention to the discrimination and inherent dehumanization of women in certain parts of our country where men marry multiple times in order to have a wife exclusively for the task of fetching water. The whole premise begs the question, how are multiple marriages the solution for
water scarcity? Is it because a wife's work is unpaid and expected as servitude in marriage? Why does our social fabric weave a picture of bonded labour when it comes to a wife's tasks? Or is it another excuse for the man to derive sexual pleasure from a younger woman?

Caught in the vicious cycle of worsening plight and worsening poverty, the Water Wives have ended up as commodities that work to the advantage of the men involved, who now have another woman in the house to fulfil their sexual urges as well. The film highlights the unpaid and unappreciated labor women put in for running households and how they can be reduced to mere tools of achieving unpaid domestic work.

The film is a testament to how poverty and water scarcity, difficult circumstances, affect men and women differently. While crises lead to an increase in exploitation of women; men turn them around for their benefit. An objective assessment of the situation could lead to solutions like obtaining a shared motorized vehicle by the villagers to fetch water, or hiring some villagers for the task, or taking turns among households in a locality; simple methods of water conservation to ensure sufficient water supply, etc. And yet men have chosen polygamy as the solution, exposing a situation rife with discrimination.

In appreciation of shedding light on this appalling practice faced by women, we announce our first winner "The Water Wives" and congratulate all those involved in the making of this short film. Below is the invite for the award function. We hope to see you there!

Watch this space for announcement of our MOVIE Winners next!

Suggested videos- Water Wives:

Written by : Dr. Ishmeet Nagpal
Editing credits: Dr. A L Sharada, Ms. Srinidhi Raghavan

Thursday, April 13, 2017

'Anaarkali of Aarah' is a giant leap for Bollywood

A look at 'Anaarkali of Aarah' through the gender lens 

Anaarkali of Aarah is a song of retribution and a classic revenge story, Bollywood masala style, and yet it is so real that you feel you are part of her every decision. Maybe it's just me, but rather than watch something like Bat'man' and Super'man' fight it out in incredible VFX, give me Anaarkali's fight for her dignity and bodily autonomy any day.

Anaarkali of Aarah, through the story of sexual harassment of an entertainment dancer, makes you curious to dissect the psyche of men who perpetrate such assault. What are we as a society enabling by encouraging use of a female body dancing suggestively as a source of entertainment? Same logic goes for item songs, strip clubs, dance bars. The movie resonates with real life more than we could imagine. Do yourself a favour and google a certain music company in Haryana (hint: it's named after a bird) and watch a fully clad performer gyrate to regional song about a 'solid' anatomy. The channel has millions of followers— in fact, my friend's barber showed him a downloaded video while shaving him, and said, "Ye dekho mast cheej". The videos have awestruck men staring at the performer, who by the way, brings a man in the capacity of a bodyguard (like the character of Swara Bhaskar’s manager in Anaarkali, played by Pankaj Tripathi). Some would argue that the position of power Anaarkali holds over the crowd as she performs, is empowering in itself, yet the nagging feeling that this isn't right in the first place, just does not go away.
The movie’s premise of harassment endured by entertainment dancers is eerily reminiscent of the woman shot dead on stage in Punjab while entertaining a group of drunk men at a wedding. There has been no word in the media on what retribution the perpetrators faced. In fact all headlines read "girl shot dead/dancer shot dead/pregnant girl shot dead" and hardly any headline mentions who shot her (note the prevalent use of ‘girl’ to describe a full grown woman). The theme with all crimes related to women is the same, "Girl raped/girl molested/girl murdered" with more focus on the profile of the victim and her personal life, rather than the accused. Consider this- "Drunk man kills a wedding performer on camera", "Rifle firing by men at weddings claims another life", “Violence by men on the rise”. Oh wait, let's not say too much, we may trigger another #NotAllMen outrage.
The movie also explores the stigma that comes with being branded a sex worker in this country. It's apparent that being branded a sex worker (whether you are one or not) makes you a second class citizen immediately, a citizen who has no recourse with the authorities or sympathy from society, and whose self respect suffers a great deal. This brings about a technical question as well about the laws of our land. Sex work (I hate the word prostitution) is legal in India and yet many women and men are arrested and harassed on this charge. For the sex workers this is double jeopardy because if they are scared of the authorities, who protects them?
Anaarkali uses the system to her advantage to exact revenge on her own terms. The climax of the film has the audience spellbound, internally cheering for Anaarkali. The movie makes you root for a woman who is not a pious, quintessential abla naari, and that I think is great progress in itself where Bollywood is concerned.
The writer is Programme Manager, Population First and the review was published in DNA India on April 5 2017.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil: Is modern Bollywood representing us well?

Karan Johar’s rendering of ‘unrequited love’ in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil speaks of anything but love. Systematic stalking and emotional abuse are not love. Trying to kiss your platonic friend when she’s clearly uncomfortable, and then resorting to domestic violence, is not love. Yes, breaking vases is also domestic violence. The characters stumble in and out of toxic relationships, and the audience is supposed to feel sorry for them and root for a happy ending.

Let’s take a look at all the characters without their glossy Bollywood faces. Alizeh is portrayed as a modern woman who makes split second judgement, assessing (even before meeting her) that Ayan’s girlfriend would only be with him for money. Feeding the golddigger stereotype is not doing us any good as a nation that consumes Punjabi rap about girls ‘selling their affections’- so to speak- on a daily basis. Also, in an era of strong women who want to stand up against not just physical but emotional abuse, Alizeh’s initial choices are hardly a beacon of hope for women suffering silently in their homes. But we have to give her due credit for extricating herself from one toxic relationship at least, which was her marriage. No such luck with ridding herself of Ayan though, whose re-entry is juxtaposed with the entry of cancer.

When it comes to Ayan, his caustic behaviour toward the people in his life has been excused by various write-ups and reviews by calling him a ‘Man-child’, but this just sounds like another version of “boys will be boys”. This excuse-culture needs to be stopped. People must be held accountable for their deeds and bear the consequences. To give Ayan a happy reconciliation with his ‘friend’, is an assurance that no matter how badly you behave you will be rewarded for persistence that borders on stalking and harassment. The lowest point of the movie occurred in the thankfully deleted ‘Evening in Paris’ song, when Ayan grabs a random stranger’s hand. Instead of calling out his groping and sexual assault, she playfully caresses his cheek. What does this convey? That it is okay to be sexually harassed when a ‘hero’ is doing it? The second problem in this blink-and-miss moment is the stereotyping of ‘firang’ females as ‘loose’ women who would not mind being groped.

Saba, played by the ethereal Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, breaks through the cacophony as a sole voice of reason when she dumps Ayan, on being used as shiny trophy to show off to his true lady love, Alizeh. Saba’s ex-husband played by Shahrukh Khan is very eloquent, and yet invades his ex wife’s personal space time and again. Do any women, even the happily divorced ones, want their exes to breathe down their necks in public? What are Bollywood movies subliminally planting in the consciousness of the populace? It is high time mainstream filmmakers woke up to the subtle hints in their movies that help develop a culture of abuse.

This review is by Ishmeet Nagpal who is a programme co-ordinator for Laadli -A Population First Initiative