Educating & Skilling Women in Rural India


By Rajiv Tewari, based on a conversation with Runa Maitra, Founder of People Talent International. Runa is working with several organizations in educating and skilling women in rural India. Her detailed introduction has been shared at the end of this article.

Meera’s story, published widely in media, tells a lot about the challenges women have to face in rural India. She works for Khabar Lahriya Khabar Lahariya (News Waves), a newspaper staffed, edited and run entirely by women. Khabar Lahriya   covers local and rural issues in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. When she decided to take up the job of a reporter, Meera’s family member were the first to strongly oppose her decision. She was so used to being shouted at that she simply chose to keep quiet. Luckily, a friend helped her by convincing her family members and somehow they agreed to let her work. But then, in a male dominated society, Meera had to face a lot of challenges externally too. While reporting a story about a land dispute, she was pulled by a man who threatened to take her photos in his bedroom. She somehow managed to free herself and call the police for help or the worse could have happened.  Meera faced all the odds to become a Chief Reporter in this newspaper and has become an inspiration for many other women.

Women in rural India have begun to challenge the old world order around the country. Stories and images of Sakshi Malik winning a bronze medal, in wrestling at Rio, are now inspiring many women in rural areas to venture out in areas which were totally unthinkable in the past.  A large number of women entrepreneurs are making a huge difference in rural India by encouraging women to opt out of the option of just being housewives or additional hands during crop sowing and cultivation. Ela Bhatt, Co- founder of Self Employed Women Association (SEWA) has empowered women to be self-employed by assisting them to buy solar bulbs through soft loans and then selling or renting these for a sustained source of income in Bihar. Thinlas Chorol founded a Ladakhi Women’s travel company which has encouraged a large number of women to take up mountaineering as a new avenue to earning a living. Chetna Gala Sinha founded the Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank with the help of illiterate women. This bank is operated completely by the women and for the women. This group of women have even established the Udyogini School for providing vocational and financial training to young women who have to drop out of the education system in the state of Maharashtra.

Runa shared how the NGOs are supporting the education for girl child and empowerment of women in the rural areas. She is working closely with several NGOs with the intent to increase the number of girls going out from the village to complete education. For many poor families, in rural India, children are seen as additional earning hands and therefore counselling sessions highlighting the short term and long term economic benefits go a long way in enlisting support from the parents.  Runa said that the NGOs she works with are giving incentives in kind & cash to parents who agree not to marry the girl child before the age of 18 years & allow them to be educated and skilled. “A good  example is that of  PURE India Trust which is skilling underprivileged children, particularly the girl child in the Delhi NCR and the state of Rajasthan by supporting 13 village schools and NGO centres in the field of education, employability, healthcare & talent encouragement. Schemes launched by PURE India include Girl Education Encouragement Scholarships for Computer training, “Beauty Culture” & vocational trainings in various areas” added Runa.

The winds of change are clearly blowing in the right direction.  However to convert these trends into a mass movement, a lot more is required to be done by the government and the citizens of India.

It is critical to support skill development opportunities for women in a socio economic ecosystem that is conducive to women.  Indian law recognizes the importance of women’s inclusion & has provided for a minimum of 33 percent of seats for women in panchayati raj institutions.  However, it is very important to educate the masses about their rights and government initiatives at the ground level. “Our team is focused on acting as a catalyst in equipping rural women through counselling, sharing of information, workshops & skilling, with the primary objective of increasing the earning potential of women.  To reduce the social pressure and to support the rural women, an ecosystem is being created by first of all sensitizing the family members about the benefits of skilling. When the family members understand that after acquiring the necessary skills the earning potential of the family would increase, they begin to support the programme in most cases” said Runa.

“Siksha -Rakshak is a good example of how to garner support from the family members for supporting women.  This initiative is inspired by the festival of Rakhi which is based on the age old tradition of brothers pledging to protect their sisters from evil on the auspicious day of Rakhsa Bandhan (thread of protection).  Sisters tie a sacred thread on the right arm of the brothers and the brothers take a pledge to provide protection.  Sisters offer sweets on this day and the brothers give gifts. Under the ‘Siksha Rakshak’   programme, brothers take a pledge to secure their sister’s future by educating and skilling them.   This programme has been quickly understood and adapted in the rural areas” shared Runa.  Such initiatives on a large scale can go long way in creating an ecosystem for change.

Funding from diverse sources is critical for the development of women in the rural areas.  Charity funding, corporate sponsorship & government funding need to be channelized effectively for this cause. Societal as well the economic returns on such investments can be huge. India can learn a lot from countries like UK where fostering of children is supported by the government as well as charities.  Government can help a lot by incentivising funding from across the globe and collaborating with global organizations already doing a good work in this area. A large number of NRIs (Non Resident Indians) would be happy to contribute as long as there is a system of accountability with a transparent audit system to ensure that the funds reach the beneficiaries at the ground level.

The idea behind this article is to invite suggestions from the readers. Please share your thoughts and suggestions on this subject with us at [email protected]

About Runa

Runa Maitra is a Corporate Education Evangelist & Founder of People Talent International (A Consortium of Business Partners). She has over two decades of HR and OD experience in the IT/ITES, professional services, manufacturing and retail sectors in India, US and UK.

As a Jury member of Ashoka Foundation, she has selected social entrepreneurs for the nationwide Youth-venture program. The evolution of corporate social responsibility in India has inspired her to lead a NGO SDEAR on and to be associated with Pure India Trust for helping diverse communities through skill based training and education. Her journey includes Scopathan with iVolunteer where she conducted several programmes for training NGOs on People Management Skills.

As a diversity & inclusion judge of Human capital online, Australia, Runa has propagated equal opportunity employment across India. She has also conducted several skill-based workshops on NSDC framework for women empowerment and safety. She is associated with WIAL India, C2COD, WASME, SHRM, AIMA, NHRDN and MTHR for contributing to the HR fraternity as a responsible community member.

Runa holds a MBA degree and is pursuing Fellow and PHD program from Academy of HRD, Ahmedabad, Trained in Gemba Kaizen, Prince2, NLP, Thomas profiling and various corporate training module.