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Manasi Pradhan: A Trailblazer for Women’s Rights In India

Shweta Kulkarni Darpan, 21 Mar, 2024
  • Manasi Pradhan: A Trailblazer for Women’s Rights In India

In an exclusive interview with Darpan, women’s rights activist Manasi Pradhan shares her story of overcoming challenges to empower women and advocate for their rights.

There are some people who have the grit and determination to not only seek the light but also become the light themselves. Women’s rights activist Manasi Pradhan is one of these remarkable individuals. 

Hailing from a small village in Odisha called Ayatpur, Pradhan is a woman of courage and conviction who has defied norms to become a leading voice in empowering women in India. Despite facing several challenges, including societal norms that deemed education for girls taboo, Pradhan not only completed her higher studies, but also started her non-profit organization — OYSS Women, which champions the women empowerment movement in India.

Reflecting on her journey, Pradhan shares, “Looking back, many things seem to be a dream for me. A dream that I believe anyone coming from where I came can achieve, but for me, at that point, it was next to impossible. I had no examples, no precedent to refer to. Female education was a taboo in my village. However, I believed from an early age that being in school was the gateway to the world.”

Breaking stereotypes was her major challenge, Pradhan asserts, “I think the prime challenge here was breaking the stereotype that girls are not meant to study. But I was resolute, and my parents supported me. They sold off their land to shift to the town so I could continue my higher education. I was the first in my community to graduate from high school and then complete my undergrad, master's, and even law.”

After completing her studies, Pradhan started working to provide financial support to her family. Later, driven by her literary interests and entrepreneurial spirit, Pradhan even established her printing press. But her vision extended beyond personal success. She shares, “I wanted to do something for the society. I wanted to support everyone, who was facing challenges to meet their needs, to access basic education and other critical services, which is considered a basic right. And that’s when I established the NGO OYSS Women in 1987.”

Today, Pradhan also spearheads the Honour for Women National Campaign, a nationwide movement to end violence against women in India. She says, “As I began my journey in activism, there were a multitude of social issues that we were tackling. A pressing matter was the increasing crime and violence against women. And I decided I needed to focus specifically on handling it. This was the beginning of the Honour for Women National Campaign, which currently has a membership of over 20,000 people from different walks of life. We are operational across 24 states and in 10 countries across Asia and Europe. We aim at escalating our campaign to every corner of the world, as violence against women exists in every nook and cranny.”

Pradhan has also founded Nirbhaya Vahini and Nirbhaya Samaroh. She explains, “Nirbhaya Vahini was launched to prepare an army of gender advocates cutting across different walks of life, who will advocate for their own rights as well as the rights of other people. With over 20,000 volunteers in India and over 4,000 globally, we conduct consultations, and training sessions, and engage with officials to ensure gender mainstreaming in policies and implementation. On the other hand, Nirbhaya Samaroh is an annual event that brings together leaders from different fields who have contributed to gender equality, featuring performances that aim to shift mindsets and raise awareness.”

Further explaining some of the achievements of OYSS, Pradhan says, “One of the key achievements for OYSS has been the establishment of the four-point charter and its subsequent implementation through strong advocacy and campaigning. Having identified the key drivers exacerbating violence against women, it was recognised that four key aspects need to be considered in terms of impacting the grassroots in India. Firstly, a campaign to stop the illegal use of liquor, which is a root cause of domestic violence, sexual abuse, assault, and harassment, among others. Second, self-defence training for women at different levels, with a specific emphasis on educational institutes, could be a platform for inculcating this at a very fundamental stage. In legal terms, demand for a special protection force, especially in the hotspot areas, and further to fast-track the concerned cases, a fast-track wing, and a special investigating and prosecuting wing for crime against women in every district.” 

Pradhan has received several awards, including the Rani Laskhmibai Stree Shakti Puraskar, from the President of India in 2014. When asked about the impact of these accolades, she says, “The recognition boosts our confidence and encourages more people to join us, which is crucial. For decades, we have seen women fight for basic services and basic rights, and it continues. It won't change unless people from different factions come together and take active action towards achieving gender equality in our society.”

Pradhan concludes the interview with a powerful message for young girls. She says, “For every young girl out there, I would like to tell her that — 'Life might seem difficult at this point, but you have to take it up as a challenge and put up with it. Do not lose faith in yourself and believe in your inner strength to fight all odds.' I strongly believe we need to encourage every girl, from a very young age, to be extremely confident. And lastly, each one of us needs to empathize with others. Oftentimes, I see people negate empathy; however, I think it is the most important aspect, and we need to promote the culture of empathy more and more.” 

OYSS women strongly believe in inclusivity and encourage people from any field to come and join them as members. For more information: visit - https://www.oyss.org.in/

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