A Rickshaw For Women’s RightsBy JEN SWANSON
Courtesy of VodafoneIn March, a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw, painted red to represent strength and female solidarity, alighted in Lower Parel, Mumbai signaling the end of a 10-day journey that started in Delhi by way of Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and the union territory of Daman.
The 1,800-kilometer (1,100-mile) journey, dubbed the Red Rickshaw Revolution, was intended to “raise awareness about the inspirational women across India and share their achievements,” said Laura Turkington, country director of the Vodafone Foundation, the lead sponsor of the campaign, and one of the vehicle’s three passengers. She, Sunita Chaudhary, the first woman to work as an auto-rickshaw driver in the Delhi national capital region and Carina Deegan, a foundation supporter, took turns driving.
The project includes an interactive Web site, which showcases the profiles of 30 Indian women who fit the criteria of “ordinary women doing extraordinary things.” The red rickshwaw visited 10 of these women in their hometowns and shared their stories on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Among the notable women were Vijaylaxmi Sharma, 24, who works to end child marriage in her village, Jhodinda, in the state of Rajasthan, and Mittal Patel, who has secured identity cards for 60,000 people from nomadic tribal communities in Gujarat, marking the first time they have ever been officially recognized by their government.
Ms. Turkington said the project started as a way to raise money for the Apne Aap Women’s Collective, which works with sex workers in Mumbai’s red-light district, and grew into a much larger project. “Everyone’s gotten involved in this,” she said. “It went from the tiniest idea and just exploded.”
As the idea evolved, the campaign grew to include two more nongovernmental organizations. Breakthrough, which is based in Delhi and New York, appeals to men and boys through the media and pop culture to help end domestic violence. The Community Outreach Programme, also known as C.O.R.P., will use its share of the money raised to open a new vocational training center for women and expand its outreach efforts, said Stefano Funari, the organization’s fund-raising and communications manager.
Through a mix of individual and corporate donations, the campaign raised 5.1 million rupees ($92,000) to be split between the three nongovernmental organizations. In addition, the Vodafone Foundation has pledged 12.5 million rupees, said Ms. Turkington.
“The journey doesn’t stop here,” Ms. Turkington told the crowd of reporters, Vodafone employees and well-wishers who came out to celebrate the Red Rickshaw’s arrival last month. “There are many stories to be told. The inspiration continues.”
Cherie Blair, the wife of the former British prime minister Tony Blair, was also in attendance, as her own foundation, the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, has formed a partnership with the Vodafone Foundation in India on other projects. Ms. Turkington has called Mrs. Blair “unbelievably supportive” of the Red Rickshaw Revolution from the beginning, and said that their foundations share the common goal of empowering women through mobile phone technology.
“It goes to show what can be achieved when men and women work together,” said Mrs. Blair, speaking of the women behind the wheel, backed by the support of Vodafone’s co-ed team.
After speaking for a moment about the recent signing of a communiqué at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which she called proof that “every woman is as valuable as a man,” Mrs. Blair turned to Ms. Turkington with a grin.
“I envy all that you’ve learned,” she said. “But I don’t necessarily envy the heat of that rickshaw.”