“Women are complete human beings and don’t need to compare themselves”
Barriers to education, Girls' education, International Women's Day, Technology and education
Theirworld is marking International Women’s Day 2017 on March 8 by talking to inspiring women from across the globe.Read the full series here.
Annie Namala is the Executive Director of the Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion.
She has worked extensively in building community-based organisations, networking, training and advocacy.
Having worked for over 20 years in South India, she then shifted to New Delhi to engage in policy and advocacy work with bilateral and United Nations agencies particularly in the arena of child rights and the right to education.
Who inspired you when you were younger? And who inspires you now?
I was an avid reader when I was small. Coming upon the story of Abraham Lincoln, I was heavily influenced by him.
In some ways equality and justice was very important to me. I was impressed by his rise to become president and further to eliminate slavery.
I still remember the quotation “As I would not be a slave – so I would not be a master”. These words have influenced and shaped me considerably.
I moved on to study social work as a career and have since been engaged in community work.
As I began to understand the Indian society, Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, who we call affectionately Babasaheb Ambedkar, became my inspiration.
I am inspired by his vision of equality between the Dalit community that was treated as untouchable and polluting.
I am inspired by his courage to put his faith in the fundamentals of human rights and stand up against all odds.
His courage and strength to challenge powerful personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, demanding the development of the Dalit communities in India, inspires me.
What challenges did you have to overcome to get where you are today?
After completing my masters in social work, I had to challenge the norms of my family and community that did not accept women working outside specific occupations like teaching or banking.
They were convinced that girls needed to be protected and take up only 9-5 jobs. They insisted that I had to be accompanied by a man when I travelled anywhere.
The next challenge was when I wanted to get married to someone outside my community and of my choice.
This was highly unacceptable to my family and in India where marriages are decided by the family and the choice is made by parents and elders.
To even think of getting married to someone outside one’s community or state was unacceptable. I had to face considerable opposition and threat before my family finally agreed to my decision.
I remember every one of those days that were tense and stressful. I knew that it was not easy for my family to go against the community norms.
We waited for three years before we could finally convince my family to agree to the marriage.
What’s the best advice someone has ever given you? And what advice do you have for young girls and women?
My primary school teacher convinced me that I had the potential to become anyone I wanted to be and encouraged me to think differently.
This advice helped me to negotiate challenges, to always think I can make changes, that I can handle any situation, that life if good, that problems will move on and that there is beauty and goodness in life.
I would like to tell young girls and women that they are complete human beings. They do not need to compare themselves with any other woman or man.
We have immense potential and possibilities within each of us and we need to explore it continuously.
We need to trust in the positive spirit within us and draw upon it to move towards our aspirations and vision for a world where we have liberty, equality and community.
What has been your biggest achievement in life so far?
I have been in the social sector working on Dalit rights for a long time. Over the past ten years I have been able to set up Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion (CSEI), which has created a new framework for the work that I am doing.
It has created a space for children and youth from the socially excluded Dalit, Tribal and Muslim communities in India.
This platform has been able to continuously articulate strategies for promoting equity and inclusion for the socially excluded youth and children.
What skills or attributes do you think women bring to the workplace?
In my opinion, there is no skill that women cannot bring to the workplace.
I think the feminine spirit brings an eye for details and perfection, order and systematic organising, willingness to understand and accept and patience to let others also evolve and grow.