Published: 06th March 2019
From eve-teasing to cyberbullying, how Vijayawada's Vasavya Mahila Mandali can help
Vasavya Mahila Mandali has been working with and for women for 50 years now and continues to do so to build a more equal society
International Women's Day has just turned the corner — four days to be exact. Women have been appreciated, their struggle has been acknowledged and we have moved on. But there are a few places where Women's Day is not an annual affair, it's a quotidian event. These places don't just serve as sanctuaries for women which counsel them towards a brighter future and help them in every way they can, but they also stand strong as an example of what women are capable of.
Chennupati Vidya passed away in 2018, Dr Bollineni was unanimously elected as the President of VMM. Having been a widow, losing a daughter and as someone who was abused by her husband, Dr Bollineni knows first-hand how widows and divorcees are shunned by the society
One such place lies in Vijayawada, Vasavya Mahila Mandali (VMM), which has been working relentlessly for distressed, peeved and misguided women. Started back in 1969 by former Vijayawada MP and activist Chennupati Vidya, daughter of famous social reformer and freedom fighter Goparaju Ramachandra Rao and social activist Saraswathi Gora, VMM is built on a base of Gandhianism and works toward the social, political and economic development of women. To attain this, they offer counselling services, shelters, jobs and much more to women. They have completed 50 glorious years of existence and are geared up for 50 more, thanks to Dr Keerthi Bollineni, their current President and the daughter of Chennupati Vidya. Though they have a lot of achievements to boast about, they prefer to look ahead and help women pave the way towards a more equal society.
Hold it up: Girls at VMM displaying their art | (Pic: P Ravindra Babu)
Where it all began
After losing a daughter and two husbands, one to death and another she chose to leave behind since he abused her in every way possible, Dr Bollineni armed herself with a degree from Coady International Institute, Canada and a fellowship in Paris and got back to work at VMM with a clear and defined purpose. "What I studied was to design interventions for women to make them courageous and confident enough to lead a life with respect," says the 63-year-old.
They have also been working on menstrual hygiene and have an end-to-end solution in place. They spread awareness about menstruation, teach sanitary napkin production, distribution and disposal as well
Their latest achievementsis in the realm of making the streets of the coastal city of Vijayawada safe for women. When miscreants are caught harassing women on streets, the police hand them over to Mahila Mitras who counsel them — sometimes in the presence of the former's parents. After a nod from the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N Chandrababu Naidu, this was launched in all police stations and in the last 26 months, 4,000 eve teasers have been nabbed. "Young men, accidentally or consciously, might have done something wrong, but the point is not to penalise them for it. We need to look at reformation," she explains sagely.
When we make women economically independent, they become self-reliant and they in turn can help their own families too
Dr Keerthi Bollineni, President, Vasavya Mahila Mandali | (Pic: P Ravindra Babu)
Now that most eve teasers have gone online and cybercrime is on the rise, Dr Bollineni's advice for women is to use social media for one's own empowerment. "A phone can become a tool in the hands of women and we must use it," says Dr Bollineni, who is active on Twitter and often uses the hashtag #NoSilenceForViolence.
Sometimes, the solutions can be very gratifying. Dr Bollineni tells us about a young girl who was married when she was 18 and had a daughter. She recently found out that her husband was having an extramarital affair. The whole sordid affair was placed before them and they started working towards a resolution. Not only did they persuade the man to bequeath some property to his daughter, but also guided the woman to learn how to operate a computer. When they found out she needed to learn English to get a better job, they invested the money required and encouraged her to learn it. "We offer different solutions through our counselling services. If there is no family support, residential and medical care is also offered. Multiple counselling sessions and guidance can always be found in abundance with us," she says with a smile. What they always tell young girls is that they should never stop their growth, whether it's education or a career, whatever they are going through.
Under Yuva Mitra, VMM has trained 10 colleges in Vijayawada, 12 colleges in Hyderabad and 10 colleges in Bhubaneswar to be gender champions along with the US Consulate. A total of 1,200 youngsters have been trained
Give them the respect due to them
Respect is something of a game-changer, when it comes to women's rights. "We want respect for these distressed women in the society," she says firmly. One way to do this is to make women economically independent. Often, having economic power and the ability to own an enterprise can go a long way. Though their Rural Mart initiative, where women producers are given a platform to market their products — a hugely successful programme — they want to create 1,000 women entrepreneurs within the next five years.
VMM also wants to change the political scenario and want to work towards seeing more women in governance. "There are no women on the cabinet of Telangana's government and that's not right," says Dr Bollineni and adds, "We don't want speeches anymore when it comes to gender equality." They aspire to train women to be leaders, especially young and middle-aged women, so that women are empowered to grab the positions reserved for them.
On live: Dr Bollineni during a counselling session | (Pic: P Ravindra Babu)
While much has been done, much more needs to be achieved when it comes to gender equality and organisations like VMM continue to do their bit to take the cause forward and to ensure that every day is Women's Day and that society, as we know it today, transforms into a more equal one.
So, happy Women's Day. And, no, there is really no need to prefix the wish with the term 'belated' because every day is Women's Day.
The five pillars of VMM, as per Dr Bollineni
Education: They have a home for 100 girls who are orphans, single parent-child and come from broken homes. They also offer scholarships to women who want to pursue higher education
Health and nutrition: For the last 30 years, they provide HIV testing services. They have a Swetcha Gora Eye Bank. At a few hospitals, self-examination of breast and cervical cancer is also provided
Livelihood: They also have a tribal development programme where they teach natural farming and even give away farm animals. They also give loans, and support bamboo basket weavers
Human rights: Apart from Mahila Mitra, they have an old age home for old women. They also manage a rescue centre for women who have been trafficked. They offer counselling and vocational skill development too
Environment: They spread the word about solar energy. In fact, VMM office runs on solar energy and their old age home soon will
For more on them, click on vasavya.org