The CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Program recognizes exemplary women working at the grassroots.The program, since its inception in 2005, promotes women’s empowerment at the community level by discovering, recognizing and supporting those who have, against all odds, excelled and contributed significantly to the development process in India.
Key Components of the Program :
Become a part of a network of women working to transform India
The Woman Exemplar Award is conferred on women working at the grassroots
who have contributed significantly in the fields of:
Education, Health, Micro Enterprise
The Award is called EXEMPLAR because the winning change makers demonstrate vision, resilience and role model leadership, setting an example for others, and igniting the spirit and the belief among them that they too can be empowered. The exemplars are self-motivated individuals, who transform their own lives and that of their societies.
Since its inception, 95 Woman Exemplars have been identified
Network of 95 exemplary women change makers
Reaching out to over 12 L people
Pan India Outreach
Woman Exemplars 2020
Health Sumitra Gagrai
Location: West Singhbhum, Jharkhand
Born into the indigenous Ho tribe, Sumitra fought poverty to emerge as a health change agent. Working in the interiors of Jharkhand, she and her team have impacted 36,000 tribals, reducing maternal and neonatal deaths. Losing her sister to depression and suicide moved Sumitra to launch a rural model for community mental health care. Run by 30 tribal youth counsellors, this model provides destigmatized mental health and telepsychiatric services to 20,000 individuals.
Education Rekha Bhandare
Location: Belgaum, Karnataka
Daughter of a devadasi, Rekha was committed to this practice at the age of 11. She had two daughters by the age of 14. Today, this champion of education and child protection has transformed the lives of 6,200 at-risk girls and women. Through advocacy at the district and state levels, her organization, MASS, has ended the devadasi practice in Belgaum.
Micro-Enterprise Chandrakali Markam
Location: Dindori, Madhya Pradesh
Daughter of Adivasi wage labourers, Chandrakali pulled her family out of extreme poverty through small SHG savings. With this conviction, she grew a federation of 507 SHGs in Dindori, located in a densely forested belt affected by Naxalism. This SHG federation of 6,000 Adivasi women has an annual turnover of Rs. 70 crore. In a region untouched by entrepreneurship, Chandrakali leads a poultry business with 360 women farmers that clocked revenues of Rs. 14.5 crore in 2018–19.
Location: Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Poverty, violence, and corporal punishment forced Aarti to dropout of school twice. Today, she is a teacher–changemaker in Prerna, a school for disadvantaged girls from urban poor communities in Lucknow. Through feminist pedagogy and a gender empowering model of education, Aarti has transformed 4,500 Prerna students into change agents. She also leads Veerangana, a movement of girl champions, that has reached 7,500 slum residents, moving them to commit to the completion of their daughters’ education.
Location: Karnal, Panipat, Haryana
Bharti’s birth led to the banishment of her parents from their village. Beating poverty and patriarchy, she found purpose in socially engaged theatre. Working in rural government schools of Haryana, Bharti runs Taaron Ki Toli, an adolescent and youth leadership program that combines life skills, gender empowerment, and theatre. She has trained 10,400 adolescents and 480 youth leaders who are rising to make gender-based violence unacceptable. Together, they have impacted 25,000 community members and government officials.
Location: Madhubani, Bihar
Child marriage, domestic violence, and murder attempts on her life led Nirmala to find her purpose. This champion of child protection is building active village child protection committees (VCPCs) across the hazardous district of Madhubani to protect all at-risk children from harm. By turning 1,452 youth, adolescents, teachers, parents, and government officials into barefoot child protection experts, Nirmala has revived a defunct government system, stopped 200 child marriages, and directly impacted 11,241 individuals.
Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra
Born in the most impoverished slum of Mumbai, Anjum is leading a movement for safe public toilets. She has trained slum residents, including disabled and transgender persons, to become civic rights leaders. They conduct toilet surveys from the lens of gender, privacy, safety, and hygiene. Then, using data and evidence, they partner with municipalities to construct, repair, and maintain toilet blocks across Mumbai. Anjum’s movement has brought dignity and safety to the lives of 2,000 individuals.
Laxmi Mahadev Waghmare
Location: Marathwada region, Maharashtra
Born into a Dalit family, Laxmi was married at the age of eight to her maternal uncle. Surviving domestic violence, she raised her family on meagre earnings as a village health worker. Today, she leads a mass-based organization dedicated to advancing the rights of rural single women in Maharashtra. Laxmi has trained 190 single women leaders like her own self. Together they have lifted more than 17,000 women and families from poverty and violence.
Location: Banda, Uttar Pradesh
Married at the age of 15, Pushpa lost several pregnancies and landed up in hospital frequently due to grievous spousal violence. Today, she has transformed 5,500 women survivors of violence into change agents. They, in turn, have enabled 14,000 Dalit, Muslim and Adivasi women to build agency and walk out of domestic abuse. To create a culture that makes violence against women unacceptable, Pushpa has led campaigns and trainings that have impacted 1,49,859 government and community leaders.
Reshma Aadam Vohara
Location: Baroda, Gujarat
Rising from her own experience of violence, Reshma is the proverbial 2.00 a.m. friend to thousands of Muslim women in Baroda who face daily communal and domestic violence. She and her team are building agency among Muslim women through gender and sexuality awareness, leadership trainings for peace, and access to livelihoods. Her work has impacted 5,000 families. Reshma has also amplified the issues of safety of minority women to the national state apparatus.
Location: Sittilingi, Tamil Nadu
Born into the nomadic Lambadi tribe, Neela studied till class two. She went on to put the forgotten Lambadi craft traditions on the national map. From growing organic cotton to reviving the traditional embroidery styles to building retail networks, Neela’s venture has generated revenues of Rs. 3.12 crore. Women employed by Porgai have re-learnt their crafts and increased their family incomes by 70 per cent, leading to a 60 per cent reduction of migration in their community.
Location: Satara, Maharashtra
Born into a Dalit family, Rupali was married to a man who treated the carcass of dead animal. She transformed his caste occupation into a thriving business in leather-based musical instruments. Rupali has mentored 1,000 drought-affected women to start up their own ventures. Known as the ‘rural digital guru’, she has trained 5,500 women entrepreneurs in technology-based financial transactions, putting them on the highway of digital and financial inclusion.
Location: Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh
Small earnings as a Balwadi worker gave Geeta the courage to fund the expensive medical treatment of her children. Walking out of a violent marriage, she set up an organization that connects Dalit and tribal women with entrepreneurship opportunities in the poorest districts of UP. Geeta has collectivized 22,207 SHG members, equipped 5,180 women with remunerative livelihoods, and launched 800 rural business leaders. The women have increased their annual family incomes by 70–100 percent.
Location: Tilonia, Rajasthan
Breaking dominant Rajput traditions, Kailash Kanwar is one of the first women of her community to walk out of her violent family and become economically- independent. Having studied till class 5, Kailash harnessed her skills as a tailor to spearhead a crafts-based social enterprise where 2900 women like her have become skilled craft producers and earn rewarding wages. As a community leader, Kailash is a role model to more than 20,000 women of her area.
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