Challenging barriers, empowering women
The Azad Foundation aims to build and promote women’s empowerment and gender equality, enabling women to access non-traditional livelihoods and encouraging men and communities to reject patriarchal concepts, attitudes and behaviours in their daily lives. From 2017 to 2020, we funded Azad’s “Women With Wheels” flagship programme, which trains vulnerable women from deprived backgrounds for employment as professional drivers. We’re now providing core funding to further support Azad’s comprehensive and sustained efforts to fight gender stereotypes and barriers in public and private spaces.
India is ranked 112 out of 153 on the Global Gender Gap Index (WEF, 2020). Despite positive economic growth, it is also one of the few countries in the world with a declining female labour force participation rate (37% in 2006 - 18% in 2019). This decrease reflects women’s conditional access to resources and opportunities as well as deep-rooted gender inequalities such as restricted mobility, early marriage and the high incidence of violence at home. The limited number of income-generation and skill development programmes that are available to poor urban women tend to focus on stereotypically female occupations such as tailoring and embroidery, while generally excluding more lucrative growing fields such as transportation, warehousing and skilled construction work.
Azad Foundation’s signature programme, Women With Wheels, trains and employs poor urban women as chauffeurs and taxi drivers. These women acquire human capital (training, skills and knowledge), financial capital (income, assets and resources) and social capital (access to support networks and relationships) so that they are ultimately empowered to take control of their lives, free from the threat of violence or retribution and able to express agency and assert control over resources.
Armed with increased mobility, visibility, confidence and an unprecedented sense of belonging and self-worth, the women who graduate from the programme and find a job at Sakha Cabs gain a range of significant benefits. However they also continue to face multiple social and cultural barriers linked to pervasive societal biases and gender stereotypes, underlining the need for comprehensive and sustained efforts. Formal enrolment and retention in the programme as well as dignified job placement after its completion are still a constant challenge.
Our one-year contribution will make it possible for Azad Foundation to fine-tune their theory of change and strengthen their operations, including their extensive outreach efforts in low-income neighbourhoods, their support to community leader networks and their engagement in collective advocacy platforms and policies for promoting gender transformative impacts.
Azad Foundation’s Women With Wheels training programme and the web of social and institutional support services around it are improved, streamlined and expanded to slowly reach more women while maintaining the depth of impact that enables Azad’s intervention to profoundly transform the lives of women and their families.
Over the next few years, Azad Foundation will continue to build on the foundations it has laid over the years. It will harness technology and diversify its non-traditional livelihoods options, enabling more women to empower themselves and gain employability. It will also continue to invest in strengthening its own institutional systems (human, resources, finance and governance) so as to be better prepared to sustain its quest towards substantive social change.