Wholistic Learning for Women
My mother was my best friend. Her name was the first word I spoke, she was the one I laughed with, the one who supported me in all my projects — from goofy, creative, childlike endeavors to full-fledged entrepreneurial pursuits. She did not build a high-powered career for herself, or work an office job, but that didn’t stop her from sharing her wisdom and knowledge with me and others and nurturing the good intentions of those around her.
Today, on International Day of Women and Girls in Science (February 11, as designated by the UN), she is on my mind; as is every girl, woman, and mother, especially in my home country, India. I’m thinking of ways in which we can empower and uplift women, financially, socially, and mentally in every possible way.
Where do we start? And how? In a world marred by stress and inequalities, ravaged by a pandemic and natural disasters, and unhinged by breakdowns in human connection and communication, how do we create a future where women have equal rights and opportunities as men?
The answer lies in wholistic learning — or education in the largest sense. While formal education is a given, wholistic learning goes beyond scoring good grades, getting into a good school, and getting a good job. It's about internalizing values that help us progress as a society, as a people.
I'm talking about the kind of life education I received from my mother: from mindful eating and parables of traditional Punjabi wisdom to treating others with respect, compassion, and empathy. Addressing others as we would like to be addressed — as equals. For my Mamī, politeness, gentleness, and kindness weren’t just behavioral preferences, they ran deep within her being. Though our time together was briefer than I ever imagined, she taught me the most important lessons in life — lessons that I have channeled into the Roundglass framework of Wholistic Wellbeing.
I believe such wholistic learning, combined with a formal education, can help empower women, along with everyone else in the world.
Back to School
The Right to Education Act, which made education free and compulsory for children aged 6 to 14 years, has been in place since 2009 in India. However, the women’s literacy rate is still quite low. In 2011, only 65% of women in India were literate against 82% of men. While the Act has managed to bring girls back to schools, it’s hard to keep them there. In 2018, the average dropout rate among girls was 4.74% at the primary level and 17.3% at the secondary level.
A variety of factors are responsible for this: financial constraints, poor and unsafe transportation between home and school, lack of enough female teachers, inadequate toilets, and sanitation facilities for girls of menstruating age, to name but a few. Cultural factors also play a part: many parents want their daughters to settle early into domesticity, tending to their siblings when they’re small and getting married soon after they reach puberty. As many as 30% of girls discontinue education because they are required to engage in domestic activities.
Through Wholistic Wellbeing, which champions equal opportunity in all forms for all people, we can help entire societies and communities reframe their world view. It helps us take a step back from the cultures we live in to observe the world and its people as a whole and learn from them. It can help empower women by ensuring equitable rights and education for them.
Championing equal opportunity doesn’t just mean contributing financially to women’s projects and education. It requires active involvement. Case in point — women’s self-help groups at the Roundglass Foundation, empower rural women financially by enabling them to set up small enterprises through financial assistance. It’s heartening to see women break social taboos, change their own lives, and inspire other women to do the same by becoming financially self-sufficient.
Like my mother, many of these women don’t have the kind of careers we think of when we hear terms such as “empowered” and “high-achieving women”. But their achievements are all the more significant in light of the struggles they have overcome to get where they are.
Currently, Indian women contribute only 18% to the country’s GDP — one of the lowest in the world — and only 25% of India’s labor force is women. I want to see that change and watch the scales tilt in their favor. And I will do all I can to help empower them through wholistic learning.
I owe it to my mother.