In 2009, Sara Abdullah Pilot and Lora K Prabhu started CEQUIN, an NGO that has been doing pioneering work with vulnerable women and girls in urban and rural areas, focusing on gender equity
Initially Sara Abdullah Pilot was working with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) for gender equality. While working there, she realised that most problems with women were at the grassroots level, and one needed to work and address the challenges there. She met Lora K Prabhu at UNIFEM and together with her, she decided to launch an NGO that works at the grassroots level of the problems with women. That is how CEQUIN India was launched in 2009.
Sara explains, “At CEQUIN, we aim to not only bring the girl child to the mainstream, but also make them self-sufficient, independent, and competent in making their daily life decisions and career decisions. We take a holistic approach to addressing each concern. If we are working with an adolescent girl or a woman, we would like to input as much into her life as we can to help her develop her strength in terms of mental health, physical health, leadership qualities and career. We also talk to their brothers, fathers, mothers, as much as we can in a kind of 360-degree approach. This helps not just the girl or woman, but the entire family and the community grows stronger.”
CEQUIN India looks at five thematic areas – education, health, violence against women, leadership, and livelihoods.
Sara explains, “We started with this initiative in 2019, as we were looking for an innovative strategy where we could help women and girls come out of their homes, come into the public space, build their capacities, skill sets, access to livelihoods and leadership positions not only in the society but at home too. After a lot of thought and deliberation, we finally decided that we are going to use sports that would serve these purposes and that sport could be no better than football because we felt that it ticked all the right boxes. It was an outdoor sport, a team game and challenged gender stereotypes.”
They used football to interact with adolescent girls in their program ‘Kickstart equality programme’. And after the girls were the part of this programme a string of activities kept them occupied. Sara says that they felt the need to intervene at the adolescent stages because that is the way you can have a long-term impact.
The second flagship initiative is the ‘Mardo Wali Baat’ campaign, where CEQUIN works with men and boys.
“We feel that when you’re working on gender equality, it is essential to work with both men and women, as it’s equally important for men to realise the presence of a women partner or member in their lives and family. We feel equal efforts are required to engage with boys and men as they have a stronger role to play – to understand equality and responsibility towards the other gender,” she says.
The third programme is the ‘Badhte Kadam’ programme, which is about livelihoods for women and girls. The fourth initiative, the ‘Women’s Resource Center’, is a place where women can come together, access government schemes and programmes and various other valuable critical information, which can change their lives and contribute to their livelihood.
CEQUIN India has a strong presence in regions like Delhi, Haryana, and Rajasthan. Sara believes there has been a change in the way gender issues are being perceived, but there’s still a long way to go.
Sara emphasises that change does not come from motivating women or a girl-child to stand up for herself, rather it’s more about inspiring the family and the community to stand with her, for her.
CEQUIN has been working with the UN continuously — with UNESCO and has had a long-standing partnership with the Australian High Commission through its direct aid program. It has also worked closely with the Delhi Government in the past and continues to work with them along with other philanthropic organisations like MCKS Trust, Rohini Nilekani Philanthropy, and others.
“Our plans are to work tirelessly for the community until we see that we don’t need to exist anymore. We will be expanding our work both qualitatively and quantitatively because we don’t want to lose what makes us so unique in terms of what we have been contributing to society. We want to be able to work in more areas graphically, work with more girls, and work with different stakeholders, so there is a lot of work to be done and we’re very excited. Till now it has been a satisfactory journey that gives us immense confidence to work harder and contribute to society at large. It’s more about just carrying one and impacting more and more communities,” Sara says.
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