Aditi Arora – working towards making gender equality a reality in India

Aditi Arora is the Country Manager- India for Girl Up and a member of the Inclusivity Advisory Board at Just A Girl Inc. She is passionate about issues related to women and girls and has previously worked on projects related to gender, health and child protection including working for women in landmine affected countries. She has spoken at various platforms on women and intersecting issues including mental health at the Youth Summit on Mental Health, YOUNGA 2021, Girl Up Leadership Summit, Washington D.C., Women In Dev Conference, London, etc. She is also a TEDx speaker.

She has a Master’s degree from The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva in International Relations and Political Science

What are the key aims of Girl Up India?

Girls have a tremendous, often untapped, power to change the world. Girl Up India helps girls access that inner power to advance girls’ skills, rights, and opportunities. Their leadership development program transforms girls by exposing them to new possibilities, increasing their sense of confidence and positioning them to be changemakers in their communities.

Globally Girl Up has developed 125,000 girl leaders in 130 countries and is inspiring a generation of girls to be a force for gender equality and social change. Girl Up India has trained over 17,000 young change-makers across 200+ cities in India through numerous events, activations, workshops, and seminars.

Why did you choose to work with Girl Up?

Since my college days, I have been passionately working on women’s rights and empowerment issues. While studying in Geneva, I worked on women’s security in landmine affected countries with the Gender and Mine Action Program and continued working to promote women’s access to healthcare in general and advocating for sexual reproductive health and rights in particular, in India.

I have been a firm believer in increasing women’s representation and in leadership and in the value of girl-only spaces and Girl Up champions this in all its programming. Their participatory approach to co-create feminist realities is what interested me in joining them.

What is the work culture at Girl Up like? Specifically with regards to gender ratio, workplace equality, etc?

Girl Up in India is a budding organization with only two (2) full-time consultants and one (1) part-time consultant currently. We partner with Regional Leaders (volunteers) to implement programming across the country. As such, all Girl Up programs are open to everyone, except application-based programs, which are open to self-identifying girls/young women. This was to be intentionally inclusive – being wholly inclusive in most of our programs.

At Girl Up, we seek to center youth voices and consider their perspective at every level of decision-making and program design. We are committed to fostering equity and inclusion within our organization and creating an environment that celebrates our members’ unique and diverse identities.

What is the first step towards creating gender equality in India?

The first step is to change how we perceive the value of girls and women in society! In addition to this, we need to invest in girls’ education, skills, health and empower them to take agentic control over their lives. This can be achieved by engaging stakeholders like policy makers, civil society, the private sector and educators and implementing existing policies to further the cause of gender equality.

Can you highlight how you personally deal with sexism when you have to face it?

At some point in their lifetime, women will have experienced and dealt with unsolicited comments, whether on their body, choice of clothing, career, parenting style, lifestyle etc. just because of their gender. Sexism creates an environment of fear and insecurity and leads to an acceptance of violence. I too am no stranger to this all-pervasive problem and the one way to deal with this is to call out someone who is exhibiting and perpetuating sexism. Don’t be afraid to pull someone up for their problematic views because that is the first step to creating lasting change in the society. It’s important to see it, name it and stop it. 

How can we create a shift in the perception of rural India towards women?

Changing negative attitudes and practices towards women, whether in urban or rural areas, will take time. Any positive shift in behavior and mindset requires education, awareness and sensitization efforts, beginning from a young age. Many of us harbor unconscious biases and have internalized sexism and the first step, therefore, is self-reflection and awareness .

The approach to changing attitudes should include ingraining the value of girls and women as human beings through tools like media and storytelling.

What has been your most interesting project at Girl Up so far?

Globally, Girl Up works on several verticals including reducing gender gap in the field of STEM and sports and raising awareness on issues and themes like gender-based violence, mental health, sexual reproductive health rights and justice and the like. We provide specialized training to help girls to hone their skills in community organizing, goal setting, and effective communication.  This year in India, we have focused on training and supporting young female entrepreneurs through our flagship project; ‘Apprentice Hub’. Through this 10-week project, 10 girls will receive the mentorship, support, resources and funds to become future successful entrepreneurs and give fillip to the culture of entrepreneurship in our country.

Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.