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ShePower: Anya Thakur on creating opportunities for girls through education and uplifting women

Women's advocate and teen celebrity journalist Anya Thakur, the founder and trustee of ShePower in partnership with MetoWe, on the importance of uplifting women to uplift communities and creating opportunities for girls through education.

Image courtesy of Anya Thakur.

ShePower is a global movement and organization aiming to advocate and uplift women and girls, underrepresented minorities such as Asian-Americans and South and East Asian women and diverse voices. Founded by teen celebrity journalist and women’s advocate Anya Thakur in partnership with We Movement and MetoWe, ShePower upholds UN Women’s mission to ensure an equitable future and opportunity for all through fighting for representation and visibility while empowering and elevating. ShePower hosts empowerment, leadership and self-defense workshops for women and girls in Delhi, Mumbai, Coimbatore, and Munipur in India and has spearheaded dozens of outreach efforts. And through creating, celebrating, and curating women’s stories, ShePower fights for those who cannot fight for themselves and is proud to be a voice for women.

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We see potential leaders everywhere. It’s time for women and girls to see it in themselves. And as a teen celebrity journalist and women’s advocate through UN Women, I am honored to further their mission in creating and making a better and brighter future a reality for millions of girls.

To EDUCATE

To expand my work with ShePower, a global organization I founded in partnership with MetoWe to further my goal of uplifting women’s and diverse voices, I traveled to Delhi, Coimbatore and other parts of Tamil Nadu, Mumbai and Munipur this past summer to empower rural and underserved women and girls. It was an experience as I strengthened my ties to my heritage and homeland as a first generation Indian-American, and an opportunity to lead empowerment and outreach efforts.

Bunches of white flowers were woven through long black plaits as these girls donned colorful dupattas, or shawls, and school uniforms for the first time over traditional saris. I watched them run their hands along the glossy covers of textbooks and thumb their pages with a quiet reverence, their eyes fixated on the printed images of other Indian girls like them inside smiling confidently and sharing their words as they stand up and speak out, and toyed with the zippers on their backpacks as their eyes widened with curiosity.

Their faces were flushed with excitement and their movements gradually transitioned from tentative to strong and assured as they threw punches, arms arcing through the air, and placed their feet in fighting stances. A soft-spoken girl came forward and when she landed a blow on a wooden punching board, it snapped cleanly in two along the perforations, the halves added to an increasingly tall stack. We are breaking barriers, both physically and metaphorically.

But what if these girls were not wanted or seen as worthy of these opportunities? In some parts of the world, this remains a harsh reality. Social ignominy surrounds the birth of daughters rather than sons in many Indian villages, and throughout their lives, they are expected to carry out the roles of sister to their brothers, bride to their husbands, mother to children, and then caregiver. Their roles are perceived in relation to others, rather than with the freedom to define their passion and purpose for themselves. But by providing women and girls with possibilities and opportunity – first information and access, then education and empowerment – this cycle can be broken. From providing health education and pads to decrease stigmas and further progress surrounding periods, during which many girls stay home, putting their schooling behind, and do not have resources or access to supplies, I hope to enable change and progress. By educating a girl, I am educating and empowering a community.

To ENACT & IMPACT

Through ShePower, I was motivated to disseminate health and hygiene products and over five thousand sanitary pads to underserved communities and to women and girls in need in Dallas. Faced with homelessness and other challenges, they are unable to afford these products and often resort to using abrasive materials such as newspaper or paper bags which can cause abrasions or infections. Funded by the Jane Goodall Foundation and donations from outreach efforts I led, I connected with and was able to empower or uplift women and girls in their time of need. By allowing them to focus on their education, careers and maximizing their potential, they can in turn contribute to their families, communities and achieve their personal goals. By empowering women, we are empowering communities, whether mine in Dallas or globally as I continue to do in India.

My mom and I carefully assembled care packages for distribution throughout Dallas of sanitary products, also adding makeup and cosmetics so that women could to take pride in themselves and present themselves how they chose and be confident. And we disseminated these, along with health information and opportunities for community engagement, the words we exchanged left an indelible impact on me and continue to fuel me.

To INSPIRE

African-American studies scholar-activist and Huffington Post writer at Columbia University Andrew Wang reached out to share a message with me. “I appreciate that you care about Asian-American representation across so many disciplines. There aren’t too many of us, but we’re here,” he wrote. Seeing my work resonate with, impact others and have the power to enact change is incredibly gratifying and perennially reminds me of the importance of sharing my voice in a vast landscape.

I was also recently reached out to by Celine Foster, the Vice President of Marketing for Stanford Women in Business and this year’s Stanford University sophomore class president, for my experience in journalism as she sought advice and expertise on starting an interview series at her school.

I was honored at her praise of my “amazing journalism experience” and told her the importance of pursuing her passions and starting out. And my words are something that I would share with everyone, from the young girls in India who I worked with to my younger self. Our voices are powerful and we should not wait to change the world. And education is education and that is essential to empowerment, whether for the wide-eyed girls in India who nurtured and ignited the tender sparks within themselves once we gave them the matchsticks to make a flame to the interview series that shapes up as I write this. Both burn and flare with potential and possibility from the inside. It’s up to us to allow women and girls everywhere to realize this potential.

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