Tag Archives: women

Warning: Contains Girl Power


Whoa – watching the women’s stories unfold during Half the Sky this week brought out so many emotions in me, many of which have already been beautifully recounted by my fellow bloggers. As Nicolas Kristoff stated, opportunity is certainly not universal, and its time for a little socio-economic reflection to observe how lucky we are to be able to utilize the opportunities that modern women have at their disposal here in the United States.

Here are some numbers that we can celebrate, many of which were pulled from Hanna Rosin’s The Atlantic article, The End of Men (also heard on OnPoint Radio, October 3rd):

1) Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history

2) Today the average wife contributes some 42.2 percent of her family’s income — up sharply from the 2 percent to 6 percent that women contributed in 1970

3) When broken down by profession, the gender wage gap is significantly decreasing in in many (but not all) industries (Payscale)

4) For every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same

All fantastic news!

Now, let’s be honest – of course we still have a long way to go. Yes, inequality is still unquestionably present, and women are still being marginalized both here and all around the world. The Half the Sky movement is even brought up as a counter point to Hanna Rosin’s article by a caller if you listen to the OnPoint Radio segment, above. But I do think it’s important to observe small victories. Rosin’s article may be narrow in scope, and there are many more discussions and viewpoints to consider. However, I do think we can all agree that her article is sparking the discussions surrounding women’s issues that we want to be at the forefront.



“Thank You” Just Isn’t Enough – Half the Sky Screening


This past week has been an exciting time for the Anchal team. We have received amazing news right and left, and we are happy to report that our Didi Scarves are going fast! First, we want to thank everyone who helped make Anchal’s Night at the Movies Pre-Release Screening of Half the Sky a true success!

Before the event on Sunday afternoon the team was busy buying balloons, making signs, picking up 500+ cookies, and practicing lines. The office was surprisingly calm for most of the day, minus a forgotten password and 20 minutes of pure terror, but all in all we felt ready and confident. Then it came time to set up the space for the evening, nerves were setting in. Colleen and I made our way to the event space, of course picking up just one more iced coffee on the way. More jitters? ‘Eh why not?’

When we arrived at the Ursuline Arts Center, over 30 volunteers consisting of friends, family, students and new supporters were already taking care of every detail. 15 Sacred Heart Academy students volunteered to model scarves for the silent auction and help get things rolling. It was wonderful to have these young activists assist with the evenings events, their energy and excitement was contagious. As I stood watching from the balcony above, it was as if I was watching a choreographed dance. Everyone knew their place, whether it was the bartender, ticket salesmen/saleswomen, or just a good old schmoozer, everyone seemed ready. At this point I slipped away to tech world and readied the video. After getting the volume just right, I went back into the reception space. I was shocked! If the attendance had topped at that moment I would have been happy, but it didn’t. Within 30 minutes, over 250 people were sipping wine, and enjoying cookies, candy and popcorn.

The next hour flew by, knowing many of the faces I bounced from one group to the next quickly forgetting my job to document the evening with photographs. Thankfully our wonderful intern Rachael took these priceless photos. It was crazy! At times I could barely squeeze past people to check out the silent auction or to sneak over to the cookie table. Everyone was enjoying themselves, all excited to support Anchal and more importantly get a preview of the Half the Sky documentary. The social hour came and went, it was time for the show.

The event began with Elizabeth Woolsey, our wonderful emcee, giving a brief history of Anchal and introducing Colleen for a quick update on our project. 30 minutes later, the screening had begun. I abandoned my post as the ‘pusher of play’ and snuck down and around backstage. I turned the corner and saw Colleen. Within seconds we were giggling and jumping around. We were so excited with the incredible turn out and so very thankful for all the help we had received. We both agreed the event couldn’t have been going any better. After updating each other on random tidbits, we parted ways and returned to our posts.

The evening wound down once the film had ended, and all the silent auction pieces had found new homes. It felt amazing to share our passion with those who were unaware on the women’s right issue addressed in the film. More importantly we hoped that the film opened eyes and inspired hearts. So to say THANK YOU just doesn’t seem to cover it, but THANK YOU to everyone who volunteered their time, who bought tickets and came to the show. Special thanks to those that sponsored the event and who donated the party beverages and snacks. It was a fantastic evening!

Now that you’ve seen the film, spread the word! Tell anyone who will listen about the struggles women face today and tell them how they can make a difference by supporting Anchal and organizations like us. That’s all it takes, educate those around you and share your passion for changing lives.


If you missed the Half the Sky documentary this past Monday and Tuesday, visit their site for future screenings and learn how you can purchase the DVD!

For more photographs check out NFocus

“Talent is universal; opportunity is not.” –Nicholas Kristof


Whew, if watching Half the Sky won’t get you in the mood to get off the couch and make a “dent in the universe” as Steve Jobs so elegantly once quoted, I don’t know what will!

A few days ago I was having a “bad day.” As I currently navigate a transitional period between my post-Indian and pre-Argentinean lives, my life feels boring at times. I’m currently working as a barista in a café, babysitting, tutoring Spanish, and doing random projects around my house to try and keep busy before my next departure. Not exactly riveting, but I’m normally content to be surrounded by family and friends. However, just the other day, for unknown reasons I felt incredibly unhappy and unsettled when I took stake of my life-working in the café and feeling un-stimulated, feeling unsure about where my life is going/the uncertainty of it all, second guessing my decision to study in Argentina, living at home instead of on my own. “Woe is me,” I thought. So I went to my room, lay down in my bed and allowed myself a good 30 minutes of grumbling and crying and general immaturity.

Then I watched Half the Sky. I watched as women told stories of the day they were circumcised, recounted the day they were sold to a brothel, or the time they were raped by their uncle. I sipped my tea and nibbled my cookies, all of which had been bought in a store, which I had driven to in a car, conveniences that the women in this film couldn’t even fathom. I re-took stake of my surroundings, realizing that I had a roof over my head, parents who love and support me, my health, a college degree, that I live in a society that values my productivity and skill-set and immediately felt guilty for having had a “bad day.”

Half the Sky is a sobering account of the realities that many women in the world face. The filming is gorgeous, the stories moving and the message harrowing yet inspiring. One of the quotes that struck me came from Nicholas Kristof, the brains behind the operation of Half the Sky. He said, “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.”


Talk about hitting the nail on the head. It’s opportunity that separates us, the “lucky” women in the world, from the “unlucky” ones, isn’t it? Opportunities that are created by a society that values dignity and equality for women, and works toward making such opportunities a reality. A woman in Somaliland may have the potential to become an incredible writer, but if her parents force her to quit school and find work to support her family, those opportunities, to develop her skill-set, to pursue a career, are lost.

This quote immediately took me back to one of my memories of working at a low-income school near the slums in Hyderabad, India. One of my early projects was working with the 10th standard girls (equivalent to 8th grade) on their Design For Change Project*. The theme of their project was eve teasing, the Indian English word for name-calling. Their idea was to create a series of skits showing how girls their age can stand up to boys, and, in their words, “be bold.” Their idea was to take their skits to neighboring schools and perform them for girls in hopes of reversing cultural norms (i.e. notions that women should be shy, delicate, etc). For days, and months, I practiced with them. We wrote and re-wrote the scripts, practiced the role playing and perfected it until they had everything memorized. When they were ready, I took them to a nearby school where they could perform their skits for younger girls.

It was beautiful. Tears welled up in my eyes, I was incredibly proud. I watched as Ehlam, the bossy dark-eyed girl who was the narrator, helped situate everyone on stage, watched as Ramsha and Nimrah pretended to be the boys in the skits, putting on low voices and acting gruff with the occasional hiccup of laughter. They did it! All of the months of working on the skits had finally paid off. I felt relieved and satisfied, felt like I could put a little check next to the imaginary “do something good today” box on my to-do list.

But then there were a few words from the owner of this particular school. Asma, a teacher who I worked closely with at my school, translated as he took the microphone, and I listened with horror as he began to undo everything I had just done.

He talked about the Prophet Muhammad, how it was written in the Koran that girls should study hard but have good manners, be mild and soft-spoken and at the mercy of their husbands, ready to raise children. A fresh batch of tears stung the corners of my eyes as I tried to smile and put on a good face. How could he do this?! Inside I was livid, my hurt pumping furiously, my palms began to sweat, I either wanted to hit him over the head with the microphone and tell the girls, “It’s a lie, don’t believe what he’s saying!” or run right out the door. But I had to sit through it, all of it, every stupid, piddling message he had to say to his girls, hear him mechanically and meticulously un-do the Design for Change Project that my girls had created, stitch by stitch. This man was single-handedly shutting the door to opportunities for his school girls by perpetuating cultural norms emboldened by religious sentiments.

The worst part about it was, nobody was contradicting him. Not even my girls, who came from better-educated families than the school we had performed the skits. Being a good wife, cooking meals and raising children was these girls’ mission, and it had been beaten into their skulls, by tradition and culture. How could I possibly think I was going to change all of that? What weapons did I have in my drawing board? Who was I, to think that I could cut down centuries of old beliefs and re-plant new ideas in their wake?

Although it has been my experience that working in the developing world is often like taking one step forward and two backward, I’ve realized that the one thing we can create for all women is, you guessed it, opportunity. As long as women have the chance to become educated, start businesses and pursue careers, they can break the endemic chains of cultural servitude that have kept them bound from the liberties that all women should be afforded in the 21st century. Of course, to some degree this has to happen organically and by leaders within these countries, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t help.

And so that’s why I can’t, and won’t quit, trying to give people in developing countries, especially women and children, the opportunities that are their rights. That’s why Half the Sky has re-invigorated my passion and desire for a more just world for our fellow didi’s everywhere. And that’s why, I will never, ever look at my life and think that I’m having a “bad day.”


*Design for Change is an initiative developed by Kiran Bir Sethi, a native of India. The program aims to allow children to express their own ideas for a better world and put them into action. The winners that are selected receive funding for their schools.

Looking to Get Ahead? Tips for Working Women in Social Enterprise


Many of my latest posts have highlighted specific organizations or women who are making big impacts in the world through creative solutions. These stories are meant to be inspiring and expose readers to the array of projects out there that are headed by women. However, I recently stumbled across an article by Forbes highlighting some tips for women in the social enterprise space. It was written by Laura Calandrella, a woman who offers incubation, coaching and leadership development to women who are aspiring social entrepreneurs. So what are you waiting for? Take that seemingly crazy idea of yours and get out there and make a difference!

  • Collaborate with competitors: According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics there is one non-profit for every 200 people in the US, not including the for-profit ventures out there. Thus, competition cannot be the only thing that drives innovation. Get rid of the “hero complex” and collaborate with others to build capacity.
  • Get over the “social entrepreneur” label: Social entrepreneurs are still business people, they just have a stronger commitment to creating social outcomes than the average business. However, the label “social entrepreneur” won’t mean much to your investors or customers, so focus on the social value you bring, giving you an edge in terms of competition.
  • Hire more women for leadership positions: Strong evidence has shown that women in leadership positions engender more trust and financially outperform their male counterparts.
  • Invest in personal development: Early stage ventures often fail because they don’t focus on team or personal development and instead on market knowledge and technical skills. It’s important to create a leadership culture and invest in coaching, developing learning communities and taking the time to engage in discussions about meaningful issues in your business.

Read the Forbes article here


Half the Sky Press Tour with Anchal’s Partner


The Anchal team is extremely excited about the upcoming PBS Half the Sky documentary that premieres on October 1st and 2nd. Not only will it be a powerful film about women and children’s oppression around the world but it also features our partner New Light and Executive Director, Urmi Basu.

Recently, a group from the film met with the press to promote the film and to speak about their experiences. The team from the film included Meg Ryan, Diane Lane, Nicholas Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn, America Ferrea, and Urmi Basu. Our friend America shared this about her experiences at New Light.

“I walked away remembering to keep my eyes open and my heart open to the possibility that I might one day come across a certain need that I could meet and remember that a hero like Urmi changed hundreds of children’s’ lives by deciding to say yes instead of no.”

If you have not yet visited Half the Sky Movement’s website or watched the trailer, do yourself a favor and take a look now. The website truly sheds light on the experiences our artisans face daily.

Be sure to stay tuned. We will be sharing Anchal’s plans to celebrate the film’s debut very soon.


An Exclusive Interview with Indian Designer and Illustrator Shilo Shiv Suleman


“For Sex Workers, I Think Art Can Be Deeply Healing:”

We came across Shilo Shiv because one of our friends was shooting a documentary on her story and life. We were blown away. Shilo is wise beyond her years. At only 23, she’s given a TED talk with over 800, 000 views, illustrated a dozen children’s books (her first at the age of 16), and released her own interactive fantasy iPad app called Khoya.

In an exclusive interview with Anchal Project, she gives us a peek into her brilliant creative mind and her thoughts on design, art and magic in today’s world.

Q: How do you believe design and art can create social impact?

I think design and art impact society in two ways. The first is obvious: every campaign or social cause needs iconography around it that becomes it’s driving force through society and social media. I really felt the power of this when a poster I designed for a campaign against women in India being beaten up just because they wore jeans or drank a beer. It went completely viral and got over 70,000 people on that Facebook page.

When I was 18, I started a group called Artivism where we’d do pro bono graphic design work for NGOs we believed in. Art and its relation with the community is something that fascinates me as well. A few friends and I started a group called the Bangalore Wallflowers where we’d get together with non-artists over the simple act of painting a wall and reclaiming a community aesthetic. On one level, the wall was prettier and the neighborhood restored. On another level, however, a lot of people who were afraid of taking action, afraid of leaving a mark, afraid of paint on a blank wall could finally begin to get over their fears.

The second way is on the subtle level and I find it most interesting:

Beauty is as functional as breath. I’m starting to really feel like just creating beautiful objects that are true to us and our subtle nature is so important.  In a world where we’re driven by usability, functionality, fast food, cars and connections, I think there’s an increasing need for creators of beautiful things. We need more moments to appreciate things beyond their function, moments where beauty is both the means and the end.

Q: We work with sex workers from slum & red light districts areas. What role can magic play in marginalized and poor communities?

I was traveling through the salt deserts of Kutch district [Gujarat state of India] earlier this year. It really came as a bit of a revelation to me that in rural spaces like Kutch and Rajasthan [State of India], beauty and magic aren’t a luxury of higher classes, but is essential to life. Every house is painted, every skirt is stitched with love and care, every woman would weave her own dowry. And this was our wealth, our abundance: beautiful things. In villages, until late at night Satsangs [i.e., communal gatherings] go on, there are shadow puppets and dancers and it’s all just for the community itself. This too is magic.

When we move into cities somehow the poor/marginalized living in slums and surrounded by such a vast and vulgar display of economic disparities lose a little of that. I feel like urban setups make one constantly dissatisfied: beauty and magic become a luxury, movies are only really enjoyed if in fancy multiplexes. I find this quite sad.

I feel like we need to move back and disconnect magic and beauty from wealth and reclaim magic as a right.

Particularly in the context of sex workers though, I really think art can be deeply transforming and healing. Nothing has healed me, no “guru” has taught me, like my art has.

Q: Who is your greatest female mentor? How have they inspired you?

Apart from being one of the artistic inspirations in my life, my mother has also brought both me and my brother up on her own and through her art. I think that’s always been a pretty big encouragement to me, that a family can be run on pigment and pixel, that one can survive all hurdles as long as one’s love for one’s work keeps one going.  And that kind of trust in art and one’s love for it has really been the biggest influence.

“Let the Beauty of What you Love be What You Do,” said Rumi, and because of having my mother’s influence around me, I’ve learnt to trust that completely.

Thank you to Shilo for inspiring! Follow her incredible work:

Blog, Facebook, Twitter, TED talk


The Place Where Design Can Save the World: Thoughts from women in design


I’m working on a new project. I’d like to call it “Design Sponge.” But…that name is already taken. Really, though, the moniker perfectly encompasses my goal of reaching out to women in design and learning just what motivates them to become movers and shakers – not only in the design world, but in the world world. I am a sponge. Soaking it up…

“Start small,” Maria, my fellow Anchal contributor advised me. “Approach some women and just ask for a couple words of wisdom. Just one question, for example.”

I took Maria’s words to heart. Last week I got in touch with four inspiring women who have embraced social change as an integral part of their designs and I asked them one simple thing:

In two sentences or less, please paint a picture of what these words mean to you: Design + Social Change.

The responses I got were incredible! Give a designer constrictions (like a two sentence limit) and she’ll blow you out of the water. “Take that!” she’ll say as she whips up something amazing out of nothing.

I’m so glad to share the work of these four women with you. Here’s hoping you find inspiration in their words.

Cori Magee is a designer of graphics and interiors who shares her creative inspiration on her blog Pretty Haute Mess. Optimism spills onto the page of this lovely collection. As she puts it, she is “living a dream” – as in the kind that “we can wake up from and continue to experience in real life.”

When I asked her about design and social change, she said:

“I think social change happens when people are honest in expressing their beliefs. Design helps all of us learn how to express ourselves, unleashing creativity and progress.”


Christine Dinsmore is the owner and artiste-extraordinaire at Plumed,an online collection of adorable hand-stitched pillows.

I was immediately attracted to her blog, The Plumed Nest, because of the connection of hand-stitched textiles to our artisans’ work. When I wrote to Christine, I got a response that made hearing from her even more meaningful.

“Before I became a designer I was a director at a domestic violence shelter,” she replied. “We had a lot of immigrants in our shelter and I learned not only the dynamics of domestic and social violence in America, but around the world as well. Needless to say it is a cause close to my heart.”

Here are her thoughts on Design and Social Change:

“I think anytime we partake in the process of design, whether that be figuratively: redesigning ourselves, our lives or our way of thinking, or literally: designing organizations, products or art, we are partaking in social change. As with everything that we do, what we put into the world can have an impact on others. I find design has historically been, and continues to be, one of the most inspiring and creative ways to effect social change.”

Next up, a word from Kara Eschbach, Co-Founder, Editor in Chief, and Publisher of Verily Magazine. Kara comes from a business background, having worked for Credit Suisse’s secondary private equity fund and accruing experience in corporate finance, accounting, consulting, and investment banking before launching Verily Magazine.

Verily responds to the social narrative that would “manufacture” a certain cookie-cutter image of the modern woman. The magazine’s writers seek to “start a new conversation” especially for women who are looking for a “fresh take on life” – one that is “uplifting, affirming, and true.”

Be sure to check out the Verily blog, where you can learn more about the writers’ goals and subscribe to the print magazine. There is a full teaser issue online, with an article I found especially poignant for Anchal readers called Between Two Worlds, by Areej Hassan. Read it here.

Here’s Kara’s take on design and social change:

“Good design is elevating: from a simple but elegant engineering solution to breathtaking works of art, good design just makes life better and has the ability to reach people’s hearts. When that ability to communicate is harnessed, it can be a great catalyst for change: changes as big as providing jobs that allow women to leave exploitative work to something as small as making someone a little happier because the world is more beautiful.”

Finally, I spoke with Jeanette Nyberg, founder of Artchoo, a site dedicated to compiling resources for parents to find “wonderfully-designed products for their kids, art supplies and lesson plan ideas, and inspiration to make life with kids super-creative.”

In response to my email, she enthusiastically remarked that “I’ve never thought about design and social change in such depth before, so I am doubly fascinated by the whole concept now.”

She believes:
“Where design and social change intersect is where simply buying a lovely item for your home turns into helping to effect a positive shift in how people live and think. This is the place where design can save the world.”

Amen, sisters!