18 Mar 2013
After a nine-day auto-rickshaw ride from New Delhi to Mumbai to raise awareness and funds for the empowerment of women and girls in India, the passengers of Vodafone Foundation’s Red Rickshaw Revolution were welcomed this morning at Vodafone headquarters by guest speaker Cherie Blair, founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and wife of the former UK Prime Minister. The campaign began originally as a way to raise money for Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC), according to Laura Turkington, country director of the Vodafone Foundation and one of the rickshaw’s three passengers. Her initial idea quickly grew into a large-scale campaign that spanned 1,800km and five states, reached 12.5 million Twitter users and 18,000 Facebook users, and raised a total of INR 30 million for its three NGO partners.
"There are so many ordinary women today who are doing extraordinary things," Turkington said. "We wanted to do something different to give these women a voice and help share these incredible life stories and inspire others at the same time. It went from the tiniest idea and just exploded.
After calling for inspiring stories from women across India, Turkington’s team received stories from more than 2,000 women about their journeys from oppression to empowerment. In the end, they chose 50 women to feature on the Red Rickshaw Revolution’s website and another 12 women to interview in their hometowns along the rickshaw route through Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. Turkington then recruited Carina Deegan, a Vodafone Foundation supporter, and Sunita Chaudhary, the first and only female auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi, to join her on her auto-rickshaw journey. Together, the women began their ride on 9 March, in honor of International Women’s Day on 8 March.
To support the spirit of the Red Rickshaw Revolution, AAWC organised an art contest for our Udaan members, instructing the girls to sketch and paint a red rickshaw in any way they imagined. They responded with an outpouring of creativity, producing images of red rickshaws racing through outer space, gliding underwater between aquatic animals, and blossoming like apples on a tree. After the winners of the art contest were selected by guest judge Vikas Patnekar, a watercolor artist from Karnataka, the drawings were given to the Vodafone Foundation as a token of AAWC’s support for the campaign.
AAWC plans to use the funds raised to launch Nourish, a nutrition program for women and infants from conception through the first two years of life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast milk overwhelmingly outperforms infant formula – it offers nutrients in higher concentrations and absorbability, facilitates development of active immunity, reduces the risk of malnutrition and common infant illnesses, and significantly reduces the disadvantages of poverty among marginalised children. Given this compelling data, Nourish seeks to maximise maternal nutrition in order to facilitate healthy development among all fetuses and enable exclusive breastfeeding among all infants. With the launch of Nourish, AAWC will serve women and children in the red light area at every life stage.
"RRR was an opportunity to create awareness about AAWC on a national and international platform,” said Ashika Mehta, AAWC President. “The high energy and enthusiasm of the team was infectious. We would love to work with them again!"
About Apne Aap Women’s Collective
Founded in 1998, Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC) serves the women, girls, and toddlers of the Greater Kamathipura Area, one of the largest and oldest red light areas in Asia. By providing its members with the tools and resources to create a better life, AAWC seeks to empower women who have been trafficked into brothel-based prostitution and to prevent intergenerational trafficking of girls and young children who grow up in the brothels. Since its inception, AAWC has served more than 1,500 women, 650 girls and 400 toddlers. Learn more at www.aawc.in.