3 Questions from SAHELI’s ‘Building a Brighter Future’ panel

At One Future Collective, our work is based on developing the leadership capacities of people and communities, towards enabling them to access their rights. Participating in conversations that centre key communities needing, and capable of propelling, structural change are therefore crucial in our journey to nurturing social justice leadership. 

Our founder and CEO, Vandita Morarka, was a panelist on a panel titled ‘Building a brighter future: How do we empower young girls in our society?’. This panel was hosted by the Navi Mumbai Hub of the Global Shapers Community for their project SAHELI, and Teach for India, on September 16, 2023. 

To learn more about the specific objectives of this panel, and to get to know the panelists alongside Vandita, visit here

For a recording of the panel on YouTube, watch here

The panel discussed the importance of preserving the choices of young girls, approaching the issue of agency resulting from education and employment with nuance, how the patriarchy is upheld in the everyday, such as through the ‘tabooing’ of menstruation. Read below to learn about our key lessons from this series.


  • What does the patriarchy have to do with it?

Opening the conversation, panelist Prabha Vilas, founder and CEO of Work for Equality, discussed, with statistical evidence, the ‘double challenge’ of gender- and caste-based discrimination she faced in her journey as a first generation learner from a marginalised background. Panelist Samrudhi, who is a student working with Work for Equality, illustrated patriarchal oppression in the home in both rural and urban contexts through restrictions on women’s mobility and access to choice. Radhika Dhingra, founder of Badlaav Social Reform Foundation, further discussed how the patriarchy informs the physical, emotional and socio-cultural impact of menstruation on young women, leading to poor self-image, reduced self-confidence and physical and social mobility (through education and employment outcomes) for them. Vandita agreed, adding that oppression has multiple, changing agents – family members, caste groups, etc. The complex nature of power, she noted, can make it so that a group that may be marginalised in its own communities can be oppressive to others, stating the example of women from oppressor castes, who can perpetuate oppression not only to men and women from oppressed castes but also within their own families, to younger women. They also highlighted how patriarchal and other oppression need not always be active – sometimes, even the silence or inaction of those in positions of power can lead to continued oppression. They also gave examples of ‘patriarchy in small things’. 


  • Who are the key stakeholders in this process?

Through the discussion, the panelists identified three main stakeholder categories in the process of building a future for young girls: systems, communities, and the self. Vandita outlined this difference as being one of impact –  while personal reflection and growth in understanding one’s rights and the processes of accessing them is important, ‘no amount of personal training can change a system’. 

Prabha also highlighted the role of governments as an institution which are crucial to empowering young girls. Are policies written only on paper, or are they also executed for people? They stressed the importance of girl-led, girl-centered advocacy to improve how systems and communities see and engage with women – do people really want young girls to do better, if they are uncomfortable at the idea of women actually doing better and becoming ‘too’ loud, ‘too’ educated, occupying ‘too much’ space?

Vandita underscored the role of communities like families in building ecosystems of support around young girls – their experiences do not need to be understood in order to stand by them, ensure that their trust isn’t violated, and preserve their agency over their own bodies and circumstances. They also called the home the ‘last barrier’, and spotlighted One Future Collective’s Ghar Ki Baat campaign. 

Samrudhi discussed the role of the self in future-building – ‘No one will listen to us, unless we speak!’ She also highlighted the importance of building identities for the self and for one’s communities over time. Prabha agreed, talking about young girls traversing the journey from, ‘What can I do?’ to ‘I can do anything!’ 


  • What levels does change need to be actioned at?

Apart from the changes needed from the stakeholder categories identified above, the panelists also stressed the importance of changing our priorities in the conversation around social justice. 

Vandita talked about the role and space for men and boys in such future-building: they talked about how programs that engage men to address the harm done to them by patriarchal systems need to be differentiated from those for young girls and other gender minorities. Finally, they shared that the conversations around ‘including’ men in agenda setting for the empowerment of young women should focus on the need for men to be comfortable with letting go of power. If there is a fear of men having less power as a result of women having more, Vandita asked, then is it really about empowering women? Can more seats not be built around the table, if there aren’t enough?       

Radhika talked about the need for naming our taboos and confronting what about a subject makes it taboo. Similarly, Prabha expressed anger at the prescriptions communities and systems place on young girls like their behaviour, actions, attitudes, appearance – for young girls to reflect on their conditions and organise for action, they must have access to spaces that nurture radical thought and reflections on changework. Samrudhi shared how Work for Equality creates such spaces.  


What are your key questions when building a future for young girls?

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice

Returning to Our Bodies | One Future Post

Trigger Warnings– body shame, reference to self-harm.


Rishita, Curator, One Future Post, Volume 1


I carry you and our experiences. From the moment you were conceived, I have never left you alone. I am more than a vessel made of bones, blood, and flesh. I, your body, am an ancient intelligence you inhabit. I run, crawl, claw, I play dead, and sometimes I shiver—anything that will help us survive.This is about thriving, not just surviving. Today, I want to talk about forming paths of healing for us through practices that allow you to listen to me mindfully. Practices like yoga or hula-hooping, that help you create a communication bridge between me and your mind. 

Think back to when you first picked up a hula hoop. The voices in your head whispered that your soul’s home was ‘dirty’ or ‘wrong.’ Early on, we carried the burden of shame tied to being objectified. The idea that your body’s movements determined your safety took hold in your mind. In 10th grade, you began fasting to meet your mother’s inherited ideal of beauty, passed down like an heirloom. You longed to be skinny like your sister, hiding your changing body under baggy shirts. It felt like being a stuffed animal suffocated by shame.

After trying for the hundredth time, when the hoop finally stayed on the grooving waist for more than a minute, the exultation was surreal. Your mind went silent, as the hoop became my extension, as it spun, glided, and swerved with me. It helped us live through some of the most anxious nights. The freedom that we found — I was pretty and graceful, just the way I am. It was liberating for me to break from the labels of awkward, stiff, and clumsy. The journey with somatic practices can look different for different bodies, I am proud you found your joy and reclamation in hooping.

Our journey together has been challenging at times. When you started exploring the fluidity of your gender and sexuality, it felt isolating to be in a body that was used as evidence to confine you to the binary of man-woman. I am grateful that, over time, we found safe community spaces to explore the idea of gender beyond the body. 

In the midst of the pandemic, we joined a queer-themed dance party curated by OFC via Zoom. It was a safe space to be myself without judgement, finding joy and freedom. Later, in Dharamkot, Himachal, we experienced an ecstatic dance ceremony that transcended language, culture, and boundaries. It was a sacred communion with strangers from around the world, where we expressed ourselves fully and formed a powerful connection.

Learning to love me, your body, need not be a lonely process. I am thinking of how you look into the mirror with so much love, smiling, your head echoing with all the nice things told to you about your body by your current or former partner. Also, sex can be an empowering somatic practice for queer individuals and women, isn’t it? It helps you reclaim agency, challenge objectification, and assert desires. Of course, it requires consent, communication, and safe spaces.

Meditate on how walking barefoot on the soil and doing seva in the community of Sadhana Forest relieved me of my chronic pain during the time you spent there. And now I am excited for the classes at the Queer Tango group that are about to begin. Finding safe community spaces has been integral to this healing journey.

While there is joy in my heart, my back is heavy with grief on some nights. I forgive you for all the times you ate your feelings for years or the nights you reached out for a blade—  anything less painful than the emotional pain you were trying to escape. We live based on the awareness and information we have at a particular moment. Today, I am grateful as we walk the paths of healing. Will you join me in another post-dinner walk tonight?

Yours faithfully,



P.S. – a poem.








Do the waves celebrate

the return of the starfish

from the shore?

Does the sand grieve 

the last throb of the dying jellyfish?

The art of celebration

is mastered through attention.


Hold that pebble against the skylight,

move your fingers

around its smoothed edges, smell the future

of the sand in its core,

before you put it in

your pocket.

Before you pocket celebration, 

you have to be intimate

with the shore of grief —


walk barefoot feeling every grain,

crunch of shells

every crashing, gulls crying

salt and fish in the air.

When hurt washes over you

Do not metal your heart,

it will not save you

from being ravaged to rust. 

Let your heart be salt, instead

crumble and dissolve,


Salt water heals wounds, 

my grandmother said, 

as she dipped a strip

of her old cotton saree

into the solution

and dabbed my bleeding knee 

after I grazed it 

falling from the bicycle.

Does the skin grieve a wound? 

Does the skin celebrate a scab?


I threw out my shoes; 

I walk plenty.

My pockets now,

rattle with the pebbles I love.


Rishita is an educator, poet, and tree-worshipper. She writes to document, explore, and survive. She lives to keep expanding her list of little, mundane joys like — the Tyndall effect through canopies; fresh, crisp, sun-dried laundry falling on the bed; watching people hold hands on the metro.

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice

Gender Justice in the Pandemic


On 22nd  February 2022, One Future Collective hosted an IG Live on the theme of ‘Gender Justice in the Pandemic’ hosted by Advocate Sonali Shelar. She was joined by Kashina, assistant director at Prerana who heads the Anti-Trafficking Interventions; Kanksshi who is the founder of NETRI foundation; and Ayushi who is the co-founder of The Gender Lab. The conversation provides unique insights into how different on-ground activists and workers who deal with the issue of gender closely faced the challenge of the pandemic. 


The conversation started with a critical look at the economy of India and how it has one of the worst gender gaps in economic participation and opportunity according to a study by the World Economic Forum. To that, Kanksshi added that women’s participation in the economic and political sphere has always been low in India. She also pointed out how most quantitative studies miss the perspective of counting per capita income and do not account for women’s work that is not in the organized, formal sector. She raised questions about how India could have the aspirational idea of becoming a $5 trillion economy when 50% of its population is not considered to be working. She also added that most of these statistical measures and data did not account for irregular or seasonal work or work which was disrupted due to maternal or health factors. 


Ayushi added that during the pandemic, the distinction between men and women became more pronounced regarding who goes to work and who stays at home. Women had to engage in increased unpaid care work during this time. Even outside their homes, they had to work as ASHA workers in a gendered role. She mentioned that there is a need to incentivize women to work rather than simply creating jobs – the entire mindset surrounding women and work had to be changed.  


Kashina, speaking from her own experience at Prerna, spoke of the number of families in Maharashtra who lost a male member due to Covid-19. As a result, the women of the families were forced to enter the job market and were desperate enough to join any job to sustain their families. Thus, they required upskilling and adequate training to become employable rather than relying on the monthly assistance scheme by the government. She mentioned how the process for procuring the financial assistance was long-drawn and not sustainable in the long run. 


The conversation then turned to how women’s participation in governance processes (such as in the Panchayat) can create a difference in their lives. Ayushi spoke about how the community or the school should create a space for adolescent girls to allow them to place their opinion to bring change. Providing these girls with a platform and allowing them to exercise leadership can counter harmful patriarchal narratives about how their voices don’t matter. Kanksshi added on to that citing a study where communities with women-led MLAs had a better administrative experience. She spoke of women MLAs from Bihar and Telangana who had a strong system to help the people from their constituency during the pandemic. These MLAs physically ensured that rations were sent out and that the ration kits also had sanitary napkins in them – a necessity that is often forgotten. 


The next topic of the conversation was the effect of the pandemic on young girls’ and women’s lives in the context of human trafficking. Kashina spoke of how human trafficking for sexual exploitation is a disguised action with intergenerational support. During the pandemic, the families living in margins became even more vulnerable and the number of child marriages increased. The children who were rehabilitated became vulnerable again and there was also a stark lack of data. 


Then, the conversation turned to how The Gender Lab has been coming up with creative solutions to help young girls even as the schools were shut. Ayushi emphasized that listening to the invisible voices was important for figuring out the solution. Many of the young girls had mental health concerns, fear of child marriage, and abuse or violence. A lot of girls also left school to attend unpaid care work at home as they were also worried about the financial situation of their household. Ayushi mentioned how The Gender Lab focused on preventive work rather than immediate response work. They created a workbook for the girls named ‘My Safe Space’ through which they could feel that they are cared for and should not accept reality as it is. Kanksshi stressed that policy-makers must hear the voices of young girls too to make a more inclusive policy that benefits them. 


The conversation ended with a short discussion on the ongoing judgments about marital rape and the participants hoped that the One-Stop Centre scheme would become powerful enough to help women quickly. They also stressed the importance of increasing awareness about laws, policies, and programs, especially among marginalized women.

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice