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10 Indian Women Who Became Role Models Of Empowerment

A transition is always a tough place to be in, especially when you’ve been indoctrinated from birth to think a certain way.

In the current frame of existence, Indian women are right in the midst of a confluence, caught between the two storms of patriarchal conservatism and that of freedom and self-acceptance.

Two opposing schools of thought fight in the battlefield of a woman’s mind giving her a confused sense of identity. Luckily, day by day, women all over India are standing up and standing out like beacons to others to embrace themselves.

With the desire to break free clashing with the equally powerful instinct to follow deep-rooted conditioning, what has emerged is the realization that one does not need to belong to one or the other.

After centuries of injustice, a woman can be her true self. Gender stereotypes no longer have a place in this age of Individuality.

While conversations on women’s rights are taking place all around the world, the patriarchal way of living has not and cannot be transformed into an equal system overnight.

There is still a lot of growth needed for that but just the thought of knowing that it is possible to fight has made a positive and powerful impact on how women view themselves.

These 10 pioneering Indian women are role models for teaching us to look beyond gender stereotypes and paving the way to empowerment for us all.

  1. Mother Teresa

Even so many decades later, her presence still remains, like the light of a star that can be seen even years after it has fallen.

Mother Teresa is recognized as one of the most selfless beings in the world for her work in uplifting the poor and for electing to live among them to understand their hardships better. Her contribution was recognized by the Nobel peace prize that she received in 1979.

Mother Teresa
By Kingkongphoto & from Laurel Maryland, USA – Mother Teresa best © copyright 2010, CC BY-SA 2.0

At a very young age, Mother Teresa felt her calling to religious service. She took her vows as a nun in 1937.

After a few years of being a teacher near the convent she was in, she decided that her true calling was to live independently among the poor and serve them from there. She spent the rest of her life making things better for the poor with selfless devotion.

  1. Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi is till date, the only female Prime Minister of India. She held this post for 3 consecutive years and went on to serve an unprecedented fourth term.

Indian freedom and therefore the politics was still in a nascent stage during her time and she did much to shape a newly birthed India as a democratic country.

By Anil496 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

A key figure in the Indian National Congress, she did not let setbacks like being ousted from the party deter her from her vision.

She founded a new party and inspired many to follow her. Her indomitable spirit is certainly an inspiration to women all over the world.

  1. Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla was the first woman of Indian origin to venture into space as an astronaut.  Her life tragically ended in the Space Shuttle Columbia when the shuttle exploded on reentry into Earth’s atmosphere due to technical faults.

Her career at NASA began with duties of researching Computational Fluid Dynamics for take-off and landing procedures. She was a Certified Flying Instructor when she applied for the NASA astronaut corps.

Kalpana Chawla
By NASAPublic Domain

On her first flight aboard the Columbia in 1997, she logged in more than 367 hours in space. However, a malfunction occurred in the satellite that she was responsible for deploying.

Despite the malfunction not being her fault but that of the ground and flight crew, she was given technical duties for 6 years until 2003 when she finally went on her second flight mission into space that ended in the tragic explosion.

She was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor for her service to the United States of America.

  1. Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi made the world sit up and take notice when she became the CEO of the world’s second largest corporation in the world.

As a child, she excelled in academics and went on to attend IIM Calcutta and subsequently, the Yale School of Management.

Indra Nooyi
By Jeff Bedford from Arlington, Virginia, United States – posted to Flickr as Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO, Speaking at the World Economic Forum 2010 Annual Meeting, CC BY-SA 2.0

She has several achievements to her credit. Forbes ranked her 4th in the list of the most powerful women in Business of 2008. Not content with being second best, she then bettered her own ranking by topping the list in 2009.

She has a long list of titles to her credit including the third most powerful mom in the world.

  1. Aishwarya Rai

Miss World of 1994, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has come a long way since her modelling days. Her dazzling beauty made many participants back out of the Miss India contest because they did not dare contend against her.

She has used her prominence to be a part of many charities and social causes like eye donation and eradication of Polio.

Aishwarya Rai
By Georges Biard, CC BY-SA 3.0

Her wax statue stands at Madame Tussaud’s museum in London as a testament to her beauty. She also has a tulip in the Netherlands named after her.

The beauty queen is actively involved in raising awareness of the UN’s poverty alleviation efforts.

  1. Priyanka Chopra

 Another Miss World, she is currently making waves all around the globe with her beauty, wit and acting skills. Apart from being an actress, she dabbles in film production, singing and social work.

She has won the National Award and numerous Filmfare awards. In India, she has been awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest award for civilians.

Priyanka Chopra
By Fuzheado – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

With her debut as the main protagonist of the successful American TV show, Quantico, she became the darling of the media all across the world.

In 2016, Time magazine included her in a list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The next year, Forbes listed her amongst the 100 most influential women in the world.

  1. Ela Bhatt

Trained as a lawyer, Ela Bhat is a major figure in international movements for various causes including and especially women’s rights.

In 1972, Ela founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA). She held the position of  General Secretary from 1972 to 1996.

Ela Bhatt
By Mohan Juneja – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

She is the recipient of several national and international awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1977), Right Livelihood Award (1984) and the Padma Bhushan (1986).

Ela is a strong advocate of equality for women and girls, especially on the issue of child marriage and works towards this goal along with The Elders.

The Elders are an International organization of global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to work for peace and human rights. They work independently from any governmental organization.

  1. Mary Kom

Magnificent Mary has more than earned the epithet. She is an Indian Olympic boxer who has made waves in international sports by becoming the World Amateur Boxing champion for a record six times.

She is also the only woman boxer to have won a medal in every one of the seven world championships. She has broken barriers to make firsts with her fists both as a woman boxer and as a boxer of any gender.

Mary Kom
By British High Commission, India – UKinIndia, OGL

Magnificent Mary became the first Indian woman boxer to get a Gold Medal in the Asian Games in 2014 and the first Indian Woman Boxer to win Gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

  1. Dipa Karmakar

For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth Games, an Indian female gymnast made India a force to reckon with, by winning a bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Dipa has a string of ‘firsts’ to her name including a gold medal in the vault event of the FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Challenge Cup at Mersin, Turkey on July 18th.

Dipa Karmakar
Image source: Dipa Karmakar on Twitter

She is one of the only five women who has successfully landed the Produnova, which is regarded as the toughest vault currently performed in women’s gymnastics.

Her journey to bronze and gold wasn’t easy. She had flat feet which could adversely affect a gymnast’s performance. She trained extensively to develop an arch in her feet that would later spring to success.

Karmakar is a recipient of the Padma Shri and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.

  1. Belinda Wright

Kolkatta-born Belinda Wright’s story reads straight from a thriller novel. She is the executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, an organisation she founded in 1994 to stop the poaching of wild animals especially tigers.

Belinda Wright conservationist
Photo Credit

Growing up as she did in the tiger-infested jungles of Bihar, she was sensitized to the plight of wild creatures from the beginning. She became a very successful wildlife photographer and even bagged two Emmy awards for her film, Land of the Tiger.

She has put her own life at risk to save hundreds of creatures and was brave enough to go on undercover missions by posing as a potential buyer and exposing the extent of the wildlife skin trade in Tibet.

Like the ones in the list, there are so many women who are breaking barriers every day in every field and showing other women that the fight can be fought.


10 Indian Women Who Became Role Models Of Empowerment

Being an Empowered Woman

The following ideas are taken from Louise L. Hay’s book, Empowering Women, Every Woman’s Guide to Successful Living. Hay is the author of 18 books, including You Can Heal Your Life.

The smallest positive change in your thinking can begin to unravel the biggest problem. When you ask the right questions of Life, Life will answer.

There are many ways to make our changes. We could also begin to honestly look at our flaws NOT by looking at what is WRONG with us, but to see the barriers that we have put up that keep us from being all that we learned in childhood.

They never were true for us. We merely accepted someone else’s belief system. If we learned these thoughts once, then we can now unlearn them. We acknowledge that we are willing to learn to love ourselves. And then we develop a few guidelines.

1. Stop All Criticism

It is a useless act; it never accomplishes anything positive. Don’t criticize yourself; lift that burden from yourself.

Don’t criticize others either, as the faults we usually find in others are merely projections of the things we don’t like in ourselves.

Thinking negatively about another person is one of the greatest causes of limitation in our own lives. Only we judge ourselves, not Life, not God, not the Universe.

2. Don’t Scare Yourself

We all want to stop that. Too often we terrorize ourselves with our own thoughts. We can only think one thought at a time. Let’s learn to think in positive affirmations. In this way, our thinking will change our lives for the better.

If you catch yourself scaring yourself again, immediately say, “I release the need to scare myself. I am a divine, magnificent expression of life, and I am living fully from this moment on.”

3. Be Committed to the Relationship You Have With Yourself

We get so committed to other relationships, but we tend to toss ourselves away. We get around to ourselves now and then.

So, really care for who you are. Be committed to loving yourself. Take care of your heart and soul.

4. Treat Yourself as Though You Are Loved

Respect and cherish yourself. As you love yourself, you will be more open to love from others.

The Law of Love requires that you focus your attention on what you do want, rather than what you don’t want. Focus on loving you.

5. Take Care of Your Body

Your body is a precious temple. If you are going to live a long, fulfilling life, then you want to take care of yourself now.

You want to look good, and most of all, feel good and have lots of energy. Nutrition and exercise are important. You want to keep your body flexible and moving easily until your last day on the planet.

6. Educate Yourself

Too often we complain that we don’t know this or that and we don’t know what to do. But we are bright and smart, and we can learn. There are books and classes and tapes everywhere.

If money is a consideration, then use the library. Find a self-help group. They are listed under Community Services in the yellow pages of the telephone book. I know I shall be learning until my very last day.

7. Build a Financial Future For Yourself

Every woman has a right to have money of her own. This is a significant belief for us to accept. It is part of our self-worth.

We can always start on a small level. The important thing is that we keep saving. Affirmations are good to use here.

8. Fulfill Your Creative Side

Creativity can be any activity that fulfills you. It can be anything from baking a pie to designing a building. Give yourself some time to express yourself.

If you have children and time is short, find a friend who will help you take care of your children, and vice versa. You both deserve time for yourselves. You are worth it.

9. Make Joy and Happiness the Center of Your World

Joy and happiness are always within you. Make sure you are connected with this place inside of you. Build your life around this joy. When we are happy, we can be creative, we don’t sweat the small stuff, and we are open to new ideas.

10. Have Integrity; Keep Your Word

In order to honor and respect yourself, you must have integrity. Learn to keep your word. Do not make promises you will not keep even to yourself.

Don’t promise yourself you will start the diet tomorrow or exercise every day unless you know you will follow through. You want to be able to trust yourself.


Empower Yourself: Take Responsibility For Your Life

The way we deal with our pain and let it transform us makes the difference between winning and losing the battle. When you realise that and act on it, you are truly the master of your own destiny.

Have you ever gone through a difficult time in your life? A period when you felt helpless and powerless to deal with your circumstances and destiny? We all have.

Many of us have experienced the tragedy of abusive childhoods, broken relationships or the loss of a loved one. The easiest thing to do in times like these is to blame other people or circumstances for your life, your state of mind, your finances and career.

It’s so easy to blame an abusive parent for the way you are today, or a broken relationship for destroying your ability to love again. But blame is a very disempowering emotion.

It places on others the responsibility for your life, your emotions, your self. It disempowers you because you cannot change people or circumstances. The only thing you can change is yourself and the way you react to them.

Some people go through their lives blaming others, living in hopelessness and despair. But, with the exception of child abuse or losing someone you love, no one can do anything to you that you do not give them the permission to do.

By choosing to let things happen they way they do, you are as much to blame for the consequences. It takes a lot of courage to accept that you’re the way you are because of the choices you made. But it can be very empowering indeed.

The simple act of taking responsibility for your self and your life is the first step towards picking up the pieces and moving on. When you shift the onus of change to yourself, the constraints of the past are lifted and you can be anything you choose to be.

True empowerment is not about taking control, passing laws, fighting injustice or changing the world. Empowerment starts from within. It comes from your willingness to be responsible for what is happening to you, your life and your world.

At some point in our lives we all face adversity. Some of us blame others, while others own responsibility and get on with their lives.

The way we deal with our pain and let it transform us makes the difference between winning and losing the battle. When you realise that and act on it, you are truly the master of your own destiny.

Copyright © Priya Florence Shah

This is an extract from the book, Step Into Your Feminine Power And Rule Your World: 24 Empowering Ideas for the Modern Indian Woman, authored by Priya Florence Shah and available on Amazon and Flipkart.

Empower Yourself - Take Responsibility For Your Life. The way we deal with our pain and let it transform us makes the difference between winning and losing the battle