Twelve years of Veena training and a woman had to stop playing the instrument after marriage – the ‘new’ family didn’t like it. Another woman who was trained to be a doctor and dancer had to give up both when she got married. She once watched Dr Chaithanya Unni, an Australia-based dermatologist and entrepreneur, perform classical dance on stage and told her how she wished to do the same.
Chaithanya had listened to the stories of these women, shocked and sad. She thought of all the women who were unable to follow their dreams because they were forced to or because they didn’t have the means to, or else they were just not confident enough.
“I thought of the root cause. You need to be financially independent, every woman needs to be,” says Chaithanya, sitting at a hotel room in Thiruvananthapuram after a day so busy that she had to skip lunch. Chaithanya had that morning launched a new project in the city, called Empowering Woman Entrepreneurs, or EVE. Minister of Health and Social Justice KK Shailaja inaugurated it at the Press Club.
It is a project of the O Chandu Menon foundation. Chandu Menon, the author of the first major novel in Malayalam, Indulekha, is Chaithanya’s great-great-grandfather. “It was the 130th anniversary of Indulekha in 2019 and I wanted to do something for the empowerment of women. Indulekha was not a simple love story, it was much more than that. It was also about the education of women, empowering them through education, giving them strong foundation for claiming equal rights. Or even something as basic as the right to live. The question was how could this message reach people?” Chaithanya asks.
She tried to enact it in dance form two years ago when she staged a dance production themed on Indulekha in Thiruvananthapuram. EVE is the next step. “Only about 14 per cent of the women in Kerala are into full-time employment. We want to find out what is stopping more from joining meaningful workforce. Is it because they lack confidence, or are engaged in childcare and domestic activities, or are they not allowed to? Why can’t the women follow their dreams or passions?”
Twenty women of lesser privileged backgrounds attended a workshop led by Chaithanya, following the inauguration of EVE. She spoke to them about their right to dream. “We divided them into three groups and asked them to come up with a dream they’d like fulfilled if they get a magic wand. One said she wants to be the Prime Minister, another said she wants to be a famous personality, a third said she wants to build homes for the homeless. And what the fourth person said touched us so much. She said, ‘I just want to be safe’. That’s what she’d say if she gets a magic wand,” Chaithanya says.
The basic idea is to create awareness about the basic right of women to live and have equal opportunities. She should be able to pursue her dreams if she wants to be a pilot or a plumber, it is up to her, Chaithanya says.
It is not just young girls in the group but widows and other hapless women. “Once they identify their dreams, we’d like to guide them through the proper channels. I have a small team with me. But we are hoping to form a panel of experts.”
She wants to focus on the same group of 20 women, to see them through, before taking in more groups. A winner of many awards including the Young Entrepreneur Australia award for 2019 and the Gold Coast Business Excellence Award last year, Chaithanya feels all those awards would have meaning only if she does something for the lesser privileged. She could also share her own experiences of meeting many failures on the way to success as an entrepreneur.
Chaithanya is a dermatologist and an entrepreneur based in Australia. She is also a mother of two. She’d come for future sessions for the women but in her absence there’d be others to continue with the sessions at least once a month. “The government has been supportive,” says Chaithanya, who was nominated to be a member at the Loka Kerala Sabha this year.
“It is such a brilliant idea, opening up so many possibilities,” she says. “Many resourceful persons are part of it. If we are able to tap their skill, knowledge expertise, there is so much that can be done. I will be working on coordinating for disaster management. I have already been talking to the Australian government about it,” says Chaithanya.