Diana Awardee Aditi Gera rose above toxicity to find sisterhood through Empowerette
Written by: Amrita Priya
(April 15, 2022) “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me..,” said legendary American animator, Walt Disney, on the many challenges he overcame on his journey to success. For the 21-year-old Aditi Gera, early life wasn’t uncomplicated either. The founder of Empowerette, Aditi recalls dealing with her share of hardships in school. “We were all girls but there was a lack of support and immense toxicity, with people competing with each other,” says she in a conversation with Global Indian. Her initiative to bridge gaps in accessibility and opportunity for young, marginalised girls led her to win Diana Award in 2020. She has also been recognised as Ashoka Young Changemaker, and has been conferred Lead Like a Girl fellowship from Shenomics.
Aditi Gera, founder, Empowerette
Rising above adversity
“There was an air of negativity and the absence of empathy, not just among students but from the teachers as well,” says the young changemaker. With Empowerette, she wants to establish a sense of sisterhood that she found sorely lacking. “Women should lift each other up, instead of pulling one another down,” says she.
Aditi saw many women being forced to compromise on their ambitions and passions while remaining within the patriarchal and hierarchical societal structure that reigns in India. “My grandmother had roots in Pakistan. She came from an economically backward family with many siblings. She was married off at 12 and my grandfather was almost thrice her age,” she mentions.
It was deeply disturbing when the youngster came to know about it. In contrast, at age 12, Aditi was playing state-level basketball. “It changed my perspective on how women are positioned in our society,” she says.
The young changemaker describes her mother as a “highly intelligent, ambitious and smart woman. I have always looked up to her.” She compromised on a career in the field of medicine in order to stay home and raise the kids. “To her, it seemed like a natural transition but I feel she could have done a lot more in her life.”
Building a sisterhood
“A few years ago, I saw niece of my househelp being married off to a person who was nearly double her age. Clearly, things haven’t changed much since my grandmother’s time. It compelled me to start Empowerette,” says the changemaker.
She and her team execute a one-on-one mentorship program enabling young girls in government schools to build their own identities and perceive themselves as leaders. “The programme is designed on a cohort-based model where we focus on developing leadership, confidence, communication and other career skill sets while paying attention to every individual’s emotional well-being,” Aditi explains.
After graduating as a finance major, Aditi has been working as a senior associate at Razorpay since the last four months. While enjoying the exposure at her maiden job, she devotes her weekends to Empowerette.
The empowerment journey
Aditi began Empowerette with four friends who were aligned with its vision. To carry forward the activities, they identified a government girls’ school in their town, Ujjain. The pupils of this school are from rural areas and stay at the school hostel. However, convincing school authorities to believe in a bunch of nineteen-year-olds who wanted to add value to their students was an uphill task. The hostel warden, however, stepped up and made an effort to understand the intent behind their initiative. She also got the school management to agree to the proposal.
Today, Empowerette has grown to a team of seven, with plans to bring a couple of paid interns on board as well. All seven members have supported the cause as volunteers.
Mentoring young students
Empowerette is associated with two campuses catering to 120 girls in all. Around three hours every weekend are devoted to working with them. The process involves personality development with a focus on their leadership skills, improving communication skills and encouraging their curiosity and ability to dream.
The girls are taught societal norms and values to give them an informed vision so that they can contribute to society. They are also taught subjects like politics, healthcare, economic development and made aware of issues like climate change, and women’s rights. “The girls themselves asked if they could be taught English, so we made that part of the Empowerette curriculum as well,” Aditi says.
Motivation is key
“The idea is to maintain an engagement with these girls for as long as possible because changing a mindset takes time and cannot happen in a matter of weeks or even months,” Aditi maintains. The team did not compromise on communication with the girls even during the pandemic. They conducted regular sessions over the phone to keep track of their growth and emotional well-being.
“Since the Empowerette team works voluntarily, keeping their excitement alive is paramount. The curiosity of the mentees also needs to be constantly stoked. Learning and developing new qualities is never easy considering the fact that the girls have been born into hardship. It’s not a cakewalk to make them believe that the world is waiting for them,” Aditi says, “If only they are able to present themselves to it.”
On the personal front
Aditi wants to take up both business as well as social entrepreneurship in future. Her father, a businessman, is fully supportive of his daughter’s dreams. The young changemaker also sees herself advocating for women’s rights in the future and draws huge inspiration from women who have made a difference. “I really admire women in politics and those who have fought for the rights we now enjoy. One such person is Savitribai Phule. Girls in India are able to access basic education because she fought for these rights,” says the youngster.
Aditi with her mother
Aditi is an avid reader with a special inclination toward poetry by Tony Morrison, Mary Oliver, and the likes. With formal training in guitar and keyboard, she uses the instruments as a medium of rejuvenation. Though basketball has been her passion, a sudden interest in tennis is keeping her on toes, literally. In active support of a more equal world, Aditi is keen to take Empowerette to great heights by widening its reach.