Global Reach: Grantee Partners

Azad Foundation


Traditional norms about the role of men and women in society have not kept pace with India’s rapid economic growth and rise in opportunities for women. Usually, economic growth in lower-middle-income countries creates more jobs for women. But as India’s economy grew at an average of 5-6% per year between 1991 and 2014, its female labor force participation fell to 27% from 40%. Despite rapidly increasing educational attainment for girls and declining fertility, the International Labor Organization in 2014 ranked India 11th from the bottom in the world in female labor force participation. Women in India face acute gender stereotyping and oppression, as well as physical and sexual violence on a regular basis. Gendered discriminatory social norms and practices affect women’s lives and choices throughout their life cycles, and are held by men - who typically have decision-making power over women in their households. Persistent gender discrimination limits young women’s participation in the workforce to occupations traditionally assigned to women, and mostly perceived as low-skilled. Evidence has shown that group-based gender education and reflection work with men as an element of women’s economic empowerment shows promise to engaging men in support of such initiatives and reducing violence against women. The emphasis of interventions using this approach has been on improving gender equity within households, in particular working with men to share decision-making and gendered division of labor more equitably. However, research also shows that changing men’s mind-set is a long process as men do not want to give up their position of power within the home and in the community.

According to a report published by the Search Institute on Defining and Measuring Social Capital for young people, published in 2020, All youth and young adults (YYAs) need and benefit from positive relationships. Peer to Peer relationships and mentorships are critical not only for broad positive development, but also because they promote educationally- and occupationally-relevant social capital by connecting YYAs to valuable resources and opportunities. Unfortunately, not all youth and young adults, particularly YYAs from low-income communities, are able to access these important relationships. This is problematic as key developmental relationships are critical to attaining higher education and full-time employment opportunities.


Azad Foundation (AF) aims to provide “livelihoods with dignity” for young women from resource-poor communities. The major programme of AF is ‘Women on Wheels’ (WoW), which started in May 2008 as its signature initiative and has expanded to 4 centres in Delhi, Jaipur, Kolkata and Indore. AF began its work with men in 2014, beginning with a workshop for its male employees, followed by another pilot with some male relatives of women trainees, supported by EMpower. AF became a member of the core team that organized the international conference MenEngage in 2015, and built up its own team to take forward this programme. AF engages with men in the communities where it works as part of its activities within the One Billion Rising Campaign.

Azad’s founder Meenu Vadera has spent 26 years working internationally and in India on a range of women’s rights issues (reproductive rights, land rights, governance, violence against women, HIV/AIDs, conflict situations etc.). Meenu worked with Action Aid in Uganda as Country Director, before founding Azad Foundation. Srinivas Rao is the Director of Men for Gender Justice Program funded by EMpower. He participated in EMpower’s Learning Journey on Non-Traditional Income Generation for Women, and has worked on rural and urban development and local self-government in Delhi and Chhattisgarh.

Current Grant:

EMpower's 9th grant to Azad Foundation is enabling the foundation to support 330 males (15 to 20) to complete gender trainings to become active advocates of Gender Equity in their community. These advocates will be equipped with knowledge and basic skills to prevent Gender Based Violence and promote non-traditional income generation (NTIG) opportunities for women through community-based initiatives.

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