Global Reach: Past Grantees

Akshara (Front for Rapid Economic Advancement—India (FREA-India))


In Mumbai slums, youth age 15-24 constitute 50% of the population. One-third of these youth are marginalized - officially bracketed as Schedule Castes, Other Backward Castes or poor Muslims. 38% of people living in slums are young women who have received less than 10 years of formal education. While enrolment rates of girls are almost 100% in primary education, the number drops to only 23.5% of girls/young women 18-23 in the case of higher education. Moreover, the assumption that education leads to jobs does not hold true in India as poor quality of education and lack of its connection to life, and lack of inputs on soft and job-oriented skills are barriers. Additionally, girls in slums are deprived of post-secondary school education due to the lack of availability of vocational/skill education and socio-economic barriers which restrict their educational opportunities. In addition, girls and young women are expected to contribute to the household at a very young age, even if girls continue to study, the absence of opportunities, role models, family and community support curtails their ability to find jobs. For the young women who work, most follow their mothers and at a very young age are pigeonholed into jobs in the informal sector as domestic helpers, cleaners and daily wage workers. They find it difficult to question and change societal/cultural norms and views related to their employment and lack the basic education and marketable skills to enter the formal workforce that is more remunerative and provides better economic and legal protection than informal jobs.




Founded in 1995 with the goal of strengthening the capacity of women and youth to promote gender equality and human rights, Akshara works with women and youth. It provides leadership development workshops, a free library, and online courses in gender studies to empower women at the individual and community level to challenge and prevent gender-based violence and discrimination. Internationally Akshara has been an active member and part of the International Board of the World Social Forum, on the Advisory Board of the UN Women civil society group and participated in numerous international meetings.


Akshara aims to change the laws and norms which lead to the discrimination of women (for example, advocating for a sexual harassment law, alongside other groups). It also works to empower women to access their rights and works with young men to prevent violence and to support women. It supports youth in taking up campaigns and actions to bring about changes in their schools, on the streets, and helps address family and inter-generational barriers to women’s advancements. Akshara operates through a core team of sixteen people, representing capacity in the field of research, training, programme implementation and communications. Founders Nandita Shah and Nandita Gandhi are renowned feminists from the women’s movement in India; both hold PhD’s in sociology and are active in civil society to change gender norms and campaign for equality. 


Current Grant:

EMpower’s 8th grant to Akshara will enable 160 girls and young women from resource-poor communities in Mumbai in building their career-related aspirations and assisting them in higher education and livelihood options to help them overcome the cycle of poverty.  They will receive technical, employability and mentorship support to become competitive in the formal workforce. They will also receive life skills and support to navigate patriarchal norms and restrictions with more confidence and assert their rights in their families and communities and as citizens, also serving as role models for other girls and young women.

Where is Akshara (Front for Rapid Economic Advancement—India (FREA-India))?

Primary Location: Mumbai


Funded Since: 2010

Akshara from EMpower on Vimeo.

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