Grateful to be a Woman – International Women’s Day 2021
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, The Melton Foundation hosted a TownHall dedicated to the cause of women empowerment and gender equality.
“I wish the world was equal. I wish the world was fair.
I wish we did not have to celebrate days like today with such zest and fanfare.
I wish we tried instead to really challenge our core.
I wish we had the strength to confront this status more.
I wish there were no words such as a he or a she.
I wish the world would just let people be.”
shared Melton Fellow and our Townhall moderator Meeta Gangrade. As a woman, Meeta always sought to challenge the status quo. She persistently aimed to be the strong voice in organizations she worked in, which were mostly led by men. Joining Meeta, the TownHall featured two distinguished women and Melton Fellows as guest speakers. Karla Araya is a biotechnologist with a Master’s and Ph.D. in Science of Natural Resources. She is also the co-founder at InclusivApp and the Lecturer-in-charge of the courses “Science in quarantine” and “Plant Tissue Culture” at PROENZA-UFRO. Originally from Santiago, Chile, Karla lives life with a motor disability. However, this has in no way dimmed her spirit to travel the world, gain independence and accomplish her academic goals. Joining her as the second speaker was Cynthia Muhonja, the founder of Life Lifters Organisation, a women mentorship incubator that seeks to build the next generation of economically empowered women in Africa. She’s a graduate from Ashesi University, Ghana, and also a Community Impact Fellow from 2018.
Our first panelist, Karla Araya’s story is nothing short of inspiration –
Karla’s mother vociferously supported her right to study in a normal school in contrast to the special ones generally recommended for specially-abled children. After joining The Melton Foundation, her understanding and definition of disability underwent a drastic change. She met citizens from around the world and traveled independently. Reminiscing her days in the Fellowship Program, she fondly recalls how people in China, Zambia, Germany, and South Africa extended their helping hand to her whenever she needed it and displayed extraordinary acts of kindness.
However, each time Karla had to travel back to Chile, she felt hollow and realized that something needed to be done to help the disabled in her own region and country. That is when the idea of InclusivApp struck her. Slowly, she began to receive financial support for her prototype and teamed up with people who were skilled in app development and other fields that complemented Karla’s entrepreneurial dream. Today, InclusivApp allows you to upload photographs and comments on places or incidents that could use more disabled-friendly facilities. Before going to a restaurant or any other public space, you can check whether they provide additional facilities for people with disabilities. InclusivApp even allows you to check for buses that have accessible ramps!
Along with her academic and entrepreneurial success, Karla still feels her best journey was her journey as a mother. She has a beautiful son named Maximo with her life partner Benjamin, whom she met in Canada. She ended her presentation with the following words:
“Even if you feel that everything in this world is a disadvantage for you, for being a woman, for being disabled, for being different, pursue your dreams and work to do something to make it prepared for you.”
Taking the stage next was Cynthia Muhonja, a gender and women’s rights activist from Kenya. Cynthia is no stranger to hardship and struggle. Having successfully defeated her demons of childhood, Cynthia shared that there is nothing in this world that can stop her anymore. Cynthia was born into the small rural community of Kamimei and faced gender discrimination from her early days. Until her mid-teenage years, she lived in a highly repressive, unequal, and harsh environment. But there was one thing that would eventually save and liberate her: Education.
Despite all the discouragement and setbacks, Cynthia was a bright student. She eventually won admission into one of the top schools in the country. After graduating from high school, she was awarded a scholarship and a seat at Ashesi University, Ghana. Cynthia’s voice fills with pride as she reveals that she is perhaps the first girl from her community to graduate from school and go on to successfully complete a university education.
Today, Cynthia Muhonja runs Life Lifters Organization, where she mentors girls who come from a similar background as her, for whom ‘the only hope to be liberated is education’. As she wraps up her presentation, she thanks The Melton Foundation for all their support and aid.
“In a small way, The Melton Foundation is creating a world where every girl would be proud to say that they are grateful to be a woman.”
As the audience soaked in the atmosphere of hope, jubilance, and admiration, Meeta requested Karla to share some advice for people to find inspiration for their entrepreneurial journey. To this, Karla asked dreaming youths everywhere to find a real problem in their communities and validate it with evidence. She also stressed the importance of finding people who could help and grow your organization with their unique and different skill sets.
Furthermore, when asked about the ground reality of progress on accessibility for the disabled in Chile, Karla responded positively, remembering how she joined forces with the authorities to eradicate a problem that was very much a public nuisance earlier.
To conclude, the Women’s Day TownHall was a TownHall like no other; not only did we hear tales of debilitating disabilities, physical, social, and economic, but we also heard how women in different parts of the world freed themselves from the bond of discrimination and rose above all imponderables to achieve the impossible. Kudos to these brave women and others in our midst, for paving the way for generations to come.