Purnima Rao is no stranger to the power of education. In her final year as a physics honors student at the University of Delhi, and successful head of the startup Lagom Arts, she knows she is one of the lucky ones. For many girls in India, completing, or even beginning education, is an impossible dream.
Knowing this, Purnima decided to do her part to ensure more girls have the same educational opportunities she has had.
She spotted the Girl Rising logo while looking for inspiration for a wall art competition and incorporated it into her design, hoping to encourage other females to find power within themselves.
“I come from Haryana, where girls are not given freedom. It’s like hands are used to keep you chained,” she says. “Girl Rising’s logo inspired me that the same hands that are used to suppress women can be used to support her, to be her wings, can make her fly so high that she can reach whatever she longs for.”
Across India, it’s not uncommmon for girls to be viewed exclusively as homemakers, caretakers and mothers-in-waiting. This perception leads to unequal treatment - especially when it comes to accessing education.
“A successful woman with great ambitions is a myth for the Indian society. At times I myself feel so alien in this land with strange stares on my work, ideas and ambitions,” she says. “People will say, ‘She is a girl. Why are you investing so much into her? One day you have to marry her off.’ And I will be left with nothing but disgust.”
Thankfully, Purnima also thinks that change is possible with each new generation. She’s seen it.
Once, while on a train journey, she met a woman selling items to the other passengers. Purnima struck up a conversation and learned that the woman was forced into marriage at age 15 to a man who would rather spend the family’s income on alcohol instead of his daughter’s futures.
“She added that her situation would have been different if her parents made her study. She doesn’t want the same fate for her daughters,“ Purnima shared.
All three of the woman’s daughters are going to school, thanks to her hard work, but stories like these are far too common. They "shake you from inside.”
Luckily, increased access to information leads to increased opportunity to share these stories.
It takes a lot of brave people speaking up to ensure gender equality becomes a priority so Purnima is glad for creative mediums - such as art - to help build momentum. Even negative reactions mean people adverse to change are listening.
"Being a girl, I have come across so many notions that have tried to pull me down. I used to be angry and react aggressively. And that’s exactly what they want from me - to fail,” she says. “[I view] every criticism or comment as praise that my work is being noticed and they know you are doing something that will make a difference.”
How different would lives be for girls, and their families, if they were given opportunities in equal measure? We’re asking that question across India and it’s people like Purnima who are leading the charge. Add your voice.