India as a nation is revered in a feminine form, i.e., the Bharat Mata; many important government posts are occupied by women; and educated women are pouring into the professional workforce with profound implications for national and multinational corporations. Birth of a girl is equated with coming of wealth and it is compared with Laxmi, the goddess of wealth.

However ironically, these are accompanied by news about dowry killings, female infanticide, domestic violence against women, rape, illegal trafficking and prostitution and myriad others of the same type. Gender discrimination prevails in almost all areas, be it social, cultural, economic or educational. The battle of a girl child starts even before the day she is born. She is ‘fortunate’ if she is permitted to be born. Even after birth, the girl child faces discrimination and oppression. This continues through childhood, adulthood, marriage, old age till death.

Throughout history, the central role of women in society has ensured the stability, progress and long-term development of nations. A nation is empowered only when women and girl children are equal partners as men. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, “Countries which do not respect women have never become great, nor can they ever become in future.” Women empowerment is a gateway to peace and development for a nation or society at macro level and family or organisation at micro level. There is progress only when there is gender parity and women are respected and treated as equal with men.

The Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) and the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT), premier educational institutions of global repute, from the beginning have created a space for equal representation of genders across the spectrum in everyday functioning. It has been my principle from the start that sees its manifestation in gender equity in the KIIT and KISS ecosystem. We have, by all means, created an equal pedestal for both men and women when it comes to accessibility, decision-making, co-creating a safe environment for staffs and students, zero tolerance to any form of gender-based violence, extending support to the victims of abuse to turn the barriers that women face upside down by its horns.

Besides the holistic empowerment of all at the KISS through a complete curricular, vocational and life skills education, sports, arts and cultural education, we have initiated various programmes for a sustainable change. Of the total student strength of the institute, girls account for about 60%. “If we educate a girl, we educate a family and a whole nation” has been the guiding light for the KISS right from the start. Girl children, besides core curricular education, are also encouraged to participate in sporting activities, life skills education (including reproductive and sexual health education), and various vocational education for economic empowerment. They have been supporting their families and themselves under the institute’s “Earn-while-you-learn” scheme and thereby picking up many income-generating skills. With all these facilities, these tribal girls are going to be, in fact, are working as the much-needed social change agents in their respective communities and thereby fulfil a major global development goal of the United Nations.

The humanitarian initiatives we started such as Art of Giving, New Mind-New Dreams, Society, Humanity & Spirituality, Life-skills Education, Education for all and especially Kanya Kiran are all awareness campaigns aiming to promote equal rights to education, employment, status, health and hygiene of women and girl children. Supporting the fact are examples of rising stars, Olympian and national champion, sprinter – Dutee Chand, Baseball player-Geeta Bhuyan, Rugby player – Hupi Majhi, Sabre Fencer – C. A. Bhavani Devi, Kho-Kho player – Mandakini Majhi, Chess player – Aparajita Kochhikar, all students from both the institutions are change-makers who have garnered public attention for their significant achievements and have proven that women are no less than their male counterparts both, in intellectual and physical abilities.

Women’s Day, in other words, is a celebration of the role of women and the constant fight for gender equality. But with the presence of many people who envision empowering women in every field, we are not very far from attaining global progress of equal rights. Had it not been for our belief that each person, whether man or woman, has an equal opportunity for the maximum scope, a remote village, Kalarabanka (Samanta’s native place) now turned into a smart village would not have been able to coeducate girls in English nor it would have been possible for tribals girls to carve their names in golden letters who otherwise would have held guns of the Naxals instead of pens.

Be it staff or a student, KIIT and KISS Foundation have always been thoughtful about the women and constantly been exchanging all support for their growth. For that very reason, these women feel assured and acknowledged, and in return, they continuously lend their support and hence have a tremendous contribution to the growth of these two prestigious institutions recognised globally. That testifies that if women are empowered, they can make a huge difference in the progress of society and thus the nation.

It is just the start! Firm initiatives must be taken to help women make their own decisions and not conform to all the standards that society and their family has set for them. Making women independent in all aspects from thought, mind, decision and wealth should make its way to the top of every social and economic reform that can bring a remarkable difference in society. The nation can progress when women progress!

Just like us, if everyone becomes the voice of the unheard and uses his or het power in the greater interest of society, what can stop women and what can stop the world!