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Once body shamed, this changemaker now empowers women pan-India

Kalash Kaushal, Founder of Girl Up Aashayein, conducts social drives to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene, domestic abuse and more

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They say, ‘School years are the best years of your life.’ Indeed! The same stands for Kalash Kaushal (22) from Apeejay School, Pitampura. In the school, she got a congenial environment for her growth and development. She was a member of the sports team, Prefectorial board, cultural society, and many others. The school was her ‘safe space.’ However, once out of the school, she realised how cruel the real-world could be. She says, “I remember being body shamed by many and those experiences made me feel hurt and disappointed.” Kalash was quick to realise that there are many women who experience the same emotions regularly. Many do not even speak up. This led to the foundation of her club, Girl Up Aashayein, where she conducts events and activities to educate and encourage women. Read On:

Please tell us about your educational journey  

I completed schooling from Apeejay, Pitampura in 2018. Then I pursued an undergraduate course in English Literature from the University of Delhi till 2021. Alongside, I started the Girl Up club under the umbrella of the United Nations. I am inclined to work towards human rights, women’s upliftment and other social initiatives. At present, I am enrolled at a Master’s course in Human Rights, Humanitarian and Refugee Rights at Indian Society of International Law. My classes will commence soon.

Why did you switch from Literature to Human Rights?

I heard about the concept of ‘gender equality’ for the first time during my school years. My father, Mr. Arvind Kaushal, is the Head of the Department of Physical Education at Apeejay School, Pitampura. In 2017, he was selected for an India-United Kingdom exchange programme themed on ‘gender equality’. Through the programme, he campaigned across these two countries to spread awareness. After seeing him, I too felt motivated to do something in the same field. Interestingly, my father became a role model for me to know more about my rights as an Indian citizen and a woman. After school, I continued to develop my understanding through a course in Literature.

How and why did you start the Girl Up Aashayein club?

Girl Up Aashayein, started in 2020, is my initiative to learn from the United Nations ‘Girl Up’ campaign. My idea is to promote and work towards any relevant social issue. Further, I aim to create a platform in which people from all genders can come together and improve societal situations. This is a not-for-profit project which integrates about 70 members.

Each month, our club conducts distribution drives of sanitary napkins across Delhi slums. We also collaborate with other youth-driven clubs in the national capital through a common communication group to conduct meets, campaigns, events, etc.

In the past one year, what social issues were catered to by your club?

As Covid-19 peaked in the capital, cases of domestic violence were on the rise. Therefore, we conducted a massive social media campaign and interacted with survivors. Many women came forward and spoke about their situations anonymously. Other drives included a skill-development workshop for school kids, National-level sports webinar for women players, just to mention a few.

At present, we are working to collaborate with other women-led organisations as well. We conducted an event in collaboration with EcoKaari, a Pune-based organisation that makes tote bags out of waste plastic. The reason we opted for this is because all the women workforce in the company come from under-privileged backgrounds. As part of our contribution, we helped create income for them by organising workshops in residential societies.

What is your driving force for contributing towards social work?

My father. When I started Girl Up Aashayein, I faced many challenges. Slowly, I began to understand how to collaborate with like-minded people and seek solutions for social problems. In doing so, I had to take my team together, understand and include many different perspectives. Another learning for me has been, ‘how to raise funds for an event.’

While I was grappling with it all, my father stood like a strong pillar of support for me. Past many years, he has been working selflessly with many underprivileged children and has been part of several initiatives with organisations like British Council and Special Olympics Bharat. To this date, he never misses any events at my club.

What could be the monetary gains in the field?

I aim to become a part of the United Nations. Therefore, I am pursuing a degree in the domain of Human Rights to improve my understanding. Social Work, like any other field, includes monetary gains for an individual. However, it takes a lot of hard work, empathy, patience and experience. In a period of about 7-10 years, one begins to thrive simply by the virtue of the work they have done for others.

You interact with women survivors, victims and underprivileged children regularly. How safe do you think Delhi is?

Only 30% of the capital seems safe to me. And, I credit the police, government officials, authorities and women booths that have been set up. However, crimes and other instances occurring in the city are far greater in number. But we citizens are too responsible for these. Often, we turn a blind eye to instances and people around us that can prove harmful for the society at large. And so, our next step as Girl Up Aashayein will be to conduct self-defence classes for women in Delhi.

Mrini Devnani is a Senior Correspondent and Marketing Coordinator at Newsroom. She covers student achievements, interviews and contributions for the website. She was a former Correspondent covering Edutech for the India Today Group, and has passion for Social Media and Digital Marketing. You can reach her at [email protected]

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