Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India

by Milaan Be the Change(NGO)
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Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Empowering 200 Girl Leaders in India
Gullak / Piggy Bank by the Girl Icon
Gullak / Piggy Bank by the Girl Icon

When it comes to India’s inherent development as a nation, menstruation and female hygiene take a significant toll. In addition to the societal stigmas associated with menstruation, a significant portion of Indian women also struggle with the lack of menstrual hygiene, which is seen as a basic need for women and affects both rural and urban populations. Many struggling women in India mostly use old rags and discarded cotton saris when menstruating. In some cases, women and girls also use fine sand, sawdust, husks or even leaves. For them, sanitary pads are for use only on special occasions, if they can afford it. 


We are delighted to share a few stories of how our Girl Icons are not just raising awareness on the issue of menstruation, to break the myths and taboos around it but are also going further to provide local solutions to women and girls in their communities.


A Piggy Bank for a Pad:


It is this taboo that the Girl Icons are now addressing. In the small town of Gosainganj in Lucknow an 18-year-old Girl Icon is working tirelessly to solve the problems faced by women and girls in her community. She has spearheaded the "Hum Sab ki Soojh Boojh Karenge Pad Use", a ‘Gullak’ (piggy bank) initiative. She and her group of 20 peers each save INR 5 every week in a piggy bank, which they use to purchase proper sanitary pads. This initiative has not only aided their health but also taught them valuable financial skills.


Her passion for making a positive impact on society is inspiring. "This is a small initiative, but I would like to scale it and create awareness among the people of my village to do the same so that they can invest in their health,” she shares. Despite adversity, she has shown that a single person can create significant change, one small initiative at a time. Her story serves as a beacon of hope, reminding us that we can all make a difference in the world if we put our minds to it.


From Girl Icon to Entrepreneur:


The second story is of another Girl Icon from Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh in central India, who along with her peers, is raising awareness about period poverty, a dire issue affecting women and girls in her community.


Upon enrolling in the Girl Icon Program, she mulled over the idea of starting something that would benefit the young girls and women in her community. "The program gave me knowledge that allowed me to comprehend my community’s issues better," she says. Taking inspiration from a local female vendor, she decided to take action. However, the idea of starting an enterprise to address menstruation was not well-received by her mother, given that 42% of girls in India use cloth to manage their periods.


"I came up with the concept of establishing a small unit for manufacturing sanitary pads with my peers. I underwent a two-month training program with my three comrades in the main city. Not everyone was on board with my decision. I faced resistance from my mother, but my father supported me by providing me with the necessary funds to buy raw materials," she shares.


The second hurdle she faced was setting up the manufacturing unit since they were not allowed to make pads inside their homes. "We started on my veranda. We began approaching local vendors, shopkeepers, Anganwadi centres, and hospitals. Now, we supply 300 to 400 sanitary pads on a monthly basis to 18 villages, 30 mohallas, 3 schools, 2 hospitals, and 1 Anganwadi centre. We earn a monthly profit of INR 25,000 to 30,000," she reveals. Because of the negotiation skills she developed as part of her Girl Icon journey, she was able to mobilise her peers and convince them to join the social enterprise.

Girl Icon with the Gullak/ Piggy Bank
Girl Icon with the Gullak/ Piggy Bank
Girl Icon from Madhya Pradesh
Girl Icon from Madhya Pradesh
Pad manufacturing in progress
Pad manufacturing in progress
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Sahita Girl Icon Success Story
Sahita Girl Icon Success Story

Dear Supporter,

We are delighted to share a few stories of change where the girl leaders that we support from our current cohort (2022-2023) have broken the stereotypical perceptions of girls in the community, taking to and succeeding in sports that have typically been considered the domain of boys and men.

16-year-old Sahita, belongs to a conservative community near Rajghat in Varanasi, which is a semi urban area in transition - developing in a few areas but with patriarchal mindsets and attitudes towards girls.

Sahita’s father works in a restaurant and her mother is a homemaker. She derives motivation from her parents, especially her mother. Since childhood, her mother has been telling her stories of Varanasi to inspire her to carve her own niche in the community.

Currently studying in 9th grade and inspired by her seniors, particularly the boys in the school, Sahita too aspired to make a career in sports zeroing in on weightlifting as the sport of her choice.

I always wanted to encourage other girls to be passionate and educate themselves as much as they can so that they can be self-reliant and build the movement to empower girls. The Girl Icon Program has given me this opportunity.

Sahita often had second thoughts about her choice of ‘Weightlifting’ as her career and the hindrance it often caused to her studies but her mother’s motivation gave her the conviction to continue on her path. Interactions with the Milaan team and the training imparted to her, during her leadership journey with the Girl Icon Program, gave  her the space to share her struggles as well her achievements with other girls as well, showing them the path to success.

Sahita also shared that the  i-Prep App introduced by Milaan for the Girl Icons has made her life easy by helping her cover up whatever she would miss in school due to her sports practices.

With long days dedicated to practice and hard work, on 14th November 2022, on Children’s Day, Sahita won second prize in the District Weightlifting Championship held in Katesar, Ramnagar, Varanasi. Her achievements did not end here - she was also nominated for the State Level Weightlifting Championship. 

17-year-old Muskaan hails from Ayodhya and belongs to an economically and socially backward family. Muskaan lives with her parents, 2 younger sisters (7th and 8th graders) and 1 younger brother (in 2nd grade). She is now pursuing a Bachelors in Science and is passionate about building her career in cricket. 

In 2020, her father met with an accident and lost his hand, due to which her family faced acute economic and emotional trauma as he could no longer perform even the most basic chores on their agricultural land, forcing Muskaan and her mother to work and earn money for a living. Her mother now works in other farms in her village as a daily wager.

Muskaan is the first girl from her community to play or participate in sports at the village or district level and faced initial criticism from the community on her choice of cricket as a career.  This bothered her initially but once she joined Milaan’s Girl Icon Program, she understood that everyone had the right to follow their passion and choose their careers, irrespective of their gender. On 18th November 2022, Muskaan and her team won the District Level Tournament in Women’s Cricket and this led to a lot of appreciation from the same community that was earlier critical of her choice.

“The Girl Icon Program has given me the chance to empower and lead the other girls as much as possible and has helped me choose the correct path by providing me with the required knowledge about my rights and choices.”

Several of the Girl Icons we have worked with are changing these stereotypical perceptions of what girls can and should do with the prevalent patriarchal norms. However, as they proceed on their journey as Girl Icons they become aware of their rights and are able to make informed choices that help them unlock their full potential.

Muskaan Girl Icon Success Story
Muskaan Girl Icon Success Story
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Girl Leader Damini
Girl Leader Damini

People in my community don’t value education. They look at girls as a burden and never encourage them to study in life. I wanted to change this mentality around me that is holding girls back from building their future” - Girl Leader Damini

Determined to change the mindset of her community, Damini joined the Girl Icon Program; a girl-led and girl-driven leadership development program. Deep-rooted cultural norms like child marriage are widely practised in Damini’s community. She recognises this as one of the key barriers to girls' education and has dedicated her efforts to overcome it. 

21-year-old Damini is currently pursuing her first year of graduation and has been working as a girl leader for the last four years. 

Trained on design thinking principles through the program, Damini designed and implemented a street play (Nukkad Natak) with her peers to engage her community through social action projects. 

The play had a great impact, and the message was loud and clear to the community.  With my efforts, I have enrolled four girls back in school. Today, these girls are pursuing their secondary education; two are studying in 9th grade while the other two will be completing 12th grade” shares Damini.

During the pandemic, Damini actively worked with government officials to fight the rise in child marriages and prevented four child marriages. 

An advocate for promoting girls’ education and ending child marriage, Damini became a part of the government's National Task Force by Niti Ayog Forum, representing the youth voices of North India on child marriage. 

Damini brought to the fore the lack of livelihood and upskilling opportunities and vocational centres for girls and women in rural areas. Her continuous efforts working with officials led to the opening of several Self Help Groups and vocational centres in her village. She further mobilised 40 women in her community to participate.  

“Milaan has given me the opportunity and identity as a Girl Icon to make a difference and stand for the rights of girls and women.”  Says Damini 

Along with pursuing her graduation, Damini has recently applied for the position of Anganwadi Supervisor at an Integrated Child Development Centre. She is confident that her knowledge and skills acquired from the program’s comprehensive life skills education will assist her in fulfilling her aspirations and continuing to work at the grassroots. 

When girls from within the communities evolve as leaders, they become role models, playing a critical role in shaping the aspirations and beliefs about the potential of girls and a gender-positive social narrative. 

Investing in building their leadership, and capacity with knowledge and skills increases their agency, participation, and inclusion within their communities. 

Local role models like Damini also provide more easily imaginable visions of success and can make the success experienced by the role models attainable and replicable in the minds of girls, their families and communities.  

With your support, we are nurturing a  network of girl leaders to be community leaders, role models and ambassadors for a more gender-equal world. 

We hope you continue supporting us and create a cadre of empowered young women in India! 


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Anjali imparting girls with life-skills education
Anjali imparting girls with life-skills education

Dear Supporter,

In our endeavour to amplify the voices of change, we’re delighted to introduce you to girl leader Anjali! 

A farmer's daughter, Anjali hails from a small village in Uttar Pradesh. Passionate to change the destinies of the girls in her community, Anjali joined the Girl Icon Program. 

“The greatest problem in my community is girls’ education and child marriage. As soon as a girl reaches the 8th or 10th grade, her parents marry her off. Nobody wants to support their education.” says Anjali

A 9-year-old girl named Poonam in Anjali’s community had been forced by her father to marry a 35-year-old in exchange for money. Her mother opposed the marriage, but her opinion was disregarded due to the deep-rooted patriarchy in the community.

On the occasion of a festival, Poonam returned home and started attending school for a few days. When Anjali learnt about Poonam’s story she was determined to take action and save this 9-year-old girl from being a child bride. 

“I saw her husband physically forcing her to get into the car and take her back, she was crying helplessly. I couldn’t stand the sight of it,” says Anjali 

Anjali then reached out to ChildLine for support and the police control room to take care of the situation. With the help of the officials, Anjali saved Poonam from being taken away by her husband. Today, Poonam is no longer a child bride and has enrolled back in school in class 7th. 

“I could not see such injustice happening to her. Milaan’s training has given me the confidence to speak up against injustice happening around me. I will fight for the rights of girls in my community and will not give up.”

With your support, we can continue to educate and empower girls like Anjali to create a gender-just world. 

The pandemic has further pushed adolescent girls in marginalised communities down the vulnerability matrix. In India, 10 million girls in secondary education might never return back to classrooms. There has already been a 17% hike in child marriages. 

In these difficult times, your contribution ensures we create a cadre of girl leaders like Anjali who become the voice for the girls in their communities in ensuring they are educated, healthy and safe! 

Anjali conducting a meeting in her community
Anjali conducting a meeting in her community


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Girl Leader Renuka (name changed)
Girl Leader Renuka (name changed)

Dear Supporter 

The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on adolescent girls in rural communities, deepening poverty means girls will be forced to drop out of school, become child brides and face violence within homes and communities. 

The role of grassroots girl leaders is critical to ensure they are able to work with more girls and help them overcome barriers by designing local solutions unique to their communities, this is why Milaan is committed to investing in girl leaders who can take action to build equal and resilient communities. 

Meet our 13-year-old girl leader Renuka (name changed) who hails from Uttar Pradesh in India.  A state where 1 in 4 girls is a child bride and has the highest school dropout rate in the country. Renuka with support from her father has continued to generate awareness in her community on girls’ education and has brought back 10 girls to school under the government’s free education provision. 

Milaan’s leadership training has helped her to nurture her skills and work closely with families and village stakeholders to engage community members, identify school dropout girls and bring them back to school. 

Renuka’s 34-year-old mother is a school dropout like many others in her community but inspired by her daughter's resolve to be educated and to create pathways for more girls in her community, her mother decided to enroll herself back in school. 

“I want to study because I want to educate myself, knowledge can never go to waste”. Says Renuka’s mother 

Her mother wants to become a role model for women in her community just like her daughter to advocate for adult education and not let age become a barrier to learning. 

Today, Renuka’s mother is enrolled in formal education in grade 11th at DD Kabadi School in Uttar Pradesh and envisions completing her senior secondary education. 

Renuka and her mother’s story is a testament to how building grassroots girl leadership can not only influence more girls but families and communities at large to invest in girls' education and empowerment. 

Your continued support helps us to create role models like Renuka from vulnerable communities in rural India. Donate to support our work to create a cadre of educated and empowered young women! 


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Organization Information

Milaan Be the Change(NGO)

Location: Gurugram, Haryana - India
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @supportmilaan
Project Leader:
Eli Rai
Gurugram , Haryana India
$2,958 raised of $65,791 goal
59 donations
$62,833 to go
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