When Swati was growing up arming herself with professional certificate courses and preparing to embrace a successful career ahead, her family made one thing very clear. She would be allowed to pursue a career only till she gets married. After she ties the knot, the decision to continue working would rest solely with her husband and her in-laws.
Her elder brother at home too, was told to ‘protect’ her and he therefore set down a list of do’s and dont’s for Swati. Not that the rules were unusually strict for Swati to follow, but the very fact that a rulebook was in place was enough to set her thinking. It was then that she thought she would use her expertise in reaching out to women – women in distress, women facing oppression and women being subjected to unequal treatment in society.
Swati says she is extremely lucky to have found great support in her husband and mother-in-law but not all her friends are that lucky in Gujarat. Born and raised in Vadodara,Gujarat, Swati Vakharia is the Founder and CEO of Women Planet, an online platform which looks into women’s issues and gets experts on board for grievance redressal.
“I had seen many of my girl friends give up on potential successful careers just because their husbands and their family didn’t approve of their work and I found such social behaviour unacceptable,” says 30-year-old Swati.
During her school days, she was pretty keen on sports but eventually focussed on classroom studies and went on to do an MBA in Finance, after which she joined The Times of India as an Operations Executive.
Soon after, she had the urge of starting up and became a part of an IT firm, Black iD Solutions Private Limited. This, she started with a group of friends and they worked together on this venture. This company gave her an opportunity to start a new department for ‘Online Marketing and SEO’ and they eventually got great success in the SEO industry. Seven years spent there and Swati was ready for her new role – giving back to society by launching her dream venture – Women Planet.
Using her own expertise to help women
“I believe that each individual has some expertise which can be used appropriately to give back to society, to contribute to a cause. One need not go out of the way to do anything,” says Swati who was sat up and
took note when the Nirbhaya gangrape case shook the entire nation. It shaped Swati’s determination further to help women and empower them to take informed decisions.Since, online marketing and SEO was Swati’s forte, she thought it would be appropriate to do something that she could manage.
At Women Planet, the attempt is to get as many women as possible on one platform and Educate, Empower and Entertain women at the same time through this online channel. Women Planet discusses issues, spreads awareness and guides women on wellness matters.
“With Women Planet, I found the opportunity to explore a new territory. It’s fun and enriching at the same time to connect with different types of people and like-minded women around me,” says Swati.
The early days
Women Planet started as a blog and Swati kept it open for all. As it was meant for people, she wanted it to take its own shape – by the people, rather than going for a structured and forced plan. That is what worked well for its future, says the founder, as it subsequently became a community, a forum, a print and digital magazine (print is only once a year) and a hub for people to share their opinion. Women Planet ‘s domain was in place in 2012 and 2013 onwards, it became a regular platform.
The inspirational stories on women staking their claim in a patriarchal society is what amazes Swati. “The idea is to spread awareness about gender equality. We are working towards changing the mindset of Indian society. Tabooed subjects like menstruation and hygiene need to be passed on to girls in rural India and we are trying to reach out to them to make them an aware lot,” says Swati.
“It is indeed a great tool to reach out to people. We know the importance of education in a girl child’s life and an initiative like this is much appreciated. The subjects have been dealt with in-depth and makes people aware of various injustices being meted out to the girl child,” says Juin Dutta, who leads the Footpath Paathshaala initiative in Vadodara. Juin quit her job to pursue her passion – educate children of the construction workers through her campaign. Juin however wishes that such platforms reach out to more people so that they take note of it.
An Eye-Opening incident
A girl in rural India got married and she lived happily for one year. Soon after, she was expecting a baby and the in-laws managed to find out that the woman was carrying a baby girl. The husband’s family, led by the mother-in-law took the decision to abort the child and she was threatened to carry a male child the next time she got pregnant, otherwise they would go ahead and get her a divorce from her husband.
“This story I heard made me feel sad about taking birth in a society where a woman herself does not understand the value of being a woman. At times, I see situations where a woman herself does not treat another woman as a Human. I think women equality and empowerment will happen only when women start treating each other with respect, the same way she wants to get treated,” says Swati.
It is women working hard towards creating their own identity and uplifting other’s lives that inspires Swati. Acid attack survivor Laxmi and similar spirited women who fought for their rights are Swati’s role models.