This women-led NGO works for empowerment of women and girls, with a special focus on adolescence

Sara Abdullah Pilot and Lora K Prabhu started CEQUIN in 2009, an NGO that has been doing pioneering work with vulnerable women and girls in urban and rural areas, focusing on gender equity and using sports for development.

This women-led NGO works for empowerment of women and girls, with a special focus on adolescence

Friday April 08, 2022,

6 min Read

When Sara Abdullah Pilot was working with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) for gender equality, she realised that most problems were at the grassroots level, and one needed to work and address the challenges there.

During her stint at UNIFEM, she met Lora K Prabhu and together they decided to set up an organisation that would work at the grassroots and will initiate and execute the kind of projects that she wanted to do, to address the bigger challenges in gender equality. This belief led to the creation of CEQUIN India in 2009.

Sara Abdullah Pilot

Sara Abdullah Pilot - Chairperson & Co-founder, CEQUIN

Sara explains, “At CEQUIN, we aim to not only bring the girl child to the mainstream, but also make them self-sufficient, independent, and competent in making their daily life decisions and career decisions. We take a holistic approach to addressing each concern. If we are working with an adolescent girl or a woman, we would like to input as much into her life as we can to help her develop her strength in terms of mental health, physical health, leadership qualities and career. We also talk to their brothers, fathers, mothers, as much as we can in a kind of 360-degree approach. This helps not just the girl or woman, but the entire family and the community grows stronger.”

Multi-pronged approach

CEQUIN India looks at five thematic areas – education, health, violence against women, leadership, and livelihoods.

Sara elaborates on CEQUIN’s four key flagship programmes.

The ‘Kickstart equality programme’, uses football as a tool to intervene with adolescent girls. Once these girls are part of the programme, it isn’t just football but a string of activities that keeps young girls engaged. While we are working with adolescent girls, we realise that it is important to intervene at these initial stages because that’s when you’re going to have a long-term impact.

She explains, “We started with this initiative in 2019, as we were looking for an innovative strategy where we could help women and girls come out of their homes, come into the public space, build their capacities, skill sets, access to livelihoods and leadership positions not only in the society but at home too. After a lot of thought and deliberation, we finally decided that we are going to use sports that would serve these purposes and that sport could be no better than football because we felt that it ticked all the right boxes. It was an outdoor sport, a team game and challenged the gender stereotypes.”

The second flagship initiative is the ‘Mardo Wali Baat’ campaign, where CEQUIN works with men and boys.

“We feel that when you’re working on gender equality, it is essential to work with both men and women, as it’s equally important for men to realise the presence of a women partner or member in their lives and family. We feel equal efforts are required to engage with boys and men as they have a stronger role to play – to understand the equality and responsibility towards the other gender,” she says.

The third programme is the ‘Badhte Kadam’ programme, which is about livelihoods for women and girls. The fourth initiative, the ‘Women’s Resource Center’, is a place where women can come together, access government schemes and programmes and various other valuable critical information, which can change their lives and contribute to their livelihood.

CEQUIN India has a strong presence in regions like Delhi, Haryana, and Rajasthan. Sara believes there has been a change in the way gender issues are being perceived, but there’s still a long way to go.

“We see it ourselves in the communities in which we work. What the situation was and how these girls were not stepping out of their homes, to all the way when these girls played football with us, they are so confident to jump on a bus, even get on a train to go and join a football camp somewhere across town, they’re able to withstand the pressure of getting married young and still be clear of having a career and work. So, I think there is a change, but we have a long way to go, without taking away those greater efforts that have been made in this direction,” she says.

Inspiring families and communities to stand with girls

Sara emphasises that change does not come from motivating women or a girl-child to stand up for herself, rather it’s more about inspiring the family and the community to stand with her, for her.

Sara points out instances of girls from conservative communities, who were looking to explore a career in sports, their family were convinced to some extent, but the bigger challenge for them was the incoming pressure flowing from the religious leaders.

“We had to work very much within the community -- it’s not about fighting and battling and the girl and family going against the society and community. It’s more about working together with everyone, where all the stakeholders enable her to choose to make those choices for her life,” she adds.

CEQUIN has been working with the UN continuously -- with UNESCO and has had a long-standing partnership with Australian High Commission through its direct aid program. It has also worked closely with the Delhi Government in the past and continues to work with them along with other philanthropical organisations like MCKS Trust, Rohini Nilekani Philanthropy, and others.

“Our plans are to work tirelessly for the community until we see that we don’t need to exist anymore. We will be expanding our work both qualitatively and quantitatively because we don’t want to lose what makes us so unique in terms of what we have been contributing to the society. We want to be able to work in more areas graphically, work with more girls, work with different stakeholders, so there is a lot of work to be done and we’re very excited. Till now it has been a satisfactory journey that gives us immense confidence to work harder and contribute to the society at large. It’s more about just carrying one and impacting more and more communities,” Sara says.

Edited by Megha Reddy