The CII Woman Exemplar Awards is a unique initiative undertaken by CII Foundation that recognizes exemplary women working at the grassroots level. The program, since its inception in 2005, has identified and supported women who have contributed significantly to India’s development process, with the aim of motivating and encouraging them and promoting women empowerment at the community level.
The award is conferred upon those who have contributed significantly in the fields of education, health and micro enterprises and have not only transformed their lives against all odds, but have helped in transforming societies as well. The winners of the awards demonstrate vision, resilience and leadership and are role models for generations to come. Since the program’s inception, 38 Women Exemplars have been awarded. Going beyond recognition, the Woman Exemplar program also mentors the winners and finalists to help them achieve greater success in their activities.
The CII Woman Exemplar Award is held annually and this year, the award was conferred on 8th April 2018 in New Delhi. The occasion was graced by the Hon’ble Vice President of India, Shri M Venkaiah Naidu, who also presented the awards to the winners.
This year, three exceptional women were presented with the awards for their contributions and exemplary work in different fields. Their notable achievements are an inspiration to all.
Munni Begum was conferred the award for her outstanding contribution in the field of education in Uttar Pradesh. Munni was born into a family of farm labourers and was married off at the young age of 12. She schooled herself by writing with coal on discarded waste paper.
Today, Munni is a leading advocate for women’s functional literacy, an active campaigner of women’s education and an advisor to the Gram Panchayat. Munni through her untiring efforts has transformed the lives of 5,770 illiterate rural women through functional literacy classes and organized them in collectives to access government schemes and entitlements. Munni has been a true inspiration for empowering marginalized women through education.
Asha was conferred the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Award for her immense contributions in the field of health. Asha who was married at the age of 9, became a wage labourer at the age of 11 and was soon widowed. Diagnosed as HIV positive, she lost her unborn child at the age of 16.
Asha began campaigning for the rights of people affected by HIV while strengthening community health in Rajasthan. She founded Sakhsham, the Ajmer chapter of the Positive Women’s Network to eliminate stigma associated with HIV by opening up access to government health services and welfare schemes for people infected by the ailment.
Asha has been working in Nasirabad, Rajasthan’s most high-prevalence HIV belt, where Saksham has worked proactively to ensure de-stigmatised counselling, free treatment and nutritional supplements to over 6,000 women, children and men living with HIV. She also opened up livelihood opportunities for 50 women survivors of HIV.
Asha’s advocacy and referrals has led to better access to treatments, improved healthcare and support to one of the most vulnerable communities in India. A survivor herself, Asha’s spirit is indomitable and her courage and willpower would inspire many to come forward and help many such marginalised communities in the country.
Vechulou Kanuo was awarded the Woman Exemplar Award for her outstanding contributions in the field of micro-enterprises in Nagaland. Ms Kanuo’s efforts and transformational leadership has built the rural entrepreneurship ecosystem in the Phek district in Nagaland and also increased employability of Naga youth, especially women.
Vechulou Kanuo grew up in an isolated village on the Indo-Burmese border, managing farm work and domestic chores. Her hard work and experience enabled her to transform a bankrupt organization to one of the most successful livelihood ventures in the state. With no formal training or orientation, Vechulou succeeded in forging strategic partnerships with various organizations to promote community livelihoods, tribal development and financial linkages.
Vechulou has introduced modern agriculture and animal husbandry to 10,586 women, farmers and youth, thus building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the deep rural interiors of Nagaland. She also presents the voice of Naga women in the state in the traditional Naga tribal council, the only woman to be invited in such meetings.
The Woman Exemplar Program has been a constant source of inspiration for all. The three awardees this year, Munni, Asha and Vechulou Kanuo are the true agents of social change and CII salutes the spirit of these women, their courage and contributions.