Empowering African women through bras

Anjaly Thomas distributes bras to women who cannot afford them in Uganda and Kenya.

Speaking with Anjaly Thomas for the first time, one can feel a little dwarfed. The sheer confidence, shaped greatly by her solo travelling after coming out of her comfort zone, shines through with every word. In her website, she calls herself a traveller, even though she is also a qualified lawyer and a prolific writer. She is not one of those leisure travellers who choose glamorous locations either. Her travels are but means to an end and Anjaly always prefers the less-trodden path. Her initiative called Travel and Relief (TAR) is something that evolved over time. “TAR is Anjaly. It is not an organisation with a bank account or sponsors but it has volunteers,” says Anjaly, who currently works for a radio station in Dubai. To be a volunteer for TAR, she points out, does not involve heavy transactions or physical exertion. All it requires sometimes is the willingness to carry an extra piece of clothing or soap, anything that someone finds useful in the destination.

Travelling opened her eyes to the hardship faced by many communities, who live in dreadful socio-economic conditions. She felt a strong urge to empathise, and during one of her trips to Istanbul, she encountered an incident which proved as the motivation to start TAR. “It was a winter evening, and a 50- year-old lady sold her coat to me to sustain herself till she got a job. This incident moved me,” says Anjali. Though poor, her pride didn’t allow her to accept money without giving something in return. Born to a Malayali father and North Indian mother, Anjali doesn’t find it too important to divulge her personal details; it is her work that clearly defines the person. Most of her activities are centered on East Africa, particularly Uganda and Kenya.

At present, her on-going campaign, known as emBRAce is in the limelight, where she is providing brassiers to women in Africa, to uplift their social status. In many conservative societies, speaking about inner wear is taboo. In such a scenario, Anjaly’s emBRAce, reveals a different picture entirely. Anjaly, rather brazenly, talks about how contributing under clothing was important in their societies. Recently, she gave away 400 pieces of bras to women in Uganda. “For women in rural Africa, it is something they get for their marriage. Since the basic need is food, getting a bra is a luxury for them. These women are prone to sexual assault. I am not saying wearing a bra would make them less susceptible to danger. But it gives them courage and confidence, to stand up for their right and makes them less conscious about their body,” she says. Anjaly and her crew have no qualms in openly distributing the bras to women.”We stand beside the road and call out to random women, anyone who needs is free to take it,” adds Anjaly. A potential worldwide movement, Anjaly hopes every woman and man should be able to identify themselves with this cause. She clearly expects people to think about it, and do what is necessary to be a part of this movement, and not just for Africa. “Anyone in any country can give a bra away to someone who doesn’t,” points out Anjaly.

When asked about her challenges in carrying out such a campaign, she jokes about the extra baggage of bras she has to carry to these places. She prefers backpacking style, and has encountered many difficult circumstances. Anjaly elaborates, “I have been cheated, held at gun-point, molested and chased by knife-wielding kids, but these encounters have made me tougher.” What keeps her going is her conviction that she is on the right path and her preparedness to face the consequences. “Of all the countries I have been to, of all the experiences I have had, for all the people I have met on the roads, for every little act of kindness I have been shown, for the not so pleasant incidents I have experienced, I am thankful,” adds Anjaly. Having authored four books, which are mostly about her travels and the inner transformation that it brought about, Anjaly is awaiting the release of her new book, There are no Gods in North Korea.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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