Padma Shri Jaya Arunachalam, founder of Working Women’s Forum (WWF), and a pioneer of the women’s self help group movement in the country, died on Saturday. She was 87.
Through WWF, she helped several lakhs of women from underprivileged background to organise themselves towards becoming financially independent. Nandini Azad, her daughter, who is the president of Indian Co-operative Network for Women (ICNW) and member of the board of International Raiffeisen Union (IRU) in Germany, said that Ms. Jaya Arunachalam was unwell for the past two weeks. “However, she put up a relentless fight against her illness,” she said.
Highlighting the beginning of WWF in 1978, she said that at a time when poor women were financially excluded, Dr. Jaya Arunachalam helped more than 600,000 women to organise themselves and transform their lives from extreme poverty into becoming powerful and confident leaders of their households and community. “She taught us how it could be done. She achieved what the government could not do at that time,” Ms. Azad added.
Dr. Jaya Arunachalam was conferred the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1987. She received the Jamnalal Bajaj Award in 2009 for her work towards the welfare of women and children. A graduate in Economics and Geography, she was awarded a honorary doctorate by the University of Lueneberg, Germany in 1999.
She is a recipient of the International Activist Award by Glietsman Foundation in 2003, and the Godfrey Phillips National Bravery Social Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited WWF during her visit to India in July 2011. Ms. Jaya Arunachalam also took part in the Clinton Global Initiative Asia Meet in 2008 to discuss the work of WWF and ICNW.
She has also served as vice president of Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) and member of All India Congress Committee.
K.S. Alagiri, president, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, condoled her death. In a statement, he recollected her contribution towards women’s development and said that the micro-credit scheme implemented by her through WWF helped large number of women.