Building a better future for women and girls in India

Kanta Singh has dedicated her whole career to tackling issues of gender inequality. In 2019, she embarked on the Chevening Gurukul Fellowship for Leadership and Excellence. The programme allowed her to expand her network and capacity even further to help her on her mission to build a more equal India, one girl and one voice at a time.

Working for the UN was the earliest dream that Chevening Fellowship Alumna Kanta Singh can remember having.

‘Coming from a rural community in India with a mother who had never been to school, working for the UN was an impossible dream. So, when in 2010 I joined the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) I promised myself that every dream I would have thereafter would be to help other girls realise their dreams. It has been 13 years now and I have stayed true to that promise.’

Today, Kanta works as the Deputy Country Representative for UN Women India. Across all the projects she has worked on she has remained focused on women’s issues.

‘Everything that I have done has been with women, for women. And that includes my work at the grassroots level, whether helping to influence a policy change that affects millions of girls or helping just one girl to find her voice.’

In 2019, Kanta went to the University of Oxford for the Chevening Gurukul Fellowship for Leadership and Excellence.

‘There I learned that what you know is just part of the business. You need to continue learning from your environment, from the people around you, and from other experts. And on the fellowship, I was with some of the best of the best, all of them were inspirational leaders and achievers.

The environment in Oxford also provided me with ample opportunity to reflect on what kind of leader I wanted to be when I went back to India. For me, this meant becoming a leader who listens to others, and who always pays attention to different points of view.’

From there, Kanta’s impact continued to grow. She returned to her job at the UN and also helped a local NGO set up an initiative to train and prepare women for political leadership, with funding from the Chevening Alumni Programme Fund (CAPF).

‘The fact that there are so few women in the Parliament [in India] impacts all of us. We need to have more women in positions of power who can speak for themselves and for other women. This programme was put together with a local NGO and with funding from CAPF. It has so far trained up 200 women for political leadership – that’s 200 more women who are thinking of joining politics. The project has also received much political attention, including being mentioned in a G20 speech by the UK High Commissioner to India.’

Reflecting on her proudest achievements in her career so far, Kanta recounts the ‘goodwill’ she has helped to generate around the work that she does.

‘Every time I am able to influence a parent to support their daughter’s education, every time an MP enthusiastically agrees to come and speak to the women on our programme; this gives me hope. I do not have a goal to influence 200,000 minds in a day, but even if I can influence one mind, I feel happy and proud that one more girl has been taken care of.’

Kanta admits there are also difficult days and setbacks, when she continues to see acts of violence and discrimination against women around the globe. However, she sees these ongoing issues as temporary expressions of chaos and confusion which are to be expected in a world of changing gender dynamics. Kanta remains refreshingly and inspiringly optimistic about what the future holds for women and girls.

‘I really feel that women will come into their full potential in the next 25 years. It’s great to be a woman today and I am shouting for all of you and lending my voice to help you wherever it is required. Young women today know their rights far better than I did when I was 18. We have no business to be getting disheartened.


If you give girls the basic support to voice their opinions, they don’t need anything else because they are already out there, quietly working, gaining degrees, learning, building skills, paying attention to their health. So it won’t be long before girls are equally represented in all spaces. I am really looking forward to a better future for women and girls.’

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