Three years ago, Kathleen Mulligan, associate professor in the Department of Theatre Arts, founded “Wheels for Women,” a project that benefits victims of domestic violence living in the Sakhi Shelter of Kerala, India. The women complete training to operate a rickshaw so they can earn their own wages and become financially independent. Recently, Mulligan has been named a recipient of the International Alliance of Women World of Difference Award for her project.
Contributing writer Lauren McGrath spoke with Mulligan about her program “Wheels for Women” and her experience in India.
Lauren McGrath: What inspired you to launch the project “Wheels for Women?”
Kathleen Mulligan: I taught a workshop for residents of the [Sakhi] shelter for victims of domestic violence in India. My husband and I were inspired by the work that was being done there. This woman, Beena Sebastian, had started this shelter and was helping these women who had nowhere else to go. After I taught my workshop, my husband asked [her], “What do you need the most?” And she said, “We need a vehicle.” After we bought the vehicle, we talked to her about starting a training program so that residents of the shelter could learn job skills, and thus not be [financially] dependent on men who were abusing them.
LM: What makes “Wheels for Women” important?
KM: It’s the idea that “if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for his lifetime” — to provide people with a skill so that they can then support themselves. One important reason is self-esteem, so that women feel that they can support themselves and support their children.
LM: How have the new skills — driving auto rickshaws — you’ve provided the women of the Sakhi shelter helped them to better their lives?
KM: Some have felt like they have a choice: whether they want to go back to the men who were abusing them and try to make it work, or if they want to support themselves. It has given them self-esteem. I know from correspondence that they are proud they made it through this training, and now they have a marketable skill. It is empowering to them to be doing a job that isn’t typically for women in India. There aren’t many female taxi drivers. That’s another benefit. I know from traveling myself in India, and going places by myself at times, that women can feel a little uncomfortable getting into a cab alone with a strange man, and having the choice to choose a female taxi driver instead is really an option they appreciate. I know I would have appreciated having that option in India myself.
LM: How can Ithaca College students, or anyone for that matter, be involved in “Wheels for Women?”
KM: People can help by coming to the Cabaret and bringing friends. There are also sponsorship programs. It costs $140 to train a rickshaw driver. When the woman completes her training, the sponsors get a picture and a letter talking about her experience. They can always make a donation. Also, my husband and I got awarded $100 from a group of Ithaca [College] students. We used the money to buy a domain name, and [we] could use help building a website.
The Cabaret fundraiser for the Sakhi Shelter will be held at 4 p.m. Jan. 26, 2014, in the Clark Theatre in Dillingham Center. The show stars senior acting and musical theater majors.