Let’s build a gender balanced world. #BalanceforBetter. This is the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day.

On my first trip to India, I was hoping to volunteer at a women’s empowerment project in Dharamsala.

From an early age, I remember thinking gender inequality was unfair. I distinctly remember getting angry at temple when I realized women were not counted as “people” to form a minyan to begin a service. There I was, an eight-year-old feminist in the making, fuming at my misogynistic temple. Thankfully, we switched to a new more progressive temple shortly thereafter.

As I got older, I learned that the equality gap was much larger in many other countries than in the United States. For example, in India, female infanticide is one of the highest in the world, and India was voted the most dangerous place to be a women in 2018 due to forced marriage, child marriage, sexual abuse, and access to health care, just to name a few.

Learning the above, I knew with my strong will and determination I could be of service. I was a child-free, forty-year-old women who had worked in technology for most of her adult life and was ready to give back. After reading many articles and books on how economic empowerment of women directly impacts gender equality and eradicating poverty, I planned a trip to India to be of service to women.

Well, life has a funny way to not always going as planned. When I arrived in India, I was informed that all of the women from the empowerment project were too busy cutting wheat during harvest to attend. I was asked to work with four and five year old children instead. It was a bit out of my comfort zone but I did the best I could. It was during this trip that my focus changed towards helping the voiceless stray animals.

Starting Dharamsala Animal Rescue gave me a way to provide opportunity to women in the community. We hired a widow who needed to provide for her children. We hired young women who wanted to work and delay their inevitable arranged marriages. We hired a woman who had been a child bride and was finally able to do something for herself. But with it brought tragedy. In the spring of 2018, we experienced first hand the danger of being a woman in India with the loss of our lovely Shabnam due to domestic violence.  It was only then I learned that every six hours, a young married woman is found beaten to death, burnt, or driven to suicide.

This horrific event made me double down on how I interacted with the community as a woman and how I approached running a business. I worked harder than ever to develop transferable skills and work ethics in the women under my care. As a mentor and a friend, I tried to ensure the female employees felt safe, supported, and respected. After Shabnam’s death, every young Indian women who had ever volunteered at DAR reached out to me and asked what they could do to help get her justice. This resulted in an effort to fundraise for legal expenses that her family could not afford. I even heard from one young woman in the community who told me that she did not even realize that she was in an abusive relationship until she saw my post about Shabnam. It gave her the strength to leave. 

Cut to today, Dharamsala Animal Rescue has twelve employees working on the ground in Dharamsala and 50% are Indian women. Unbeknownst to me, our Social Media and Outreach Manager, Gurleen Arora, decided to interview each employee to hear their stories. Veena Devi, was first on the list. When I watched the video, I had tears in my eyes hearing her words:

I really feel safe as a women at DAR, where I am respected and treated as equal by all of the men I work with. 

I am elated that I had helped to create a place where local village women could find employment, and feel safe and empowered. I am especially proud of all of the amazing men who work at DAR who contribute daily to this experience.

Today, we celebrate International Women’s Day and are happy to say that at Dharamsala Animal Rescue, we see the direct results of how “Balance drives a better working world.” Let’s all help create a #BalanceforBetter.

Please share your stories with us in the comments.


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About the author

Deb Jarrett

Deb Jarrett

DAR Founder

Deb Jarrett, at age 40, decided her life needed some shaking up. In fact, she needed to rattle her brains a bit. She was done climbing the corporate ladder, paying mortgages and internet dating—so she quit her job and moved to India to help animals. Not to be confused with Elizabeth Gilbert, at this point in her life, Deb had done just about all of the self discovery she so desired on therapist couches, yoga retreats, and spiritual workshops. In fact, she Eats very carefully, due to the risk of bacteria and parasites. She no longer Prays after experiencing the harsh reality of the developing world on a day-to-day basis and believes compassionate action is the answer. However, she did find Love with an Indian man. She started Dharamsala Animal Rescue in 2008 after her first trip to India.