During the pandemic, women and girls, already socially and economically disadvantaged, were debilitated further.

Reports in the last two years show a steep increase in cases of domestic violence, disruption in education, loss of jobs, forced marriage, cyber violence, and trafficking of women and girls. 

Oxfam India has been working all through the pandemic to repair some of these fault lines via education and livelihood missions with its upcoming and biggest fundraising initiatives: the Oxfam Virtual Trailwalker Challenge.

The challenge also highlights the work civil society organisations have been doing to positively help and uplift marginal, and weaker sections of the society during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are excerpts from an interview by EastMojo with Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar.

Virtual Trailwalker Challenge is Oxfam’s biggest fundraising event. How long has it been running for? Tell us a little about its history/background/concept.

The Oxfam Trailwalker Challenge in India began as a fitness-driven, endurance, team-building, and fundraising challenge. It started in 2011 in Bengaluru followed by Mumbai. In this, teams of four would take up the challenge to complete a 100 km trail in 48 hours or the 50 km trail in 24 hours. Our physical events were held in very scenic trails in the outskirts of Mumbai and Bengaluru. 

Every year, corporate teams would participate in the challenge in large numbers. Over the years, we have gained the support of several celebrities and fitness enthusiasts such as Rahul Bose, Milind Soman, Mandira Bedi, Natasha Noel, Harman Singha, and Richa Chadha. 

Our physical Trailwalker continued till Feb 2020 until the pandemic struck, after which we had to shift to the virtual mode. We changed the challenge and opened it to individuals to walk 100 km, 50 km or 25 km in 10 days. In the Virtual Trailwalker Challenge, walkers could walk anywhere and at any time.  

Every year, the funds raised through the Trailwalker event supports Oxfam India’s projects on education, livelihood and gender justice. In 2020, when we went virtual, we raised funds for the migrant and the informal sector workers who due to lockdown had to walk thousands of miles to reach their homes. When a walker takes the Trailwalker challenge, they walk for equality and ending discrimination. 

In recent years, the challenge has become a popular employer-employee engagement and bonding activity for corporates. What has your experience been like with your employees at Oxfam India?

Over the years, the Trailwalker has turned into a great opportunity for employer-employee engagement and team bonding for the corporate walkers. During the physical event, a large number of Oxfam India employees would come together to work on the different aspects of the event to make it a huge success. Since the Oxfam India employees came from different departments such as fundraising, programmes, human resources, it was a fantastic opportunity for everyone at Oxfam India to understand and appreciate each other’s work as well. 

How different has the response been to a pan-India virtual Trailwalker compared to an outdoor one? How difficult was it to arrange?

The transition towards a virtual challenge was a necessity given the COVID-19 safety protocols. Our team tweaked the Trailwalker module to make it interesting and exciting for people who had to stay indoors and follow the COVID-19 guidelines. For one, it was promoted as an individual event. Further, the participants could walk in anytime and anywhere! 

We developed a web application and the backend to manage a virtual event. Now, the thousands of people who take the challenge upload the total distance they have covered during the day on the personal dashboard designed by us. 

The funds raised through this event, where will be used? Are there any new upcoming projects that will be funded through this challenge?

The money raised by the Trailwalker challenge will support our work on gender justice, women’s livelihood and education. By putting the rights of the marginalised at the heart of everything we do, we work to create a discrimination-free India where everyone lives a life of dignity, free from injustice and inequality. Since 2008, we have changed the lives of millions of people not just in our six focus states—Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Assam—but also across India. 

The theme for this year’s walkathon is around women and understanding the inequalities they go through. Tell us the reason behind choosing this theme.

Women and girls have had to bear the worst brunt of the pandemic. Due to the lockdown and school closures, girls were forced to drop out of schools and in many instances, forced into early marriage. Women were the first casualty of job losses, had increased responsibilities at home, and were also more vulnerable to domestic violence without access to violence services. The pandemic deepened the severe inequalities that already existed in our society. 

At Oxfam India, we have been working with women from the most marginalised communities especially Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims. I am very happy to say that over the years we have been able to empower thousands of women through our livelihood work and have seen several women evolve into leadership positions. As we recover from the impact of the two years of the pandemic, it is extremely important that we work to strengthen women’s livelihood, education and gender justice so that they can recover sooner from the pandemic. So it all made sense for us to celebrate International Women’s Day by holding the virtual Trailwalker challenge around this time and raising awareness about the same. 

How do you think challenges like Virtual Trailwalker build citizen participation and spread awareness regarding issues of economic and gender inequality?

The virtual Trailwalker challenge has opened many doors for us. Every year thousands of inspired walkers come together to walk in solidarity from across the country. It has been our way of telling citizens about our work. They walk alone, with their family, their partners, with friends and colleagues for the cause of equality. Their empathy and the willingness to make a difference has been the most rewarding part of this journey! We have seen our participants opening up with us, sharing their experiences and how compassionate they are to help us empower those who need our support. I would like to say that the Trailwalker challenge is not just a mere walkathon but it’s a movement of people standing up to end discrimination and fight inequality.

Oxfam India organises virtual challenge to help women and girls

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