‘One general goal I have, and maybe as a self-policy, is to make human rights and sustainability issues common knowledge. I would like to reach out to as many as possible during my lifetime.’
Human rights lawyer Parul Sharma is a dedicated worker who thinks Sweden has too many sustainability contradictions. We got the chance to talk to her about her goals, her outlook on accomplishment and her project giving out scholarships to girls in an area of India.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I am a human rights lawyer with focus on sustainability related issues. For many years I have worked with and towards the private sector, mainly MNCs (multinational corporations), to strengthen their human rights and anti-corruption work. I have strong Indian origins, and I was born in Sweden.
What would you say is the most urgent change Sweden has to do, in order to become more sustainable?
Sweden, and especially the policies produced within the governmental ambit and covering sustainability issues, needs more of a holistic approach. We cannot call ourselves leading in foreign aid and women’s rights and at the same time export weapons to countries where women’s rights are failing every day. Similarly, we cannot talk of Sweden soon becoming a fossil free state, and at the same time having our pension funds investing in fossil-based industries outside Sweden. There are many such sustainability contradictions we as a country have to deal with.
For instance, majority of the products we consume are produced in other countries, such as Bangladesh, China and India, which have become “world factories”. The children in these countries need to have anti-pollution masks when they go to school. Is this development? I think not! Hence, a more holistic sustainability approach is required. Same goes for public procurement and human rights, where human rights are not a binding requirement but something you may ask for, when you procure products from high risk countries. Aid, trade, export, investments and many more aspects need to be synchronized.
You have your own project called Rajdulari, where you give out scholarships to girls from a specific area of India. Could you tell us more about Rajdulari? Why is this project important to you?
For twenty years I have led my own people’s movement for poverty alleviation in India, and some projects in Bangladesh and Pakistan. It is a movement which through fundraising or crowdfunding, work for health, right to play, right to food. In the past 12 years we have initiated a foundation named after my grandmother Rajdulari (which means the King’s beloved daughter in hindi). We started off with 7 girls and today we have 170 scholarship holders. Over 400 girls have benefitted from higher education, and today they are lawyers, teachers, nurses and IT professionals. Some of them are now married and mothers to daughters, mothers who are now making sure their daughters get proper education as well. These scholarships are life saving for a girl child living in marginalized communities. With our scholarships we combat child marriages, harassment and child labor. Every year we gather new stories from girls confirming how they through education came out of harmful social norms against girls. Norms coming from the idea that girls are a burden to family and society. Girls are generally carriers of a family’s honor as well closest to all family shames you can think of. Education changes everything, and I hope that we will be able to increase our scholarships ten times in the next twelve years. It is a dream and a goal of mine!
2017 you were named as the most influential women in Swedish business in the category Social Change Makers (Veckans Affärer). You were also named Biståndsdebattens mäktigaste 2018 av magasinet Omvärlden! What has been your biggest accomplishment in your career?
I see my accomplishments differently every day to be honest. But one service of mine I always feel fulfilled by, is the work within Rajdulari foundation. I sincerely believe that by the upliftment of girls we will achieve sustainable development.
Do you have any specific goals you want to achieve with your work? Which are they?
One general goal I have, and maybe as a self-policy, is to make human rights and sustainability issues common knowledge. I would like to reach out to as many as possible during my life time. A specific goal is to encourage and engage as many young leaders as possible as critical thinkers and critical doers in the field of sustainable development. Another specific goal is to uplift and strengthen as many marginalized girls as possible through education.
On your Linked-In page it says that you are currently active in eight different projects/workplaces. With so many things going on, what do you do to relax?
Well, I am very careful with the engagements I undertake and therefore all of them are equally important to me.
No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. In what ways do you minimize your ecological footprint in your everyday life?
I am a vegetarian, I have decided to be car-free forever, I try to live by my mantra: “reuse, recycle, less to no plastic, must question for sustainability, and must control for sustainability”.
Asking questions for sustainability means asking questions about a product or service. If you are not sure, pick up the phone and call your bank, ask about the fairness behind your saffron from Iran.
Control, would mean, controlling the processes you are in charge of and making sure it’s sustainable enough.
Change within your own systems, at work or within your family.
If you could give one advice to your teenage self, what would it be?
Parul, enjoy a little more, don’t worry so much about the future.