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Championing Change: Padma Shri Hirabai Ibrahim Lobi’s Journey towards Empowering Women In the Siddi Community

A leader is someone, who takes the initiative, motivates others to take action, inspires others to follow, and works to improve their community. A social activist from Junagadh, Gujarat, named Hirabai Ibrahim Lobi, has devoted her life to advancing the status of women in the Siddi community and has assisted more than 700 women and children in raising their level of living.


Hirabai was born in the Gujarati village of Jambur. She was born into a low-income family and raised by her grandmother after losing her parents. Hirabai’s family’s financial situation prevented her from enrolling in educational institutions. She had a great desire to learn new things and broaden her experience. Thus She decided to leave the routine work of logging.


Hirabai was married at a young age to a man who believed in women’s equality. She started working with her husband on 0.5 hectares of land. She has two sons and a daughter. Her social work was constantly encouraged by her husband.

Siddi community

A small ethnic population of African origin, the Siddi community is concentrated in India, mainly in the states of Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. They are believed to have arrived in India as slaves, traders, or sailors. Over time, they assimilated into Indian society while clinging to their distinctive practices and rituals. They adhere to a syncretic faith that blends aspects of indigenous African religions, Christianity, and Islam. They primarily rely on agriculture, manual labour, and small-scale businesses for subsistence.

Social Activities

  • Educating women to create organic compost

She was instrumental in boosting women’s self-esteem and taught them farming techniques so they could participate equally with the rest of the family. Inspired by radio programs and advertisements, she encouraged women’s participation in social groups, which led to change.

  • Community educational reforms

Her illiteracy prompted her to initiate educational reforms in the Siddi women’s community. Hirabai spoke with the female residents of her neighbourhood about the value of education and started several kindergartens in her community.

When the primary school instructor in Jambur sought assistance in successfully running the institution, she organised community gatherings that increased the number of pupils registered there.

  • Encouraging the women in her community to become financially independent

By assisting the rural women folk in opening bank accounts and accompanying them to the bank to deal with the officials, Hirabai inspired women to be financially independent. She raised the quality of life in her community by encouraging government initiatives. Hira initiated a campaign to increase women’s independence at the Agakhan Foundation by partnering with the BAIF, a farmer’s organisation. To assist women in her community, Hirabai Lobi established the ‘Mahila Vikas Foundation’ in 2004. Since then, she has worked diligently to empower women. Several households have benefited from Hirabai’s initiatives as women started working in grocery stores, tailoring shops, and farming.

  • Health Practices In The Community

Birth control methods were encouraged, and women were taught good hygiene and health practices to improve their quality of life. She invested the prize money she received from the Women Summit Conference to improve the facilities of her village.


Hirabai received the Samman Patra from the Gujarat Agricultural University in 2001, 2007, and 2012, the Women World Summit Foundation’s Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Living in 2002, the Janki Devi Bajaj Puraskar for Women Rural Entrepreneur Award in 2006, and the CNN IBN Real Heroes Award in 2010.Hirabai Ibrahim Lobi has been conferred with the fourth highest civilian honour in India, the Padma Shri by the Indian government.

Her unwavering efforts have made a tremendous difference in the lives of more than 700 mothers and children, greatly benefiting the Siddi community. Her life mainly committed to fighting for the advancement of Siddi women, who were socially and economically downtrodden. Hirabai Lobi worked to provide education, to the children of the Siddi community, through many ‘balvadis’. She has also worked for the financial independence of the women of the Siddi community. Cooperative movements, family planning, and community schools were some of the initiatives that she spearheaded. She has enhanced the quality of life in her community through her developmental ideas and empowerment activities.

Credits and References