Jyoti's story shows how this project is slowly but surely creating a new generation of empowered young women -
Jyoti Tusamad, Aged 15 years (participant of Life Skills class)
One day Dr. Mune madam came to my house and gave information to my mother about the life skills class and asked her to send me to the class.
She teaches us about confidence - which factors affect our confidence. Through this class we have visited an orphanage. We felt very sad when we saw the condition of the children and infants there.
Through the bank visit we got information and the confidence to open a savings account in it. I can save money and also can withdraw money from my bank account.
We very much enjoyed the adventure camp at Mumbai (Bombay- at Karjat), especially the valley crossing which was very adventurous. We stayed there for two days.
We also learned about the menstruation cycle, and hygiene and how to take care of our body. I also participated in an environment camp arranged in our school and got to know many important things about the environment.
The life skill class has developed confidence in me, so much so that I decided to become a air hostess.
In the future I will oppose any kind of calamity or disaster in my life. I am courageous now.
When I was in India visiting the project, I got to speak to Shubanghi who has been going to sewing classes run by the project. I was quite amazed by how much impact learning this skill seemed to have had on her life. What remains strong in my mind is her drive and enthusiasm when she spoke about her ideas about the future.
Here is her story:
Name: Shubanghi Raju Diwar - beneficiary of women’s sewing class
I started sewing classes six months ago and have completed the course now. When I started I had never earned any money in hand. I just relied on my husband all the time. One person’s money wasn’t enough. Karunaprabha came here and I came to know about the project. She said I could earn my own money and I wouldn’t have to pay fees to learn how to do this. I thought it was a good thing. My husband didn’t want me to leave the house - he wanted me to just stay home and look after the kids. But after I started to learn sewing and I could sew things, he liked it - he even helps me with it now! I taught him how to sew and he does it too! He comes home from work after 3, eats lunch and then he helps me with the sewing.
Thoughts about the future
Now I just want to take this further and further. I can do blouses now and I want to learn fashion design and doing dresses. I could open my own shop or work from home.
What has been the biggest change in your life since doing the sewing classes?
The biggest change has been that before I didn’t have the confidence or aspiration to do anything with my life. Now it’s changed and I want to do lots of new things.
I'm back at the Karuna office now in London and have just managed to go over my notes from my visit to the project. I was lucky enough to meet Sonali and her family at her home and she shared some of her experiences with me. I went with Karunaprabha, the leader of the project - she was very handy as my Hindi is not 100%!
For me, Sonali is real testimony to the possibility that can lie before girls like her. I hadn't quite understood how important skills training is for girls like her. In her case, it really does seem like a passport to a better, more meaningful life. Here is a short bit from the interview that I did with her -
What is the best thing about the WEP? (Women’s Empowerment Project)
The best thing about the project is all the information that we get about so many important issues. We get good exposure to the outside world. I can stand on my own two feet now and feel financially empowered. Now I even have a job, I work in a mall – I do billing work.
[Karunaprabha tells me that she never used to speak up and was chronically shy two years ago. Now she is cheery and confident]
What are your hopes for the future?
My hopes now are to do something for my whole family, to make their experience of life better and to do something for myself. After the life-skills course, my confidence has just turned around. I can communicate really well with customers now. My hopes for the project now are that they could run new classes for vocational training and more advanced computer and life skills classes.
I also got to visit one of the life skills classes and see how that works in reality - probably the highlight of my visit to the project. I loved how informal and comfortable the set-up was, which is reflected in how at ease and relaxed the girls appeared. So from what I learnt, the whole idea behind these classes are to give the girls a safe space in which to bring up and explore all sorts of issues in their lives - I mean all sorts, ranging from things like learning new hairstyles and talking about the latest Bollywood films to sharing experiences about domestic violence within the home.
I asked the girls if any of them wanted to share any reflections that they had about the life skills classes. Here is some of what they came up with:
‘I love coming to class, especially when they take us on trips to places like the bank and the police’
‘If any girl has a problem, we can all talk about it together and help them. It’s really good to share things’
‘Here we can talk about things that we couldn’t talk about with our parents’
‘I like coming here and meeting new people. We do loads of things, like we teach other new hairstyles and personal hygiene’.
‘We don’t get to play at home at all, but here we get to play and be playful’
‘I have confidence in life now just from meeting people from here’
I’ve just got back a few hours ago from my first visit to the project in Vishrantwadi. Wow. Reading about it on paper and seeing it on the ground in action are two very different things. I just wanted to share my feelings, as I’ll write a more detailed report and share the stories of the girls that I met when I get back to our Karuna office in London.
Up until now, I never fully experienced how limited the life choices of the girls involved in the project are. Most of them live in the slums of Vishrantwadi, and many don’t even attend school. I met many girls who used to go and now don’t go. Having said that, I also met girls who have re-enrolled at school since being part of the life Skills classes that the project runs. For many of the girls, even obtaining permission from their parents to attend activities such as computer classes or life skills training has been an uphill struggle. Some parents remain under the assumption that to invest in the development of girls in this way is futile. Karunaprabha, the leader of this project, and her formidable stuff are key in helping to overcome this barrier. It is clear that over the years that the project has been running they have gained the trust of many in the communities in which they are working in. Through open conversation they are often able to convince reluctant parents to let their girls attend classes.
I was lucky to be able to see many activities today – I saw the computer and sewing classes in action, watched an awareness-raising street play on anaemia, a rally by girls against child marriage and I met with one of the life skills class groups. I also did two visits to the homes of beneficiaries, one from the sewing class and one from the life skills group. I was really humbled by the work that is going on – how hard the women leading the project work and their capacity for empathy, but also the enthusiasm and zeal with which the girls engage. I had underestimated the impact that this project is having in transforming the lives of the girls; not only this, but the role that this project is playing in creating a new generation of empowered women in India.
I know that I take the level of control that I have over my own life for granted. For me, it’s not the absence of options, but having too much choice that’s often the problem.
I find it difficult to imagine what it must be like to have no choice, to have your future pre-determined in some way.
Let’s take a look at this:
No formal schooling. Low self-esteem. Poor communication skills.
Likely end result on an individual level:
Married under 18. Domestic violence. Poor health.
Likely end result on a broader level:
Strengthening of discriminatory values towards women in society. Propelling this cycle for future generations to come.
This is the cycle that many adolescent girls in Pune’s urban slums find themselves trapped in. Lacking formal competencies and not knowing how to realise their fundamental legal rights, these girls are among the most marginalised in Indian society. The Right to Freedom is longstanding in India, yet this has remained a paper tiger for many of these adolescent girls. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Through the work of the Women’s Empowerment Project, things are changing.
Let’s look at this alternative scenario:
Essential life skills. Vocational skills training. Statutory rights awareness. Hygiene and nutrition training.
Confidence and an appreciation of self-worth. Financial autonomy. Improved long-term health and reduction in maternal and neonatal mortalities due to poor nutrition.
Positive changes in societal attitudes towards adolescent girls. More girls living with dignity and respect. Improved lives of many young girls who will become the women and mothers of the future.
The Empowerment Project has already gone a considerable way to making this scenario a reality. Here are just a few ways how it has been doing this:
Helping others to help themselves
Many of the adolescent girls that this project works with have appeared resigned to the prospects of their not-so-bright futures. It needs to be clear though, that this doesn’t indicate a wilful acceptance of their ‘lot’. On the contrary it has stemmed from a deeply-entrenched sense of fatalism in many cases. This is changing, however.
This project has been empowering girls by successfully equipping them with essential life-skills. Economic empowerment has been a real area of success:
And here’s what all this has meant in practice for Shilpa –
Before I could not even talk in group and used to feel shy to interact with people. I had very low confidence within me but now I feel I have a very bright future. I got confidence that now I can earn money by stitching clothes in my own business, no need of doing domestic work. - Shilpa Jagnaath Pawale, Vishrantwadi
From ignorance to agency
The maxim that ‘ignorance is bliss’ doesn’t really ring true in this case. In fact, knowledge is often the vital ingredient that can transform the sense of powerlessness experienced at an individual level to one of agency. Much of the work of the Women’s Empowerment Group has centred on breaking the taboos that are prevalent in conservative and patriarchal Indian society
Helping girls to access information so that they can make informed choices has been crucial, as has their being well-versed in issues directly impeding their health and safety has been crucial:
Here’s a glimpse of the impact that these initiatives are having –
I attended sex education through which we came to so many things regarding body changes as well as physiological changes during adolescent age. Nowhere we get such information but this project is giving and helping us to cope with the situation. - Komal, Bhimnagar
All for one and one for all
It is routinely the case that attempts at realising progressive change encounters resistance from key stakeholders. In the case of this particular project, attempts at change have often come up against deeply-entrenched attitudes on perceptions of both caste and gender roles. This makes it all the more important to build and sustain relationships in the broader community that foster understanding and support for the cause. One of the major strengths of this project to date has been the level of harmony and co-operation witnessed between various stakeholders. This impact, although not lending itself to quantification ought not to be underestimated:
A huge thank you for your generous donations that have been turning the vision of empowered adolescent girls into a reality. In particular we’ve seen donations coming in more and more since our last update, which is just great. I hope that you find this update useful and can share in our joy at the changes taking place on the ground.
As ever though, a lot of work remains to be done in order to maintain the momentum that has been built up so far. So please continue to give what you can and also to raise awareness about this critical cause.
If you have any feedback or any specific questions about the project then I would love to hear from you.
Many thanks again.
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