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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