A proud Sikhligar father with his daughter
Ashraya’s communities (Waghri’s and Sikhligar’s) are traditionally rigidly patriarchal. With a history of practicing dowry (the concept of the bride’s family giving, often unaffordable and under coercion, large sums of money to the groom’s family), early marriage, especially for adolescent girls in the community, and early/teen pregnancy with no awareness and access to birth control measures. The Waghri and Sikhligar women have a weak literacy rate, much lower than the men in the community (24%), often due to fierce resistance to education and pressure of early marriages. Facing a variety of concerns ranging from low social mobility, lack of confidence and family support, harassment from peers and education providers, and a sense of futility or belief that education will not be relevant or essential in their future live leads to a high dropout rate in the community girls feeding into the cycle of poverty and patriarchy.
Although undeniably impressive strides have been made in the Waghri and Sikligar communities in the past ten years, it remains a constant struggle to retain girls in school once they reach adolescence. We believe that to be effective; we need to proactively and strategically address these needs and issues. Most of the adolescent girls enrolled at Ashraya have at one time experienced pressure and prejudice from the larger community to give up their education and get married. The risk of exploitation and abuse remains predominant due to the high prevalence of alcoholism and domestic violence. Sikhligar women are not permitted to work outside their houses, and girls are reduced to caregivers and homemakers by tradition.
To sustainably empower the Waghri’s and Sikhlihar’s it was understood early on that a pivotal step is to provide equitable support of girls and women. It was integral to create a perception shift within the larger community to reduce the social stigma around education and employment of girls and women. This challenging journey has resulted in a 100% female induction rate in education from all families and, more importantly, a 100% female retention rate during COVID. India saw roughly 10 million girls drop out during the pandemic, pushing them towards child labor and early marriage. Ashraya has always been taking massive strides towards promoting gender equality, especially through capacitating community women volunteers to be our messengers and ensuring that families enrolled have all their girls attending school and after-school support regularly. This year Ashraya celebrated International Day of the Girl Child at the Education center (With COVID protocols and restrictions in place!) to highlight the work that has been done in the last 15 years to empower girls and women. Parents, especially fathers, were encouraged to come and talk about the steps they are taking every day to ensure that their girls are educated, healthy and safe. The absolute highlight of the event was the Sikhligar father’s expressing the importance of education of their daughters and their aspirations regarding their lives. They also discussed making their communities/slums safe spaces for their girls and women and the importance of the women in their families. It was a significant milestone for Ashraya, where women are viewed as the pillars of community empowerment, and girls are the future changemakers.
Young change makers