The Ashraya college students are both nervous and excited to complete their graduation and enter into the next phase of their lives! Their days keep them busy juggling academics and their internships at Ashraya which have slowly led them to question certain perceptions and traditions of their respective communities. The Waghri and Sikhligar communities are conservative and patriarchal, and have low financial and social mobility for girls and woman. Although the community members have come a long way since 2005, when Ashraya started its work with them, they still lack awareness and incentive to change their core beliefs.
The college girls, who are eager to be changemakers in their own spaces, conducted a survey within their settlements, to understand the general perception of their parents and adults towards gender, education and livelihoods. A general consensus was that the community has started viewing education as an integral aspect of their children’s lives, and their attitudes towards girl child education, women’s employment and independence has shifted, and is continuing to shift, for the better. Some students observed a decrease in the dependency on alcohol within the community, others have reported that the community members are gravitating towards starting their own businesses rather than taking up wage labour. However, despite these impressive strides towards empowerment, there still remain a lot of issues that need to be addressed. These include lack of incentive to educate girls, early marriage, lack of physical and financial mobility for girls.
These concerns have been taken up by the college girls who have identified them as crucial especially as it directly impacts their access to safe spaces. They brainstormed and came up with the idea of conducting a campaign for gender equality in their slums. The campaign targeted the adverse effects of early marriage, early pregnancy and improving access to educational equity through charts, slogans, a puppet show and door to door awareness. The girls also got twenty families in their communities to sign up for Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana i.e. a scheme promoting financial security for girl children. This campaign enabled the girls to take charge of creating safer spaces for younger girls in the community and move one step towards sustainable empowerment, all the while setting a strong example for the next generation.