Support A Young Girls Leadership Academy in India

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"Right now I am studying. Earlier, my mother wanted me to drop out of my studies. One day, without informing me, she asked me to go meet a man [who was interested in marriage]. I told him that I want to study further and do something with my life. I also told him that I will get married only on the condition that I continue with my studies. I also told him that if he doesn't agree to this, I don't want to get married to him and that he can leave. So I stopped my marriage.

I try and convince other girls by engaging them in conversations. One of the girls in my village was getting married. She was only 13 years old. I told her parents, 'Let her turn 18 and after that, she can get married.' I also really tried to convince her. They eventually agreed with me that she was too young, and that she should be studying. I made an effort and I stopped that marriage."

“When I met Didi (SELF Academy Facilitator), she told me that I had to focus on my studies and continue going to school. But I told her that we were facing a shortage of electricity in my village, which makes it difficult to focus on studies. I also told her that we tried complaining to the Pradhan (Head of the local governance system), but he doesn’t listen to me. She suggested that all the girls should write a letter and submit it to the electricity department. I went back to my village and gathered 9 girls and shared this news with them. I also told them that if we file this letter, we will make everyone proud - it [the electricity problem] is something that even boys couldn’t do much about. I told them that the following day we will go and buy a DP/Transformer so that we can focus on our education.

After that we (9 girls) took an auto and walked 1.5 kms to the Electricity Department. Once I reached the department, they told me that the office for Shahpahadi (my village) was at a different place. We again walked for 1.5 kms and reached the electricity department (of Shahpahadi). Everyone in that office was extremely shocked to see 9 girls in their office. On being asked, we told them that we came here to collect the DP. They were really surprised. All the girls from my group spoke but I spoke the most. When they expressed their surprise I confronted them and told them that girls can also come to collect DP. Then we went to meet Mahesh-ji, who was the main person in that office and told him that there’s no transformer in my village and that we were there to collect a DP. We also told him that our exams were approaching and for the last 6 months the transformer had been missing. He assured us that we will get the DP in the next 2-3 days but we insisted and told him to provide a vehicle and a DP. He told us that no vehicle was available at the moment and that the following day, he will make sure that a DP is delivered to our village. Then I asked for his contact number but he refused. I threatened him that if he doesn’t deliver DP by the next day, then 9 girls will again come to his office and protest. In that moment another colleague of his offered to share Mahesh-ji’s number. I refused and told him that Mahesh-ji himself will have to share his number. Following this Mahesh-ji shared his number and we went back to our village. We waited for almost a day but he didn’t get the DP delivered to our village. I again called him and spoke to him. He told me that the vehicle wasn’t available. Then the day after that, the DP was delivered to our village. Everybody in the village started praising us and said that no man or boy from the village could do it and girls managed to get this work done. Then I told Pradhanji that he couldn’t get this work done but instead 9 girls from the village could do it. He praised us.

We all became really famous after this. In fact I went to the leadership camp that was organized in Banaras. I learnt how to use computers, speak English, do photography and about KhabarLahariya <> (women run rural news project). Through the session that focused on KhabarLahariya, I got to know that if we want to publish news then we have to collate information about incidents, witnesses and facts related to the event. You know earlier I had never gotten an opportunity to touch a computer, but at SELF I even got that opportunity to work on a computer. This has brought about a lot of change within me. Earlier I used to feel really scared and couldn’t even step out of my house. But the moment didi called me up and asked me to come to office, then I told my mother and she allowed me to come here. She has a lot of faith in me and didi”

Gayatri was on her way home when she caught the eye of a woman in an auto, looking at her curiously but intently. She was rushing home - she lived far from the city - but somehow she felt compelled towards the woman, who had a warm and benevolent face. Didi (SELF Academy facilitator) came over and asked her, “How old are you?” Gayatri was only 15. “I am running a program that is for girls and will teach them football and also about their rights,” replied Didi. “You have such strength in your eyes. Is this something that would interest you? And other girls in your community?”

Gayatri remembers feeling shocked, but flattered and trusting. When she returned home, she went to every home in her village, spoke to the mothers of all the girls and created a list of girls. Didi ji came over her house shortly afterwards, and they went through the list, talking about who was more interested, and explained to her what Gramonnati Sansthan was. When Gayatri returned to discuss this newer information with the other girls in her village, the interested ones decided to call themselves Kiran Balika Samooh (Girl’s Collective).

SELF Academy was the first opportunity that Gayatri and all of these girls had to live away from their homes and learn skills that they did not imagine they could do. However, besides teaching all of them new skills and creating novel experiences, SELF Academy also reinforced Gayatri’s strong belief in herself and her natural inclination towards leading her community.

She regularly speaks out on behalf of girls in her community about different injustices, and her conviction is rooted by knowledge and information about gender inequality and social injustice. “I also told them that it is we who have to change the society, because if we won’t then who else will bring about a change. I told them that we must unite and work together and that’s how the society will progress,” she says about her discussions with her neighbors and friends in the community. These conversations occur informally, but also in very visible spaces, such as meetings of women’s groups in her village. “Whenever it is a matter related to girls, I stand up and express my viewpoints,” she smiles and says.

That is not to say that there have not been open acceptance and a lack of reservations about her bold behavior. People in her village have pointed out that she is Hindu, implying that she should not ally herself and advocate so much for girls from other castes and religions. However, she responds by telling them that such connections are not to be drawn; all girls are equal and have equal rights. “I am just like your daughter,” she says, ignoring differences drawn by caste or religion. “The color of our blood is the same as other human beings.” In silence, her community listened to her.

“The day I told my mother that I will have to go to Delhi, my mother simply refused to listen to me. She said that even if didi (SELF Academy facilitator) comes and tries to talk to her it will not be relevant. So I went to my aunt’s (Bua) place. Around that time, didi organized some meetings in my village and she spoke to my mother and convinced her to send me to Delhi. My father also eventually agreed.

But my aunt and my brother were also pretty resistant. They were against the idea of me leaving for Delhi. Even when my parents were convinced, the women in my neighborhood taunted my parents. They told my parents that it is wrong that they have sent their daughter off alone and that they will realize their mistake eventually when the girls will take a step that goes against the wishes of the family. But my mother didn’t listen to them and eventually I could go to Delhi.

Given that my family members weren’t there, I knew that I could live my life without any restrictions. I had never done that before. I told myself that this is the moment to have fun. And I had fun by learning as much as I could. For example, I learnt English. Before, I didn’t know how to play football but now I can play football as well. Before, I didn’t know how to operate a computer, but now I can. I can work on the internet, Google and can work on a report. I even have a Facebook account now. I got know how a new article is printed. In addition to this I also learnt how to operate a camera. I learned about social issues too, like domestic violence. I really liked that session as I realized that I must live my life without any restrictions.

I started going for the meetings secretly. My mother knew about it and she let us attend the meetings. When my father got to know about it he scolded us but then we still continued to attend the meetings by taking permission from my mother. Now neither of my parents stop me from going anywhere.

Earlier I thought that I won’t be able to continue with my studies. My family is quite poor and they couldn’t have afforded my education. I always dreamt of becoming a doctor. But after becoming a part of this (program) I am convinced that I can pursue my dream and become a doctor. Now others also encourage me to pursue my dream and it feels really nice. When I came back from Delhi, my father told me that if in the future I get any such opportunity, I must avail it. And nobody will stop me. Two days prior to when I left for Delhi, my brother scolded me but my father intervened and stopped him from doing that. So now even my brother doesn’t say much.

Patriarchy endorses the idea that girls are weak in comparison to boys and they can’t do anything. But my family members now do not endorse this idea. They believe that their daughter is not weak and is equal to boys. They even encourage me to strive for equality now. They have stopped saying that girls can’t do much. Girls these days become police officers and can fly a helicopter.

Personally, I experienced many changes. Earlier I wasn’t allowed to step out of the house but now I am allowed to. Earlier I used to feel slightly scared and didn’t feel confident about stepping out of my house. But now I feel confident enough to go anywhere. I used to feel weird about going to new places. But this changed when I left for Delhi. Now I like going to new places. I like going for meetings now and don’t feel scared of anyone. I can also travel alone now. Earlier my father used to stop me from travelling alone but now he doesn’t. Now women in my neighborhood have also stopped complaining. Earlier they used to try to instill fear in me but now they have stopped. Now I don’t even take permission from my parents and just step out.

Yes, now I am not afraid.”


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Organization Information


Location: New York - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Anuradha Chatterji
Delhi, New Delhi India

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