In the last few months, participants from SELF Academy have developed interesting proposals for their Social Action Projects–taking their learnings from the academy to the community. Fellows from nine organizations based in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand conducted focus group discussions within their community and selected topics, such as gender-based violence, choice, restriction on girls' mobility, higher education, and women-friendly police stations.
Fellows from Mahoba (Uttar Pradesh) from Gramonnati Sanstha(a CREA partner) used tools like painting learned during the academy to discuss and open up the conversations around choice and challenges faced by girls and young women (including young women with disabilities) within their communities. Girls shared their experiences through their paintings in the meeting in which Health Service Providers (HSPs) and Elected Women Representatives (EWRs) were also present.
During the meeting, the girls shared various examples during this meeting about their choices and challenges. They shared how their education gets affected due to the smallest things such as being friends with boys. Women shared about forced reproduction as a violation of their sexual and reproductive health and rights. They also shared how people within the communities have negatively commented ‘how such programs and discussions encourage girls and young women provoking them to elope with boys bringing shame to their families’ to which girls counter-questioned how can talking about their rights brings shame to the families.
Through art and painting, they showcased issues connected to their choice. Many girls and young women within the collective, especially young women with disabilities, shared how often their needs and desires are not considered within their families, especially the decisions about their life and the choice of their life partners. Young women with disabilities shared that family members often look for a partner with certain kinds of disabilities, invisibilizing their desires and connecting disability as a limitation, often assuming that living with a disability means that they need to get married to a person with a disability. If they become friends with any boy of their choice, they face a lot of violence within their homes, which is again a control over their sexuality. Through the medium of posters and painting, they expressed their desires. These posters became a medium to share the lived experiences that young women faced within the domestic space and the way communities treated them if they challenged any of the norms.
The social action project gave girls and young women collectives the ability to take up and lead their issues, displaying their leadership skills, especially during the 16 days of activism. During 16 days, girls displayed these paintings in various meetings and engaged with the media. They tried to speak about how often the language used by the media displays the socially constructed discriminatory beliefs attached to disability. In their follow–up plan, the next step by the collective in Mahoba is to show these pictures to officers of the One-Stop Center, to demand rights, and to reflect on how officers and administration view when girls challenge norms, negative attitudes, and belief systems.
1 One Stop Centres (OSC) are intended to support women affected by violence, in private and public spaces, within the
family, community and at the workplace. Women facing physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and economic abuse,
irrespective of age, class, caste, education status, marital status, race and culture will be facilitated with support and
SELF, a residential annual leadership development academy, has been cultivating leadership, self–confidence and self–reliance within girls and young women about their bodies and sexuality to live independently, free of violence and make informed and independent decisions. CREA resumed SELF Academy in August 2022 after a long pandemic-induced break.
This year’s SELF Academy focused on the pandemic and its unfathomable impact on structurally excluded communities. Girls and young women have faced multidimensional challenges that directly affected their access to resources, information, mobility, and communication. They experienced violence within domestic spaces. Lockdown had a direct implication on their well-being, affecting their confidence and diluting the shared space with other young women and girls within their communities.
‘Usha Dadi ne mujhe chanchal banaya’ (Usha Dadi made me playful)
‘main pant aur shirt phenti hun to log mere bare main bolte hain’ (I wear pants and shirt people talk about me)
‘khud par haunsla hona bahut zarori hai’ (It's important to be self-motivated)
‘filter ko badlo’ (Replace the filter)
The Academy was organized in Delhi with 30 young women and girls within the age group of 18 -25 years from rural interior pockets of Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar. Many had stepped out of their villages and travelled to Delhi for the first time. During six days (01 August- 06 August 2022) of the residential academy, facilitators invited from different organizations fostered dialogue on several concepts drawing parallels from participants’ shared experiences. The sessions shaped their perspectives around gender, sexuality, consent, pleasure, and gender-based violence through an intersectional lens. In addition, they learned about multiple uses of their mobile phones, including reporting issues in their communities and digital storytelling through social media. This includes technical handling of the device and understanding social media. They learned how they could use art as a tool to express themselves and as a medium to create a safe space for one another. The art session each day gave participants a platform to reflect on their learnings on their drawing sheets. They used paints, sketch pens, and markers to express themselves. Young women participating learned different ways to create a safe and enabling space for themselves and others within their village. In a fun way, young women and girls spoke about pleasure, flirting, their likes/ dislikes, and consent, among others.
SELF Academy has been a space for honing and developing skills of young women who use them in their community work and share with their peers. The skill building in artivism continues to be one of the only places to start for many young activists that we will follow up on in the year!
Chahat (name changed) is a beloved daughter in her family. In a country where families have multiple daughters till they finally have a son, Chahat’s case is just the opposite. She has five elder brothers and two overprotective parents.
Chahat is a 2019 Sports, Expression, Leadership, and Freedom(SELF) Academy participant and is pursuing her bachelor's degree in Social Work. SELF Academy is a residential skill and leadership building program launched in 2015, for a selected cohort of girls and young women leaders to expose them to diverse concepts, and strengthen their knowledge, skills, and their leadership capacities to be self-reliant and independent. Through the use of sports, arts, media, and technology, the academy equips the participants with information, skills, and increased confidence. One of the key sessions at the academy unpacks how girls’ rights are violated under the disguise of protection.
During this session, Chahat reflected on how she never recognized this feature of patriarchy before the academy. While she has flourished with the love she has received, she came to realize that this has limited her bodily autonomy and mobility. With this awareness and enhanced confidence from attending the academy, she started raising her voice in the family and becoming more assertive. Her assertiveness initially got laughed off, but as she persisted in practicing her agency and autonomy, she was threatened with being pulled out of school. One of her brothers even hit her and locked her in a room. She got followed by her brothers every time she went somewhere, but none of these challenges stopped her from being her free and confident self.
Chahat still loves her family, probably even more now. But she has not stopped voicing her opinion. Her family has since accommodated to an extent towards her requests and demands.
In 2021, CREA launched a “Your Protection does not protect me campaign” to mark the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence. Chahat attests that the campaign helped her in putting her learnings from the SELF academy into context. She is happy that her family is changing, but recognizes that the fight is long.
Priya (pseudonym), who lent her voice for a SELF Academy’s video on ‘Negotiating Life Choices’, has been finding herself to be a more influential agent of change recently. Even though she has always believed in being self-reliant and independent, hearing herself narrate this idea has rendered her even more powerful.
Priya recalls how she proudly showed the video to her mother and explained that the girl in the video was her own representation; she is the girl who wants to negotiate to live her life choices. Through her, the video has reached many more girls–including her friends, inciting dialogues on self-expressions: asserting their choices, expressing their desires and aspirations, going out of their homes, playing sports in their communities, and claiming public spaces for themselves.
CREA believes that deeply rooted cultural narratives hinder progress and social change. But these narratives should not be attempted to be retold from an outside perspective. The largest impact from SELF videos has been about shifting the power of storytelling to the real actors of the SELF academy–the participants.
SELF Academy is a residential skill and leadership academy launched in 2015, for a selected cohort of girls and young women leaders to expose them to diverse concepts, strengthen their knowledge, skills, and their leadership capacities to be self-reliant and independent. The use of sports, arts, media, and technology at the academy equips them with information, skills, and increased confidence that are traditionally associated with boys and men.
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In August, 2021, CREA released an animated video series named 'SELF expression' using girls' voices from interviews and the comics they created as part of the SELF academy. The videos give valuable insight into the various topics the girls discussed during the academies, what information they gained, conversations and debates they had for the first time, taboo topics that were spoken about openly, their reflection of these learnings to negotiate in their everyday lives, the creation of a safe space of sharing and non-judgemental learning along with fun and sports!
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the academy could neither be organised in-person nor virtually because of the lack of digital access and literacy. CREA used this time to develop SELF stories such as these videos, using comics made by girls in the academy, and recorded audio monologues of girls in their own voices. The videos were created on the most crucial themes in girls' lives that were addressed in-depth in the academy.
The videos showcase strong narratives of how the participants became aware of their rights and how gender-based role expectations restrict and influence their lives, how they worked through these in the academy, often taking the process back home with them and creating ripple effects at home/community spaces. Girls have pushed back against power structures of family and community and negotiated access to technology, spoken out against violence, right to their sexual identity, mobility, bodily integrity and well-being. These videos can also be valuable resources for work and advocacy with adolescent girls, going forward.
You can find the series, as illustrated by Vidushy Yadav, on CREA’s YouTube channel. CREA is currently in the process of disseminating the video through social media, all videos have been uploaded and shared across platforms which were followed by a live session on Instagram to share the process.
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