Friday, February 09, 2018

Women of Sambhali Trust express themselves

On this day, 9th of February 2018, 2 women from each center in Jodhpur were invited to share their experience and thoughts about empowerment with the staff and volunteers of the NGO. The 3 best speeches were to be awarded, but in the end, seven prizes were given to those who stood out.

Some days ago, the women were announced this event. They received the news with enthousiasm and a bit of tension : they are not used to stand in front of others and speak their mind out loud in front of an audience !
They were asked to prepare a kind of essay about empowerment and what they wanted to share, it had to be at least a page long. In the days before the meeting, the teachers and volunteers helped the women and girls in the centers to write their essays by helping them find the topics, the words and the structure they could use.

Today, the women gathered in Sambhali Trust, in the courtyard, where mats and chairs were waiting for them, the volunteers and the staff. The meeting began with a short speech by Govind Singh Rathore, Founder of the Trust.
After that, Manisha, a 14-year-old girl was the first to speak. She was a bit shy, as were all the other girls, intimidated by the audience. Her colleagues followed her. It was a wonderful sight : all these women, talking to share pieces of their lives, their experience, and what they think about empowerment.
Six women stood for a longer time and seemed more at ease when talking. Their point of view was clear, you could read the determination in their sharp, yet sweet eyes.
One more girl, who didn't dare to speak at first, eventually accepted to do so, and was the last one to share her thoughts.
Those seven women were awarded by the Trust, despite the fact that there were supposed to be only three of them.

This strong moment of sharing was more intended to bring the women together than to sharpen their competition spirit, by making them aware that they can rely on the Trust, on the other women of the Trust, whoever they are, whatever their religion or political point of view. The winners can be proud of themselves for being on the way to be the strongest women this country needs, and for becoming role models for their sisters in the Trust.
Women have to stand together and empower each other. This was the clear message that everybody got today, and no one will stop them from doing so.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Seeta's Story #16DaysOfActivism

Sambhali Trust and Friends at a rally for International Women's Day 2017 

Domestic abuse is a universal form of violence against women, affecting 1 in 3 women around the world. Precise statistics are difficult to collect since so many women do not come forward. This can often be out of fear –  fear of losing financial security, fear of losing their children, fear of being cast out of their communities, and fear that they will be ignored and it will change nothing, or even worsen the problem. Sambhali Trust is fighting to end violence against women and girls - we support global initiatives such as UNiTE's 16 Days of Activism which raises the profile of abuse against women, and highlights that more needs to be done to help women who are suffering.

Earlier this year, a 29-year-old woman named Seeta reached out to Nirbhaya Helpline and Sambhali Trust to ask for help with her abusive husband and Seeta was soon invited to Sambhali to discuss her situation. Like many other women in India, Seeta’s family decided who she would marry when she was still a child. Her future husband was a taxi driver with very little education while Seeta had earned a Masters in English by the time she married at 23 years old.

Seeta explained that from the very beginning of the relationship, her husband had been emotionally and physically abusive to her, worsening over the course of their marriage. The abuse for Seeta reached crisis point and she left her husband and tried to move back to her family home with her father, with plans to use her good education to find a well-paying job to support herself and her two children. Unfortunately, her husband kept their son from her and refused to allow Seeta to leave with him.
Distressed and unsure of what to do, Seeta came forward to Sambhali Trust. Sambhali's counsellor made contact with her husband in attempt to convince him to release their son, but he refused. In the current system, most women can do very little when faced with these circumstances. Luckily, in this case, Sambhali Trust was able to help. Seeta and Sambhali's counsellor approached the police, and with the backing of Sambhali Trust, the commissioner listened to her story, and he instructed the police to take action and return her son back into her custody.

Women in India often find themselves in positions where they hold no power or credibility compared to the men in their lives. For Seeta, her high level of education equips her with some power, however the legal system is still one that is dominated by men, and places men above women, and the struggle is sometimes insurmountable. Seeta is brave for leaving her husband, and still faced huge difficulties concerning her children, however most women are not able to even do this. Married women are usually not allowed to return to their family homes because once married they belong to their husband’s family, and for women in abusive relationships, there are very few places to turn. Many women in India are uneducated, and cannot support themselves or their children financially, and there is little legal help offered to help women in abusive relationships. This is gradually changing though with initiatives like the Nirbhaya Helpline, where women can send a simple WhatsApp message to a number asking for help.

Sambhali Trust works in various ways to help women who face these kinds of problems. They provide counsellors for women to talk to, and offer practical advice and assistance, such as support with the police, or contacting family members in a safer way, protecting the woman from needing to face her abusive partners. Sambhali’s projects are also designed to help break this cycle that women find themselves powerless in. One way it tackles this problem is through sewing classes, where women learn a new skill that can help to support themselves financially once they graduate. It also provides a safe environment and place of work and a support system close by where they can safely come forward and seek help and advice. This is just one story of one woman’s experience of violence, but it happens to a third of women throughout the world. We must not let violence against women become standard or a given, and we must continue to campaign and fight to eliminate all violence against women everywhere.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Lives of Women in Rural Rajasthan

Do you really want to know what it means to be a girl in a small village somewhere in the desert of Rajasthan? What do you want to listen to? What should I tell you? A lovely story about one single girl whose parents always treated her the same as her brother? A girl who is not damned to live the life of an obsequious housewife? Or do you want to hear the stories of the hundreds of girls who are not wanted since their first day of life?

First of all, I will never understand what it's like to be a girl growing up in a village like Setrawa in Jodhpur. I was born in Germany into a loving family, a privilege I wish everyone could experience in this world. I enjoyed twelve years of free school education and I was free to become the person I am today. Of course, sexism and gender equality is also a big topic in European countries, but my experience is not comparable with the daily suppression and contempt to which these girls are subjected . It is time to give to these girls a voice in society and a chance in life.

Try to imagine how big the pressure is for a young woman to give birth to a boy. A boy will guarantee the family protection in old age, but a girl means high expenses or even debt for the marriage dowry. If a woman gives birth to a girl people in her village will say to her, "Try again next year,” and if she has a boy everybody will congratulate her. I can't imagine how it must feel for girls to be unwanted from the first day of their birth.

As she grows up, her whole life is shaped by inequality. Her parents teach her to stay at home and to do housework while her brother goes outside to play. In many families the boys are prioritised where nutritious food and education are concerned - the parents believe it is more important to ensure the success of a boy than a girl. She's taught that she's worth much less then her brothers. She's taught to be a good housewife, to carry small sisters and brothers and to obey what boys and men say to her. She's taught to ask her brother, father or husband before she can do anything.

There is a long list about what “good girls” do. Girls should be home before dark. Girls are not allowed to go out alone. Girls have to cover themselves, married women even have to cover their face in front of other men. Girls are not allowed to speak with boys or even to make eye contact on the street. The girls are taught that it is their own fault if they get raped or experience violence. Society does not teach the boys to respect girls. Society teaches the girls to hide themselves from the greedy eyes of the boys.

Often girls get married very early because it doesn't make sense for the family to provide for their daughter longer than necessary. The girl’s parents have to pay a dowry to the husband’s family in the form of presents and money for taking their daughter. From the first day of marriage she has to serve her mother in law and her husband. She has to do everything her husband requires of her. A “no” is not allowed and could end in physical violence. Moreover, rape in marriage does not exist. Women have no rights. They are at the mercy of the man. They have no chance to escape domestic violence. They have no right to get separated from the man. The pressure of society is so big that she risks being expelled from her society. A separated woman is considered to be a shame for the whole family.

There are many more stories about inequality, about child marriage, about men who have killed their wives to get married again and secure another marriage portion; many more heartbreaking stories about the fates of some girls and women in small villages in the Thar desert. It's a lonely place for women in Indian society where nobody is there to listen to a woman’s word or a woman’s scream for help.

Maybe you are shocked about their horrifying circumstances. You might ask yourself what you have to do with these girls and women who live thousands of kilometres away from you. I’ll tell you what you have to do with these girls and women; humanity.

Let us think one moment how we could change someone's life there. We are not in the position to question their traditions but we can distinguish between tradition and crime. We cannot change the society in one day. Modification needs time. We can also not change the thoughts of men suddenly, but what we can do is to give the girls and women a voice in our society. We can give them our attention and the feeling that they are not alone.

Education is the key to this, it opens doors and builds the feeling of self worth, self esteem and empowerment for Rajasthan's most marginalised women. Malala Yousafazi once referenced Brigham Young's quote “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a nation.”Of course, it is also very important to educate boys, especially to teach them how to treat women with respect and love, and that it’s ok for them to show their emotions. But I am talking about school education - if we start to give girls a good school education, we could create a real change in their lives now and the following generations of women.

Just imagine a small stone which you throw in the water. First you will see just a small circle, than a bigger one, again a bigger one and in the end you cannot imagine how a small stone could create such a big water circle. The stone stands for one educated girl and the circles for the big results which she will bring in her society. If you educate young girls you will transform them into powerful and self-confident women who know about their rights and abilities. If you educate girls then they will start to work in better jobs and this will help to change society. Transformation of society needs time and will not happen by giving just 25 girls the opportunity to study, but it is the first step for gender equality and equal rights in Indian society. The girls will also pass their knowledge from generation to generation, to both their sons and their daughters. A small step will have big results.

So let us start to do something different. Not tomorrow or another time, but today, right now, in this moment. For the girls and women of today and tomorrow.

Thank you.
Aurelia, Volunteer for Sambhali Trust in Setrawa