Women’s Day

On March 8th the world celebrated International Woman’s Day, a day dedicated to the empowerment and betterment of women and girls everywhere, and to recognizing the remarkable, compelling women leaders in our lives – both those in the spotlight and in our everyday lives.

Ratna, CRHP’s Manager of Domestic Training and Women’s Programs, invited Margaret, Lexi and I to join her at a gathering the women’s self-help groups members and adolescent girls of Misergao, a village about thirty minutes away, were holding to celebrate the important day. About forty women and twenty girls were present; many participated in songs about women’s empowerment and drama performances portraying the harmful outcomes of dowry. Some even gave short speeches about their experiences gaining financial independence and confidence through participating in their self-help group. Stories and jokes were told, and while the topics were serious, a sense of security and commonality pervaded.

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Vrushali, her mom, and Ratna singing a song at Woman’s Day

At Ratna’s request, we three foreign-teers delivered (impromptu) speeches. I was the last to talk, and after introducing myself in Marathi, I told the room of my motivation for coming to India – to learn about the health determinants and healthcare in an environment completely contrasting my home, and to learn about the uniquely beautiful culture and everyday life. I thanked them, not only for being the greatest teachers, but also for being the most incredible inspiration. I encouraged the women to continue working together, teaching each other and growing as a whole, and praised them for acting as role models for the younger women in their families and communities, especially the adolescent girls.

To embark on a journey to attain self-sufficiency and self-respect, to encourage a daughter to complete their education and maybe even continue on to a college degree, to speak up for women’s rights or out against injustices, especially when the tides of the past have deterred precisely this, is beyond commendable. We should celebrate this everyday.

In rural India, gender inequality manifests in a variety of forms – domestic violence, bride-burnings, female feticide and infanticide, abandonment. Unfortunately, examples of these horrors are not difficult to call to mind: an aunt crying upon hearing her sister gave birth to a second girl child; a young mother from the slum across the road who came into the OPD one morning with a bleeding and swollen-shut eye, wailing that her husband beat her with a brick; a brave long-term patient at CRHP’s hospital who arrived three years ago with 69% burns across her chest, back, face, arms and limbs, the result of her mother-in-law dousing her with gasoline and setting her on fire because her family refused to pay a higher dowry.

Girls are seen as a burden to the family, because after a girl gets married, she leaves her village to move in with her new husband, taking any skills or education with her. As a result, young girls are often an afterthought, getting food only after a brother counterpart has eaten, or getting pulled from school in order to help out in the fields or around the house – why invest in someone who is inevitably going to leave? Despite improved education and community development, this backwards mindset persists, intoxicating the youth, the future.

CRHP’s Adolescent Girls and Boys Programs (AGP/ABP) were designed to turn these tides, educating and empowering girls and boys 12-18 years old. Programs are different for each gender, but include a similar array of health and social topics: health and hygiene, sanitation, reproductive and sexual health, nutrition, self-help groups/young farmers’ clubs, the importance of education, gender-based violence, alcohol abuse, leadership and decision-making. The AGP was created first, yet the ABP soon followed, as it became clear that sustainable, impacting change at the societal level cannot be achieved without addressing the attitudes and mindsets of both the oppressed and the oppressor.

Two crazy dedicated and passionate members of our Jamkhed intern and fellows crew, Irene and Anirudh, have launched a campaign to gain funding for our ABP – check out their video and webpage here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/shaping-a-brighter-future-adolescent-boys-campaign

Though this entry might be a bit late for International Woman’s Day celebrations, it is definitely not too late to show or tell an inspiring woman in your life how much you appreciate her strength, how greatly you respect her decisions and are in awe of her demeanor, how she makes the world a better place. Here are a few of influential, wonderful women I am lucky enough to have in my life:

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some of the strongest (mentally and physically!) women I know

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a dynamic, resilient trio, each with the most infectious of laughs

 

 

 

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Lalanbai, a Village Health Worker who has been working at CRHP since it began in 1970; over the years she has safely delivered over 700 babies!

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