Once victim of gender discrimination, Girisha now leads community initiatives

Born to a daily-wage earner with uncertainties of getting regular meals in a gender biased community, being able to pass tenth grade was an achievement in itself for Girisha. And that probably would have been her last achievement too as her father would not have been able to afford higher education and nor would her community accept seeing a girl going for higher studies.

Thankfully, the youth leaders of Hamari Pari initiative met Girisha and found out the potential in this enthusiastic girl. They enrolled her as a community youth leader under the programme and made her the leader of the community. After a few orientation sessions, Girisha transformed into a leader who now encourages many girls like her to come out, play and learn. She now encourages girls to study, become strong enough to live an independent life and break the stereotypical gender bias.

“Prior to joining this programme, I was quiet and reserved and used to feel nervous while interacting with people. I did not even have little courage to speak to my immediate neighbours. Thanks to the friends from the Hamari Pari programme who showed me the courage and confidence that I had hidden somewhere inside me. I do not fear anyone anymore. They even sensitized the whole community and made them understand the significance of gender parity.

“With just a few months of enrolling for Hamari Pari, I have this positive hope. I am starting my education again, will soon enrol for higher studies and pursue my dream of becoming an engineer.”

Hamari Pari Alla, a short story of a little change –

Insignificant social status, family’s financial compulsions with father Atchuta Rao being a daily-wage earner and three younger siblings to be taken care of, 18-year-old Alla  Sravani’s life in  Asivanipallem in Viskhapatanam can be imagined as depressing. However, unlike many girls who are brought up hopelessly in her situation, Alla has an interesting story to tell. She is the ‘youth leader’ of her community and is already seen as a role model for many young girls within the community for confidence and positivity.

Not that Alla was born with some extraordinary luck or had hit some treasure that changed her life. It was just that she had met some good friends  who helped her in overcoming the stress that she was living under, encouraged her to fight her challenging life and guided her as well as her family in deciding a right life path for her.  They helped in building the girl’s confidence through sports and motivated her to continue school.

These friends of Alla are the volunteers or grassroots workers of Magic Bus, a non-government organization that is one of the implementing partners of Hamari Pari programme that aims to empower lakhs of girls like Alla across India.

“…  I used to feel nervous all the time and mostly remained quiet. I always used to worry about the consistent financial crisis that my family has been going through and that made me think that I have a bleak future.

“Hamari Pari programme showed me the silver lining and now I realize that all that I need to change my life is the right guidance and the belief that I am no different and I am certainly not underprivileged.  I’ll always be grateful to Hero MotoCorp for reaching out to girls like me, as a youth leader, I will also make sure that more girls like me enrol in the programme that promises as better future to us all,” says Alla.

Alla has recently completed her schooling and is looking forward to joining a skill development programme that could give her financial freedom as well as the exposure to grow as an independent individual. Moreover, apart from being the beneficiary of the project, Alla is also the community youth leader of the Hamari Pari programme and engages with young girls to ensure that they are inspired and motivated to fight the odds and live a dignified life.

Can empowered girl end poverty?

Millennium Development Goals have made gender equality and women empowerment the third top priority in ending world poverty. One of their focuses in improving gender equality is through education. ‘In many countries, gender inequality persists and women continue to face discrimination in access to education, work and economic assets, and participation in government,” according to the United Nations. The organization has also established the fact that while 50 per cent of the world’s population is women, their representation in many fields has been far less than equal.

As for India, although the incidents of discrimination are steadily lowering in urban parts of India, many rural women continue to be oppressed and news of brutal attacks to socio-economic inequality to forced early marriage and withdrawal from school continue to flow from across the country. Hence, there are multiple areas that need to be addressed to meet the MDGs and successfully achieve equality between boys and girls to see a prosperous country.

Even the World Bank has made gender equality the top priority in their plan to end world poverty. They stress that if girls are educated and healthy, they have a chance to become influential leaders in their countries. Yet, in many countries women continue to earn less than their male counterparts. Since many women are a directly involved with much of the world’s agriculture, World Bank mentions the impact women can have with improving hunger.  The World Bank says, ‘… if women worldwide had equal access to productive resources, 100-150 million fewer people would go hungry every day.

Unfortunately, in remote corners of the country, girls are limited to housework and do not get a chance to be seen as equal. However, if they were given a chance to chase their dreams, the country will get more entrepreneurs, more scientists, more doctors, more engineers… professionals who can help make a difference in the world. By oppressing the girl, the country oppresses itself from its full potential.

Five reasons why we need to empower our girls

Every year the United Nation Foundation and its partner and associated organizations celebrate International Day of the Girl and the extraordinary power of girls in our world. In 2015, the theme of the Day was ‘The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030,’ which highlighted the importance of girls to achieving the global goals for sustainable development.

The message the UN gave was that ‘to reach our global goals, we have to reach girls and it underlined five reasons why empowering adolescent girls matters to all of us. Here are those reasons. 

  1. It’s her right

Fundamentally, this is a human rights issue. Discrimination has no place in the 21st century, and every girl has the right to go to school, stay safe from violence, access health services, and fully participate in her community.

  1. Empowered girls mean healthier families.

When girls are educated, healthy, and empowered, families are healthier. According to UNESCO, 2.1 million children under age of five were saved between 1990 and 2009 because of improvements in girls’ education. And closing the gap in the unmet need for family planning for the 225 million girls and women who want to delay or avoid pregnancy but aren’t using modern contraception would reduce maternal deaths by 67 per cent and newborn deaths by 77 per cent.

  1. Empowered girls are key to breaking the cycle of poverty

Research from the Brookings Institution has found that every additional year of school increases a girls’ eventual wages by an average of 12 per cent – earnings she invests back into her family. Empowered, educated girls have healthier, better educated children and higher wages – helping to break the cycle of poverty.

  1. Empowered girls strengthen economies

According to a new Brookings report, “Increasing the number of women completing secondary education by just 1 percent could increase a country’s economic growth by 0.3 per cent.” Additionally, a report just released by the McKinsey Global Institute found that if women’s level of participation in the labour market was the same as men’s it would add up to $28 trillion to annual global GDP in 2025.

  1. It is our duty

Investing in girls is one of the smartest things we can do to promote a healthier, more prosperous world. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do. Every girl has the right to be in charge of her future and her fate, and we have the collective obligation to protect her rights and promote her wellbeing.

Six facts we must know and act upon

Although great efforts are being made through campaigns – some even starting from the Prime Minister’s office and go down to the panchayat level – it seems a lot more id yet to be done and each conscious individual has to play a significant role in ensuring the success of such campaigns.

Each one of us has to understand the root cause of the evil of discrimination and why or why should the practice be discouraged. Here are a few facts that we all must know.

  1. Although we all know that, educated women play a key role in the social and economic development of the country. In Asia, India has the ‘lowest’ rates of female literacy. Surely something we need to do something about considering the world is looking at India as the Asia’s superpower.
  1. Educating a woman uplifts her life as well as the quality of her life and her entire family. An educated woman supports the education of her children especially the girl child and imbibes right attitude and morals. She ensures independent and progressive outlook of her children. Hence, it only makes sense to empower the women to call India a progressive nation.
  1. The key question is why most women in India are not educated? The answer is attributed to the fact the country has a biased outlook towards the education of women. A section of society has conventional mindset and sees girl child as a liability. Another contributing factor is the rapid growth of the population. Most Indian households have a number of children whose needs are much higher than their earning capacity. This leads to the neglect of the girl’s education and boys get to go to school.
  1. Educating an Indian woman creates a vital opportunity for the social and economic development of India. An educated Indian woman will yield a positive impact in the Indian society by contributing positively to the economy of both the country and the society.
  1. An educated woman reduces the chances of her child not living beyond the age of five – the issue that the country has been fighting for decades.

An educated woman increases the chances of controlling the population explosion – the major obstacle holding the country’s growth – as an educated woman is likely to marry at a later age and understands the importance of having a small family that she can manage well.

Empowering the girl, strengthening the nation’s foundation

Empowering girls at the grassroots is the need of the hour and none of need to understand the reason for the same. One may simply so a Google search on the subject and can find out the odds that little girls across the country are facing in terms of opportunity to grow, status among community and not to mention the cases of violence against them.

If one had to list out the reasons, there have been terrible wrongdoings by a section of the society that are holding Indian girls back and keeping half of the country’s girls’ population in the dark. While we take pride in being progressive and forward going nation, we cannot afford to ignore problems that grapple the country internally, losing cultural values being one of them.

It is to be noted that our girls can be empowered only through the stubborn insistence of decision makers at the top as well as initiatives of responsible citizenry including corporate groups – Hamari Pari is one such initiative. Great efforts are also being made by credible national and international organizations including the United Nations that have carved out the ideals of equality and are implementing many programmes from which the Indian women across the country can take hope.

While many girls are already exploring the possibility of education, have sense of ownership, and freedom to make their own decisions, the overarching cultural change seems to be quite far as many lives are yet to be touched and many conventional minds are yet to be changed.

Emmaline Pankhurst once said that freeing a woman is freeing a half of the human race because they represent a half of the world’s population. The process of reestablishing the cultural values has to begin at home, at every Indian home, when the girl is in her infancy. While mothers need to understand that their sons and daughters are equal, fathers have to become role models for their sons when it comes to breaking the gender biases. Each individual, a social organization, a business entity has to understand that girls do not need to be  treated any better than everyone else neither do they need special attention, they just need to be  considered equal – the fundamental rights as well as the duties of  both genders are the same.

Nellie McClung’s advise – education to a woman means educating the family, the whole community – has been well understood by the world and needs no further explanation as the impact of the same is now visible across societies do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of gender.