“Save Women, Save Humanity”

ImageEliana and Anne at the Tsunami demonstration in Mumbai

This past weekend, VOICE staff members Eliana, Smiti and I ventured from Hyderabad to Mumbai for a fun getaway. New to India and the VOICE team, I was excited to see another part of the country.  Mumbai did not disappoint – what an alive, engaging city!

Just before heading to the airport, we went for a stroll along the Worli Sea Face to soak in some final Mumbai moments. We suddenly found ourselves approaching a mysterious mass of young adults, all dressed in black shirts. Curious, we went over to see what was going on.

We were thrilled to discover that this gathering was one organized by the students of Lala Lajpat Rai College, to make a giant human chain on the Sea Face as a stand against sexual assault. Hundreds of young Indians and their faculty supporters gathered with signs, megaphones and an inspiring level of enthusiasm to break the silence surrounding rape. The event was sponsored by the college’s Tsunami Festival and Men Against Rape and Discrimination (MARD), an awesome Indian organization that aims to “create awareness among men to instill gender equality and respect towards women” (check them out at www.realmard.com).

I found myself almost tearing up at the sight of so many college students, so passionate about ending violence against women. As a student at Dartmouth College in the US, I was highly active in women’s issues and sexual assault advocacy work, and found the process of raising awareness about rape absolutely exhausting. And yet, it is a globally pervasive problem that needs relentless activism to combat.

In that moment, I felt like I was back in the US among my classmates and fellow allies. Coming to India, I was unsure of how the nation and my Indian peers would be handling the issue of sexual assault, as violence against women is a huge problem in this country – one that is often silenced, but that has been gaining an increasing amount of attention. The US certainly has a lot of work to do in order to combat violence against women and the entrenched systems of norms that perpetuate this violence, but India has its own set of unique obstacles blocking the way to gender equality. In my short time here, I have already felt the overwhelming force of traditional gender expectations and its effect on the progress of girl’s empowerment. To see female and male college students refusing to accept sexual assault in their community was absolutely inspiring. It reminded me of the importance of VOICE’s programming, that someday our campers will be able to raise their voices against the issues that matter to them.

Anne

Communications and Marketing Officer at VOICE

Image  Eliana signing a poster at the demonstration

Staff VOICES: Amrita

Staff VOICES is a series exploring the unique reasons why each of our staff joined VOICE.

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As a young woman in India, especially if you are from a fairly liberal family, it is difficult to ignore how different your life is from many of the girls around you. When I was eighteen-years old, I wrote a college application essay about the idea of women and girls helping each other to see beyond the small, socially constructed world they inhabited and to access all the possibilities that were available to them.  At the time, I was really fired up about this idea. Then, I went to my all-women’s college in the US and lived the idea. Suddenly, it seemed impossible to think about women not having access to opportunities. Access to, and exploration of, previously unknown possibilities became intrinsically woven into the fabric of my experience in the idealistic bubble of my college.

Fast forward to a few years later – through college and graduate school, I had discovered that my real passion was working in education, specifically primary education in India. I was working in the affordable private school sector in Bangalore where girls barely had access to quality primary education, let alone a fraction of the freedom that I had experienced both during college and before that. And while I was supposed to be working on improving teachers’ pedagogy in the schools, I found I was getting more and more caught up in students’ (particularly the girls’) lack of access to information and opportunities outside the narrow confines of social expectations.

In January of 2012, I had just gotten married and moved to Hyderabad, and a friend of a friend had e-introduced me to Kashay, former fellow at VOICE, as a person who could potentially introduce me to cool things to do in Hyderabad.  It had been hard finding a job I really liked in Hyderabad and on that particular day I was feeling dejected about the prospect of embarking on another round of job applications and interviews. While talking to Kashay, it came out that I was interested in education and had spent the past few years developing and implementing training programs in Bangalore. Based on that first conversation, we set up an informational meeting.

Meeting with Kashay in person, and hearing her speak of the VOICE methodology and the idea of empowering girls with such passion resonated with me. I had spent many years working with teachers in schools, unsuccessfully trying to create change from within. The idea of working with a similar population of students outside of the school system felt infused with so much promise and possibility. Working with college students, training them to use progressive teaching methodologies and giving them access and support to deliver an innovative curriculum was really exciting to me. I remember leaving the meeting feeling like this was a job that I would even consider doing for free. That was when I knew that VOICE was something that I needed to be a part of!

Amrita is a Program Manager at VOICE. She is originally from Bangalore.