A Woman of the Streets

The streets of Hyderabad are filled with chaos: cars and motorcycles swerving in and out of lanes, people crossing the streets wherever possible, the never-ending sounds of car horns, and trash thrown everywhere. I would know. I walked to work every single day through the streets of Hyderabad for six straight weeks while working at VOICE 4 Girls. I quickly became accustomed to the chaos, but in the overwhelming amount of sights and sounds in the streets of Hyderabad, women are very noticeably absent.

To be fair to the women of Hyderabad, I completely understand why they would want to spend as little time in the streets as possible. Men pee anywhere and everywhere along the sides of the roads, regardless of the nearness of cars or people. Women must ignore the countless, creepy photographs that men not-so-secretly take of them whenever they wear a nice dresses or decide to go for a run. Some men see a woman simply walking down the street as enough of an invitation to grope her. Even the streets themselves are not conducive to women’s safety: only a few of the streets have sidewalks and even fewer have lights at night.

What does it say about the state of the streets that women feel uncomfortable walking outside after sunset but men feel comfortable pulling out their penis to pee anytime of the day?

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 The safety of women in the streets of other Indian cities does not seem to be much better. Just today, a story about a woman who was molested and nearly stripped in broad daylight by a group of men in the streets of Mumbai made national news in India. Take a look through Indian news stories for the last few months, and you’ll find a similar trend. Whether she’s a young student, returning home from school or an older tourist asking for directions, any female who braves the streets of India’s greatest cities is at risk. It is no wonder that India was ranked dead last in a poll measuring the best G20 countries for women (yes, this means that India was ranked lower than Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive and are allowed to vote for the first time in 2015).

Though, this is not to say that India’s streets are without hope. In an effort to make city streets safer, Delhi is creating a new, all-female commando force to patrol the streets. In Ahmedabad, the recently named safest place for women in India, one can find women street vendors often working as late as 2am.

Small changes can make Indian streets a lot safer. When I traveled to Mumbai, I was struck by how many women I saw walking on the streets, even late at night. The two biggest differences between Mumbai streets and Hyderabad streets? Mumbai streets are incredibly well lit and are much more likely to have sidewalks. Nevertheless, we need to remember that not all efforts to promote street safety are equal. As anyone who’s been to an Indian movie theater knows, the efforts of violence reduction against women in India have focused on asking women to be more safety conscious. Moving forward, we should stop asking Indian women to be more safety conscious and instead ask Indian men to make streets more welcoming to women.

 

– Rachel

Rachel was a Business Development intern at VOICE this past winter. She is currently a junior at Dartmouth College, majoring in Geography.

http://www.voice4girls.org

Making a World of Difference

Last week we said goodbye to one of our favorite temp employees, Kalyan Sen. Kalyan came to us through the Vodafone World of Difference Program, where Vodafone sponsors their own employees to put their jobs on hold and work for a non-profit for 7 weeks. This is an amazing opportunity for Vodafone employees to give back to the community in ways they might not usually have time for, and for non-profits to gain a an employee with a skillset that they might not usually have access to or money for.

We gave Kalyan a time-crunched but very essential task for VOICE. We’ve been asking ourselves a major question recently: how might we scale while maintaining quality control? We plan to reach thousands to tens of thousands more campers every year, but with such a small staff, how can we ensure camp is running smoothly? Right now, we train our counselors in person before every camp season, and monitor their performance and the camp operation directly through our field coordinators and program staff. As our number of campers grows, our number of counselors will too, meaning we’ll have less ability to be at every camp, checking in with every counselor, in person.

Kalyan tackled this problem head-on by developing a phone app that counselors and field coordinators can use to give basic feedback to VOICE staff at the end of every camp day. By dialing *121*1000# using a Vodafone SIM card, counselors will be taken through a series of questions that they can answer with a simple “1” or “2”. Questions cover basic camp operations and any problems that may have arisen: how many campers actually showed up today? Did any report abuse? Were there any problems with the school management? Did the girls absorb the material?

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The answers to these questions are instantly logged in an online spreadsheet, where we can flag any problematic answers and follow up with counselors accordingly. This app will allow us to keep our camps running smoothly with our growing numbers – a very exciting breakthrough for VOICE!

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Thanks for your incredible work, Kalyan. And thanks to Vodafone for lending him to us!

“Equality for women is progress for all”: International Women’s Day 2014

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How do women and girls play a role in global progress? The UN estimates that given the opportunity to stay in school and delay early marriage, Indian girls could add up to $110 Billion to India’s GDP in their lifetime. Educated and employed women reinvest 90% of their earnings in their family, as compared to 35% for men. Women have a unique ability to create cycles of change in their community, because of the role they play within them. Keeping a girl in school and delaying early marriage means that girls are older and more informed when they eventually have children; their children will thus be healthier and more likely to stay in school longer themselves. The cycle continues. Women and girls can change the world.

But only if they’re given the chance to.

And the problem is, of course, they’re usually not. In India, 47% of girls are still being married before the age of 18. Only 30% graduate from 10th class. Until this changes, cycles of inequality will absolutely be perpetuated in communities across India, and the world. Not just cycles of gender inequality, but cycles of economic and social inequality as well.

Gender inequality is not only an injustice to girls and women, it’s holding back global development. This doesn’t mean that we should seek equality for women solely because of the advantages this equality presents to society at large. Injustice is injustice, and should always be righted for the sake of its victims. A woman is not a means to some end of global development. But the fact that women can bring so much to the international table, and yet are in many places still viewed as less-than-human, sheds light on how harmful, and downright ridiculous gender inequality is to the world.

Gender inequality isn’t helping anyone. It’s hurting us all. This theory of global development lies at the root of VOICE’s programming. We give girls the skills and knowledge they need to be change-makers in their own lives, and ultimately in the lives of those around them. We see daily the amazing potential girls in India hold – and we want the world to see it, too.

Let Women’s Day serve as a push to remind us all of this potential, and raise awareness about the multitude of ways we can all contribute to improving the global situation for women, and the global situation for all of us.

Celebrate the women in your life today!