A Soujourn With VOICE

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One of my favorite aspects about traveling is meeting feminists from all corners of the world. While differing in a lifetime of culture and experience, we are bound together by a common cause – equal opportunity for all genders.

I had toured India for a month before I began work at Voice 4 Girls. Coming from Iceland where I have avidly fought for feminist issues through the years, I was excited to learn and apply my knowledge to a new cultural context.

But in spite of the multiple history lessons and tours I took in India, I found myself lacking an understanding of the diverse of Indian female experience. The narratives I was presented with in that first month were almost entirely male.

When I began work at Voice 4 Girls, these narratives were immediately challenged. At Voice 4 Girls I found an organization ready to take the crucial steps to empower women while recognizing both the hardship and beauty of women’s experiences in India.

I was truly inspired by the work of this organization and am adamant about the importance their initiative. Work such as that of Voice 4 Girls should be taking place throughout the world, educating our girls in Iceland and India. Girls can be housewives and girls can be our presidents. But we must equip them with the tools to deconstruct a society that tells them they cannot be both.

Working alongside the wonderful staff at Voice 4 Girls left me feeling valued and inspired. And with that, I thank you, Voice 4 Girls, for welcoming me into your team and for the tireless work you put into making society a better place for all.

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The writer of this entry,  Zoë Vala Sands, is an honors Major in Political-Geography at Dartmouth College, focusing on international crisis & human rights and development. She interned with VOICE 4 Girls during an exchange program through her university’s Women & Gender Studies Department and is currently studying the sociological impacts and roles of gender in Indian society.

 

 

The Retreat Before GO-TIME!

Time does indeed have a way of soaring when you’re busy; it seems like yesterday that 2016 was drawing to a close and all of us were celebrating the success of VOICE’s winter camps.

Already, the warming weather heralds the fast approaching summer – the whiteboards here at VOICE all announce the run-up to summer camps. Over 12,000 girl campers to be reached over the months of April, May and June alone! Before we know it, camp fever will be upon us… what better time to head off someplace serene, quaint and away from all the hubbub and clatter to reflect upon what has been done and what lies ahead.

With this idea, the team put their heads and purses together – VOICE 4 Girls headed to Coorg for a three-day retreat, where nestled in the lap of the bountiful Western Ghats, the team led by Executive Director, Anusha Bharadwaj, discussed and planned for the year ahead; shared thoughts and ideas; converged and became one … one team; one vision; one unit! Of course, there was plenty of fun and relaxation too… tourist destinations, great food and of course, a surplus of photo-ops!

A few of these memories, we would like to share with you. Check them out!

(Psssstttt… VOICE 4 Girls is still looking for female college students to teach our wonderful adolescent girls at camp. To know more or apply to the 10-day paid internship program, visit our Facebook page!)

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Silent, No More…

We are frequently asked by those who are new to VOICE’s work about the kind of change that we see and hope to see in the girls we reach out to through camps. I think every member of our family has been quick to come up with examples and instances – we tell them how confident our girls become, how they start talking to their families about the importance of staying in school, or about the dangers of early marriage and pregnancies, we talk about the numerous instances where girls stood up for their fundamental rights, reported wrongs, we speak of change. Some of this change takes years to be seen for what it is – nothing short of a miracle; while other forms of change transpire overnight.

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Such an incident came to light at VOICE Camps that were conducted across certain government schools in Telangana. Girls who attended the camp, approached their counsellors and appealed to them about repeated instances of physical abuse and caste-discrimination that they had had to face at the hands of teachers in their schools. The girls, who have seen incredible hardships in their young lives, had started to believe that school was just another hellish ordeal for them to survive. However, coming to VOICE Camp, the girls felt something very different – they felt safe. As girls learnt about their rights  and the meaning of abuse, counsellors started getting reports from student after student.

The schoolgirls spoke of harsh punishments – verbally and physically abusive in nature – being doled out by some of their teachers. Caste-based-discrimination was also found to be rampant. Girls belonging to ‘lower’ castes were talked down to, and asked to keep distance from the others! “I want to study, but if this is the only way for me to achieve that, I would rather sit at home!”, one emotional camper told her Akka.  Apart from these nightmarish issues at school, there were also confessions of trouble back at home. One 14-year-old spoke of mounting pressures from her parents to get married, a prospect that was worrying her to no end.

In training counselors to teach girls at camp, VOICE conducts a session on non-disclosure – it is not uncommon for girls to confide in their counselors about issues that they are facing.  Counselors are trained on how to handle such issues. The key messages of the session are: empathizing with the student, listening without interrupting, not asking a student to repeat narrating a painful account, never accusing or blaming and most of all discretion. Counselors are instructed on channels by which they should report issues raised by their students, so that they may be addressed by the most suitable authority.

In this case, VOICE Counselors reported back to the staff with letters written by several students, filled with accounts of the trials they were facing. These girls had even signed the letters. Understanding the sensitivity of the issues, and wanting to protect children from more pointed attacks, their names were left out of formal complaints made to the government authorities by VOICE staff.

And then… change. Within weeks, students reported of corrective action taken to ensure that girls are not disciplined by any use of force; they seemed delighted to see how the staff started treating their girls with more respect. The government body even conducted an intervention for the 14-year-old, she is going to stay in school and marry only after she’s 18!

The girls were happy that something had changed; gladder still that their VOICEs had made this change possible. Wide-eyed wonder to see that wee-girls like them could stand up for their rights!