On Being a White Woman in India


When a friend of mine sent me a text back in November saying that Modi had banned all 500 and 1000 rupee notes overnight, I thought she was pranking me. I had only been in India a couple of months, and couldn’t fathom the prime minister of a country of 1.3 billion literally outlawing the use of over 80% of the nation’s currency. To my, as well as much of the nation’s dismay, she wasn’t joking.

Within the next few days, I did what much of the rest of the country did and headed to a bank to try to exchange my old notes. When I got there and saw the behemoth of a line in front of me, I solemnly took my place at the end. As I waited, about as frustrated as the people in front or behind me, the branch manager of the bank singled me out, called me into his office, and personally handled the exchange of all of my notes. He claimed that, “as a visitor to this country, we must do something for you.” He offered me a seat and a cup of tea and asked me about American politics.

As this interaction was happening, I oscillated between feeling incredibly grateful as well as incredibly uncomfortable. It was true that the branch manager’s nice gesture made it far easier for me to navigate the situation, but I felt the searing stares on my back of the 50 or so people whom I had cut in line for this special treatment. I kept wondering why the branch manager had even bothered to help me – was it just because I was white? Or did it have to do with the fact that I was a woman, and somehow incapable of handling things on my own?

It is no secret that fairness is valued in India. I’ve seen it in the “Fair and Lovely” skin whitening creams that line the aisles of small shops, or the marriage ads that call for a “fair and beautiful girl”. I have no doubt benefitted from my white privilege while here. It is indeed part of my identity back home in the United States, but the degree to which it stands out in India is unparalleled. Guards let me walk into fancy buildings with ease, people automatically assume that I am wealthy, and it’s not difficult for me to get help in nearly any situation.

However, my experience of whiteness is qualified by the fact that I am a woman. I am subject to the stares of men who pass by on their bikes or who I walk past on the street, and I am constantly showered with be careful’s and don’t go there by yourself’s. I’m told not to worry, that the men in my life here will figure things out for me, but that all other men in India are somehow dangerous to me. What has been reinforced throughout my time here is that these two identities that I possess, the white American and the woman, cannot be separated. I’m frequently treated as privileged, but somehow incapable of independence or full respect.

Getting to Voice 4 Girls in January opened my eyes to a side of India that is working hard to break down these barriers that exist along lines of identity. The staff here works incredibly hard to ensure that girls who don’t have access to good education or the freedom of choice when it comes to marriage are armed with the knowledge and skills necessary to empower themselves. Even in the office, the energy and passion in the room is palpable. Hearing the women and men on the team talk about the work they are doing shows me just how invested they are in the fight for gender equity. Plus, people there treat me just as another human – there are no expectations that I am somehow different due to being foreign, and the fact that I am a woman is celebrated, rather than brought down.

The work Voice 4 Girls is doing is making an impact on Indian society in a way that not many organizations are. As a woman in India and back home in the US, I recognize firsthand that we still have a long way to go to reach gender equity. But through Voice 4 Girls programming, more and more young girls are equipped with the tools they need to fight back against the patriarchy and oppressive gender-based or caste-based violence. Through interning with Voice 4 Girls, I was lucky enough to be a small part of that change. I can’t wait to see the lives it will continue to impact as it flourishes and grows, and works to make India a more equitable place.


The author of this blog, Libby Goldman, is a junior at Dartmouth College studying Geography and Women’s and Gender Studies. She interned with VOICE 4 Girls during her stay in Hyderabad for a Dartmouth-sponsored study abroad program at the University of Hyderabad focusing on Women’s and Gender Studies.

A Soujourn With VOICE


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.


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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