Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Breaking the Tradition: Valuing the Girl

The widespread practice of female foeticide and infanticide in Rajasthan is one form of violence against women that proves the drastically lower value of girls in this society. On October 20th, young women from the Bavadi and Corana villages of Aahor block in Jalor district demonstrated their commitment to ending this early form of discrimination and addressing their community's attitude towards women. To do so, the adolescent girls group comprised of young women from these two villages organized a celebration of the recent births of five local baby girls, sending the message that these births are just as special and valuable as the births of sons.

This birth celebration in Bavadi was inspired by a similar celebration held in Kotara village by the local Vikalp adolescent girls group. The Kotara group had a difficult time finding a location to hold their meetings due to strong customs regulating the interaction of women from different classes. Despite threats from the Sarpanch and Charan community that the participating women and their families would be expelled from the village, the group continued to hold meetings in a Krishna temple. It was during one of these meetings that the women discussed the recent birth of three girls in the village and why these births are not treated with the same happiness as boy child births. Therefore, the group of young women arranged a rally to call attention to this issue. Women were called from all different castes and communities to bring sweets and flowers for the baby girls and play the thali as they would for a boy's birth celebration. Afterward the group went around to different homes to talk about the state of women in the community. When girls from Bavadi and other villages learned of this birth celebration at a Vikalp conference for rural girls empowerment held in Udaipur, they decided to start the same type of celebrations in their own communities.

The celebration itself was a joyful affair as more than 50 girls and women from Bavadi and surrounding villages packed into the large room used for panchayat meetings in order to welcome the five baby girls into the world. One by one, each mother was given a garland and, along with the baby girl, a tilak and a sweet. Afterward a woman was chosen, often a relative of the newborn, to bang the thali amidst cheers from the whole room. In this way, each baby girl was celebrated as a valued addition to the community. Afterward there was a naming ceremony, during which the baby girls were each given a name by a member of the adolescent girls group, who had prepared decorative signs for the occasion.
The mothers of the baby girls expressed happiness throughout the celebration, noting the changes in their community since being involved with Vikalp. One mother explained how in the past girls were not seen as a "good investment" since, unlike boys who will earn money and carry on the family name, daughters need to be fed and kept safe before leaving altogether for another house. With the help of Uma ji and other Vikalp staff and volunteers, she has come to see that a daughter must be valued equally and provided with good education that will be useful in her life after marriage. She explained that the babies' fathers and the rest of the community are also beginning to change their opinions and value the birth of a daughter. The other mothers added that they will all continue to celebrate the birth of other girl children and talk to each family about the blessings of having a daughter. In this way, they will ensure that girls will be more respected in their community.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Girls Education Camp

In Barmer, many girls do not attend school after their eighth, or sometimes fifth, year.  In some villages, there are not even schools for girls beyond the eighth grade.  In the 2010-2011 year, Vikalp organized a residential girls education camp to last six months.  12 girls from various villages in Barmer participated in the education camp.  Ten of the girls were in the 10th class while the other two came from supplementary.  The families of these girls supported them in attending the Vikalp camp and desiring to continue their education.  However, the remainder of the village was not so open, often saying bad things about the girls.  Many villagers believed that there is no value in educating girls because they will marry, move to the husband’s family, and no longer be needed in their original family.  However, as one participant’s parent stated, the girls “will have confidence and will make good decisions for [their] futures” because of the camp.  
The girls all graduated from their 10th year class.  Not only did they continue their normal studies, but the camp gave the girls confidence, the ability to say ‘no,’ the importance of girls education, lessons on sanitation and hygiene, communication skills, and self-respect.  After they passed their exams, the girls applied for higher education and are now studying in schools of higher education.  After this accomplishment, not only are they and their families very proud, but some villagers have changed their opinion and are now sending their daughters to continue their schooling.  

After finishing their exams, the girls took a trip to Barmer city together, sponsored by Vikalp.  Over the course of two days, the girls met with a district collector, the Barmer police superintendent, the Gila Parmuk and other officers.  They also visited a park in Barmer, and enjoyed their time together.

Once month after the culmination of the education camp, Vikalp organized a girls adolescent training.  The twelve girls attended this training and shared with the others their positive experiences with Vikalp’s education camp.  They motivated the girls to continue their schooling, attend this camp if possible, and secure higher education!  The girls all took the responsibility of returning to their villages to try to convince all girls to enroll in school.

The girls in the camp had an extremely positive experience.  They showed courage as they broke away from the norm in their Barmer villages, as they followed their dreams toward a higher education and a better future.



Vikalp’ s Roshani Resource Centers

Many girls in Jodhpur stop going to school when they reach 9th or 10th standard, and sometimes earlier than this. With the help of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Vikalp Sansthan created Roshani Resource Centers (RRC) in 10 slum areas of Jodhpur city. These RRC serve the purpose of an academic and nurturing environment outside of school. The RRCs provide a safe haven for young girls as well as boys to play, read, and learn from the RRC librarians who are chosen by Vikalp and the community. 

Part of the mission of the RRC is to discuss the importance of education, promote healthy gender roles, and mitigate violence against girls and women.  When one walks into any RRC center, they will see the walls covered in posters such as the Hindi and English alphabet, healthy hygiene practices, and Vikalp gender violence and girl’s education posters. Shelves in these centers hold a small collection of books and art materials for the children’s enjoyment. 

However, these rooms are often cramped, lack electricity, and have no fans—making the facilities almost unbearable in Jodhpur’s heat. Due to these issues, Vikalp is now looking to rent slightly larger rooms for these resource centers. Furthermore, interns Shamyra and Tess have decided to use their grant to purchase and have installed ceiling fans for the 10 RRC centers.  This grant is allotted to them through the Foundation for Sustainable Development with whom they are also working. 

Since the founding of the RRCs many girls are now in school, child marriages have been prevented, and Vikalp staff have observed many case studies in which children have made great gains in their personal development and interaction with others.

Young boy reading in Sargara Basti RRC

Meeting at a RRC

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Women's Health Training

On Thursday and Friday July 14th and 15th, Vikalp led a two day health training in Jodhpur for community women. The women selected for the training were the Roshani Resource Center (located in ten bastis) facilitators. Facilitators each brought along a volunteer from their community so there were a total of 15-20 women at the training. The program covered the subjects of nutrition, sanitation/hygiene, skincare, and female sexual health.

Vikalp interns Shamyra Henderson and Tess Shiras, who are working with the organization for two months this summer, organized the training. Staff members Yaseen and Madhu helped facilitate the training, and two doctors attended the training from Vasundhara Hospital and Women’s Fertility Research Center. On day one, Doctor Priscilla, a dietician at Vasundhara hospital, spoke

on nutrition. The women were very engaged during the discussion, and asked many questions following Dr. Priscilla’s discussion. Dr. Priscilla spoke about the importance of maintaining a balanced diet and exercising, among other topics. On day two, Dr. Renu, a gynecologist at Vasundhara, spoke about proper hygiene and sexual health for women. During her discussion, Dr. Renu not only discussed the topics of female health with the women, but she also reminded the women about the importance of educating young girls and other women in their communities.

During the training, the women also participated in several

activities concerning proper sanitation and hygiene. These activities and games were designed to help them better understand the concepts and ideas that they had learned from the discussions on sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition. At the conclusion of the training, all of the participants received certificates congratulating them on the completion of the two-day training. All of the participants expressed that the training would not only be useful for them, but also to the members of their communities.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jodhpur Protection Officers Training

15 May 2011

In Jodhpur’s Jilaa district yesterday, Vikalp Sansthan in partnership with the Department of Women and Child Development held training for Protection Officers concerning the 2005 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDA). The training, which was facilitated by Usha and Yogesh of Vikalp, had 40 attendees who were protection officers, advocates, police officers, judicial officials, media representatives, Mahila Suraksha Evan Salah Kendra counselors, social workers, and representatives from other NGOs working on this issue. During the training, there were four speakers who sat on a panel at different times to discuss the act and answer any questions the participants had. The speakers included Deputy Director of Women and Child Development, Secretary of Asha Botra Meera Sansthan, Up jila Parmukh Heera Lal Mundel, and Chief Justice Sri Mukesh.

The main topics discussed during this training were the parameters of PWDA, the roles and responsibilities of protection officers and other governmental officials under PWDA, and the process and timing of filing incident reports on behalf of victims in the courts. During the training a couple of other important issues were also raised. The first was that of having a shelter home for the women. Many of the attendees believed that a shelter home was needed for women who decided to take legal action, and were in need of a place to stay until there court case was decided. Other issues raised by the attendees were questions related to police responsibilities and duties under the act, and also how the judicial process worked.

At the end of workshop, all participants decided to create a committee in support of the shelter home proposal, and to also pressure officials at the district level and state level about the proposal. Another group of participants decided that they would conduct an analysis of all pending court cases under PWDA, and meet with the related judicial officials to discuss these cases. Lastly, the participants along with Vikalp Sansthan decided that they would advocate for the police to paste all Protection Officers’ names and numbers in all police stations, and create a pamphlet listing all Protection Officers’ names and numbers for distribution.

After the training’s conclusion, many participants expressed that the training was useful for them because they were able to ask questions about PWDA and their role as protection officers, and discuss the problems and challenges they have faced so far as public servants.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Protection Officer Training Jalore

Protection Officer's Training
Jalore 13 June 2011

Vikalp facilitated a training for Jalore’s protection officers on the 13th of June. 30 officers were in attendance. Protection Officers are government officials under the department of women and children. Their role, sanctioned by the 2005 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDV), is to protect women from violence. The PWDV Act protects all women from physical, emotional, economic, verbal, or sexual familial abuse. The protection officer’s role is to manage cases of domestic violence on behalf of the women in a safe way. If a woman wants to report a case of domestic violence, she is to go to a protection officer. The officer is responsible for filing the DIR case and following through with the victim. The protection officer has a direct role with the judicial system, so the complications (financial and otherwise) of a lawyer are not needed under the PWDV Act.
In Jalore, most of the protection officers were not aware of their government responsibilities. They had received no prior education concerning how to properly file a domestic violence case in the courts or the details of the PWDV Act. Vikalp staff used a PowerPoint presentation to explain the framework of the law and the protection officers’ accompanying responsibilities. Vikalp also provided many orders and materials concerning the role of the protection officers to follow the PWDV Act.
Protection officers are a valuable asset to the safety of women. However, if they are not trained in their obligations to the law, then their role is essentially meaningless and women become at higher risk for violence. Vikalp’s training was extremely beneficial to the Jalore community: now the protection officers are aware of their duties and are able to execute the law in practice. The training ended with the understanding that if any of the protection officers had questions about their role or the PWDV Act they would not hesitate to contact Vikalp Sansthan for assistance.

Vikalp’s Violence-Free Conflict Resolution Training at Chittor

Vikalp’s Violence-Free Conflict Resolution Training at Chittor

May 21, 2011-May 23, 2011

For three days in Chittor, a forum on domestic violence against women and training on violence-free conflict resolution for males was held and facilitated by Vikalp staff. This discussion and training, which was held from May 21-23, had approximately thirty-five participants. The main goals of the training were to listen to the views and personal feelings of men regarding domestic violence, to discuss the impact of violence on women and society, and to develop solutions and techniques for anger management and violence-free conflict resolution.

Vikalp staff filled the three day training with many activities, exercises, and film screenings for the participants. Vikalp organized these activities seeking to make the men more aware of the effects of violence on women, and also the large degree of gender discrimination in society today. These activities called the men to not only consider the ways in which violence impacted their homes and society, but also to come up with solutions to end domestic violence and gender discrimination against women. At the conclusion of the three-day training, Vikalp staff asked the men to plan how they would deliver the message and ideas of the training back to their communities. Each man took a pledge that they would work to end child marriage in their own communities, create equality among males and females in their community, motivate other villagers to send their children to school, and work to sensitize the masses about female rights। The training in Chittor ended on a very high note. Not only were these men able to learn more about violence-free conflict resolution and the rights of girls and women, but they were also equipped with the tools to spread the message of equality and non-violence in their own communities.

Usha, training facilitator

Role play exercise during training

Role play exercise

Plate game exercise

Participants and training facilitators