Deepa, belonging to a historically oppressed community in India, has closely seen, experienced, worked against and overcome various manifestations of misogyny and gender-based violence - whether by the family, community or state. She has been working for over a decade with girls, youth and women living in extremely vulnerable conditions.
Her activism began at 14 when she started working with a NGO to be afford education. The next year when she suddenly lost her father, she along with her younger sisters and mother, fought extreme poverty, ostracization and even violence to emerge as a strong, women-led family; a rarity not just in her community but in general Indian context. She and her sisters have achieved college education such as in social work and law - which is perhaps the very first in her entire community.
As she started working in the social development sector, Deepa soon saw that many other girls and women were suffering specific gender-based violations that marginalised them even more than the usual deprivations they faced because of their caste and class. She realised that one of the root causes of this was a severe lack of gender and sexual literacy in their communities and among the women themselves.
Deepa started working with young men too along with young women and girls. These male youth told her how they would harass girls at the roadside, not realising their behaviour was violent. Young women on the other hand stated how they had not even properly looked at their own bodies, much less understand sexual health or speak against violence. Through trainings, formation of youth groups, community organising and advocacy with government and administration, she reached over 12000 people personally, and the groups and individuals whom she mentored and campaigns that she became a part of had an even wider reach in lakhs.
Both young women and men in her mentorship have helped stop public sexual harassment in their community. Local leaders and community religious leaders have changed their views on gender and sexual rights having been influenced by the work of these youth. Young women living in a home for trafficked and homeless have overcome severe mental and sexual trauma and started pursuing avenues for their development. Youth mentored by her are part of national campaigns for equal rights of sanitation, body dignity, sexual & reproductive rights and they are successfully bringing these campaigns to the grassroot by implementing them in their own communities.
During her work Deepa realised that youth, within poor communities, are best suited to lead the result-oriented work that she had envisioned and she thus started fmentoring / training them. She also identified that these young people must work in collaboration with other stakeholders such as their parents, peers, community leaders as well as government systems. Deepa therefore started forming women’s groups who can support the youth’s initiatives in their areas and started participating in campaigns – networks of NGOs and individuals who advocate with relevant government departments to bring about systemic and policy level change. She made sure that the youth and women’s groups were also engaging with relevant government bodies, officials or elected members so as to collaborate with the democratic system and bring about concrete change.
As she started seeing results through these strategies, she started to be invited as a trainer by other organisations working for similar change and saw results there too. She became a core team member of the Right to Pee campaign in Mumbai and later Maharashtra, which is a young women-led campaign for safe and affordable public toilets for women. The results she has seen have been convincing that people-led work, especially youth and women-led change are effective.
During this work, Deepa met other like-minded women who were working in the grassroot for organic change. All of them shared the common experience of being socio-politically active since a young age.
Anubhuti was thus formed, by Deepa bringing together like-minded young women working in the grassroot and who shared her belief to make society literate in gender and sexual justice. Members of Anubhuti have been:
- Spreading awareness of body literacy and dignity in rural, tribal and urban Maharashtra;
- Training youth in more gender and sexually equitable behaviour;
- Enabling women and men to have equal relationships - by communicating with each other and together taking decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health;
- And advocating and collaborating with government officials for better sexual and reproductive health policies.
Till date, over 10000 youth, women, men and authorities have benefited directly and almost 50000 indirectly. Anubhuti envisions youth and women themselves leading this change and is successfully developing many more grassroot leaders to take this movement ahead.