Ten year old Rani starts her day early at five in the morning, to finish all the household chores, take care of her two year old brother when her mother makes it to the brick factory all for a meager income, to earn a livelihood.
Thirteen year old Nanthini stopped her schooling because of her every day battle with the abuse and threats on the way to school by drunkards consequently paving way for a forced child marriage.
The curse of being born into a family of six, sixteen year old Soma (name changed) was subjected to bonded labour taking her to the extremes of exploitation and finally into the hands of sex trade.
Seventeen year old Selvi was raped on the way to work at a seafood processing unit which earned her daily bread. Another teenager was struggling to find a way for an abortion due to rape or she would commit suicide rather than bringing shame to her family.
I have come across a bundle of such stories in my life since 2003 when I started my work at both the coastal belts and the interior villages of Tamilnadu. In spite of all these difficulties and pain they have come across, I sensed a thirst in them – primary education.
If this was the case of the girls, I saw every woman with a scar, a burnt mark, something or the other telling her tale - horrible life of violence. Why do they have to remain silent victims? - lack of education which meant lack of awareness., lack of courage to question, to fight back, to stand on their own.
On top of all, the most recent rise of rape culture has ruthlessly clutched the girls and women taking the step towards empowerment and thus restricting them from becoming the light of their family and hence the society.
I come from the southern tip of India lying in the peninsular Deccan Plateau and is bounded by the Arabian Sea in the west, the Indian Ocean in the south and the Bay of Bengal in the east. The geography of the region is diverse, encompassing two mountain ranges, the Western and Eastern Ghats, and a plateau heartland.
While we have improved in some socio-economic metrices, economic disparity, illiteracy and poverty continue to affect the region much like the rest of the country. Agriculture is the single largest contributor to the regional net domestic product, while Information technology is a rapidly growing industry in Tamilnadu.
But we can never boast of the ancient tradition and culture and rich heritage unless we find a solid solution to empower and educate our womenfolk. Educating a girl doesn't just change the life of the girl – it impacts her family and those around her.
Education is crucial for the empowerment and emancipation of girls and women, and the realization of all other human rights. Educating a girl has a transformational effect that changes communities and societies.
Good quality education helps unlock the potential of girls and women everywhere. And I see that apart from being a system restricted with time and age in a school, it can be a nonformal one, a meeting of likeminded women under the trees, a gathering of teenagers, adolescents and children with a flexible curriculum independent to choose of their own interest, providing the knowledge and information they need to know the world, to come up, to raise, to survive, to succeed. Here they discuss their problems, experiences, find a solution. They become their own decision makers and solution finders. They meet in a discussion forum in a neighbourhood network as I call it - in each street, in each village, in each panchayat which is networked so that every voice is heard in that group.
Every day I approach these young girls and women to see that change, a glow in their eyes, their growth as confident, energetic, sustainable and dignified women – fully charged and empowered to face the challenges the daily life brings. Now each girl is after success.
I focus on educationally backward areas, girls from the disadvantaged sections like those belonging to tribes, minorities, etc. I focus on tackling gender-specific issues that prevent girls and women from having access to education.
I focus on providing women and adolescent girls with the necessary support structure, and an informal learning environment to create opportunities for education;
I focus on helping girls to overcome socio-cultural and economic factors inhibiting their access to elementary education.
“Thoughts are not to be given, but to be awakened”. Seeds for independent thinking lie within every individual. I envision a climate for those seeds to sprout – Seeds of Empowerment.Girls Transform the World 2013