Journey with Homeless Young Women

Deepali Vandana
Posted December 30, 2019 from India
Sexual Harassment at Workplace: Ground Realities Of The Unorganized Sector And The Way Forward
Over the years I have seen how easily the women get absorbed in the informal sector like beauty, garment industry etc, due to lack of education, skills and proper identity documents and continue to be further violated in this sector. In such instances, the young women’s morale is further affected , where they don't feel like going to work or are forced to switch their jobs. This in turn affects their economic stability, forcing them to be dependent on their partners or family, which refrains them from breaking free from the cycle of violence. At organisational level, URJA is addressing individual cases of sexual harassment at workplace, but I feel that there is a need for collective deliberation and action around the issue, to create safe and violence free spaces for women. Violent free spaces shall create a conducive atmosphere for women to work without fear and reach their potential as an individual as well as make their vital contribution to the nation’s economy. With this aim, Urja has organised one day state level consultation on 23rd December 2019, where we all had shared our experiences and challenges around the issue , and collectively developed strategies for addressing it and eliminating all types of violence against women
#LetItOut# LeaveNoOneBehind#
LetItOut# LeaveNoOneBehind#: The homeless young woman have survived excessive violence and abuse but loose their sense of self worth and mental wellbeing. This introspective and expressive exercises encouraged the women to make loving themselves and caring for their mental wellbeing a priority! The participants had a blast and said that they have never laughed so loud before and without inhibitions. They felt free. (1/2)

I am Deepali Vandana,  past 10 years  working  with homeless young

Women in India. As a daughter of a Dalit municipal sweeper from Kamathipura, a place surrounded by red light areas and known for recurring criminal offences and violence in Mumbai, I had experienced caste and gender discrimination up close and still experiencing every day. Like many other families blinded by the veil of patriarchy, my parents bore four daughters, in the hope of a son, to carry forward the family lineage and also raise their social status in the society This differential treatment usually meted out to the girl child continued in my life, initially through my joint family members, then at school and ultimately by the society at large. Nevertheless, since my childhood, I have been rebelling and questioning the various unjust, discriminatory practices around me. Openly speaking about menstruation with my father was one such instance, for which I had to face severe consequences. However, I didn’t let hurdles like that diminish my spirit.                                              

I am a firm believer in “personal is political”. By integrating values of challenging gender and patriarchal norms from my own life, I legally changed my name by adding my mother’s name to my full name instead of my father’s. I also refused to get married bound by gender-oriented customs, due to which I was boycotted from my and husband native village. After getting married, my partner and I decided to live in an independent house as opposed to the traditional practice of going to the husband’s house.

I began my journey in the development sector at a young age of 18 years with Saathi, a Mumbai based organisation working with street children. I would engage with these children as a teacher, which led to being attached to the issue of homelessness. As a result, I began engaging and exploring it further, especially from the perspective of gender- women being the most vulnerable and marginalised group, even in this section of society.

I believe that to cope with the growing changes in society, continuously educating and upgrading one’s skills is very important.  I have a bachelor's degree in Psychology and Economics and a Master’s degree in Economics.  Presently, I am pursuing my MBA in Human Resources. I have also completed my diploma in counselling and child care.

Over the past 19 years, I have engaged in cases of sexual harassment, exploitation, human trafficking, cruelty, dowry harassment and other such related matters, which have raised several questions in my mind. I saw how the patriarchal system continues to exploit and discriminate against young girls and women in the name of honour, power, and to maintain the status quo in society. My experience in the field taught me that homelessness cuts across class, caste, religion; dysfunctional families, lack of love and care, being some of the causes for it in such instances. I was able to witness that gender discrimination is higher amongst the communities which practice rigid cultural, religious norms and practices. I also had a first-hand understanding of the interlinkages between caste and gender, the number of young women from marginalised communities being exploited and rendered homeless being the highest. All these learnings and experiences from the field made me reflect back on how the issue was being addressed at a larger level, and I felt that the focus was more on rehabilitation without addressing the root causes of the issue, which fail to bring about sustainable changes in the lives of women. I felt that there was a need for a holistic intervention on the subject, focussing not only on the rehabilitation of homeless young women but also going deeper and addressing the root causes of homelessness and working towards bringing about changes at the policy level. Hence, with these ideas and values in mind, URJA came into being in April 2012 with an aim to empower marginalised homeless young women between the ages 18-30 years, to lead a dignified and violence-free life. .

Most young women are often, doubly marginalized due to issues of poverty, caste, religion, gender discrimination, disabilities and mental health issues. Studies suggest that in India, gender disparities such as lack of schooling, deprivation from education, gender-based violence, forced dropouts, early marriages, and constraints on mobility, form major roadblocks in the future of girls, even though India has one of the fastest growing youth populations.

The growing problem of young women getting homeless is definitely a deep concern as it shows the exploitation of them and the inequality they are forced to suffer. The establishment of gender equality does not come into existence only by providing women with opportunities and empowerment, but by also ensuring that the society at large is educated on the importance of women’s human rights and thereby gender equality. I have taken efforts to do this by organising regular sessions with police, government peoples, civil communities, students, teachers etc, to address the issue of growing number of homeless young women and the challenges faced by them.

At URJA, we work on these issues from an intersectional rights-based perspective, with the lens of gender, caste and mental health at its core and with believed that a dignified life is ensured when there is empowerment of women on every aspect, physically, psychologically, socially, mentally, economically and legally. Hence, the women, along with their education, are provided with training sessions and opportunities in the areas of their interests and capabilities. Several young women from URJA participate in wide variety of activities including outbound activities like rafting, trekking and other related activities, and marathons, where several of our girls achieved medals for their timings and positions as well. As of today, URJA has facilitated the journey of more than 750 young women, towards a life with dignity.

Through years of  work, I have been invited by various media platforms- Doordarshan, radio shows and talk shows to name a few, to talk about the issue of homeless young women. Due to my work in the field of gender equity, especially women rights, I was recognized and awarded the title of  MUMBAI HEROES” in February 2019. At the Leaders Quest Conference, 2018 held in the UK, where leaders from across the business, government and civil society who want to contribute towards a more sustainable, inclusive world were invited, I was the only Representative from India. I am also the recipient of 'Swayamsiddha Puraskar,' for my interventions in the domain of women empowerment and gender equity, especially for homeless young women. In addition, URJA competed at the Project Inspire organised by Mastercard and Singapore in collaboration with United Nations Women Committee, for organisations working towards gender equality, and finished among the ‘top 20’ in the whole of Asia. URJA has also selected in 25 and received a grant from Yes Foundation at a competition organised for organisations and companies which had over 11,100 applications across India. I was also on the committee formed in Matunga Zone Police, under ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’.

 

 

Comments 24

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ARREY- ECHI
Dec 31, 2019
Dec 31, 2019

Thank you for sharing your passion and journey with the homeless. We pray your efforts bear more fruits so these ladies would grow strong and courageous enough to stand up and defy unreasonable traditions like you did.

Deepali Vandana
Jan 03
Jan 03

Dear Arrey,
Greetings and happy New Year!
Thank you so much for reading my story . I appreciate you reaching out to me and connecting! Your response and motivational comment enhances my inner energy. I'll be sharing more stories about my early years and my journey with the organisation's work in the days to come.
Warmly

Anita Shrestha
Dec 31, 2019
Dec 31, 2019

Thank you for sharing

Deepali Vandana
Jan 03
Jan 03

Dear Anita,
Thank you so much for reading my story . I appreciate you reaching out to me and connecting!

Tamarack Verrall
Jan 01
Jan 01

Dear Deepali,
What daring, what courage, what a strong base in fairness you have shown to your community. This is the grassroots work that creates real change and it is such a blueprint for us all to find ways to make sure we are focussing on those who need change the most. It is so good to meet you here and to read about all you have accomplished and are continuing to do.

Wusufor
Jan 01
Jan 01

Aunty Deepali,
First of all I will borrow Aunty Tam's words to describe you.

"What daring, what courage, what a strong base in fairness you have shown to your community".
Wow, may your zeal never slow down. See all your hard work and labor. You are a courageous woman and pray you remain so ha :-).

I hope you are doing well and staying safe. Take care
Lizzy

Jill Langhus
Jan 01
Jan 01

Hello Deepali,

Wow! Thanks for sharing your super impressive short bio and also a synopsis of your amazing organization, too! I love that you're changing the norms and helping all these girls, too! I want to hear the story about your spat with your dad over menstruation, for a start. And, I'm so impressed that you didn't just go along with the marriage, and living customs that you were expected to follow. This is how change happens. Thanks for sharing those examples and about your amazing organization. Do you have a website and/or social media page(s) to like/follow? I would love to follow them. Also, have you considered collaborating with Safecity? There could be an opportunity there for a wider network of change. This is more about Elsa's bio and her organization, if you don't already know about it: https://www.worldpulse.com/community/users/safecity

Looking forward to seeing more stories from you and learning more about your organization and trailblazing ways:-)

XX

Deepali Vandana
Jan 03
Jan 03

Dear Jill,
Greetings and Happy New Year!
I am happy to say that I am part of World Plus sisterhood network. Thank you so much for reading my story. I appreciate you reaching out to me and connecting! Also thank you for suggesting Safecity, they are doing work with is very much related to that of ours and will definitely reach out to them.
Yes, I'll be surly sharing more stories about my early years and my journey with the Urja's work in the days to come.

Warmly

Jill Langhus
Jan 10
Jan 10

Hi Deepali:-)

Thank you! Happy New Year!

We're glad that you're part of the community, dear. You're very welcome!

Great! Let us know how it goes. We love to see World Pulse collaborations on here:-)

Sounds great!

XX

Deepali Vandana
Jan 10
Jan 10

Hey Jill,
Sure. Will be sharing one issues with my intervention in this month.

Love

Jill Langhus
Jan 10
Jan 10

Hey there:-)

Great!

Hope you have a great weekend!

Beth Lacey
Jan 03
Jan 03

Good luck with your work

Deepali Vandana
Jan 10
Jan 10

Thank You Beth reaching to me. Love to connect.

Spiritedsoul
Jan 05
Jan 05

Hello,
Thank you for sharing your passion and this journey. Keep continuing to do that amazing work you did it was so many people impacted by it.
Hugs,
Jess.

Deepali Vandana
Jan 10
Jan 10

hello Jess,
Thank you for reading my story. This appreciation and motivational word is very important for me when we are working against mainstream and system. Would love to keep sharing more intervention.
Love

Sujit
Jan 08
Jan 08

Congratulations Deepali! Your initiative and personal endeavour is remarkable. Wish you continued success in your journey.

Deepali Vandana
Jan 10
Jan 10

hello sujit,
Thank you so much reading my story and reaching to me. I will be definitely connecting with you as have seen your expertise and intervention theame.

Warmly

Charity Birla
Jan 10
Jan 10

Thanks for sharing. you are an example of a change maker. You courage is what every women needs to over come in every situation as we women fight for gender equality.

Deepali Vandana
Feb 02
Feb 02

Hi, Love this word.

Akshaya9
Jan 12
Jan 12

Hi Deepali,
Thank you for sharing your story and your achievements by helping the homeless young women.

Congratulations for receiving the award as Mumbai Heroes and you deserved for that title. Keep up the good work. Hope you doing fine.

Have a nice day dear.

Deepali Vandana
Feb 02
Feb 02

Thank you Akshaya. Love to meet you here and looking more interaction with you.

Akshaya9
Feb 02
Feb 02

Your welcome dear

Best Regards

lizzymark
Jan 13
Jan 13

Weldon on the great job you are doing for India and women around you. I agree that setting policies alone is not enough but educating the society on the need to care for and treat women with love is needed too. Happy you are on the ten for change, hopeful you will gain the impact you desire for these women.

Deepali Vandana
Feb 02
Feb 02

Hey LIzzi, Thank you for this word and appreciation. Very happy to connect with all of you.