In India, every year, January 24th is observed as the ‘National day of the girl child’, to celebrate the girl child and to raise awareness on the issues facing girls in our nation which includes gendercide, child marriage, lack of protection, education and other inequalities.
While we laud the benefits of a world that is increasingly becoming digital, the micro impact of digitisation is affecting the choices that children and youth are faced with.
In our blog this month, we want to share the story of 14 year old Laxmi*. Like many girls of her age, Laxmi gave in to the romantic advances of a 23 year old man. Before she realised what she was getting into, pictures of her were being circulated in her neighbourhood in an attempt to tarnish her reputation if she refused to marrying this man.
Fortunately for Laxmi, her mother got wind of the situation and with the help of WOW filed a police complaint forcing the man to vacate the neighbourhood. It was also disheartening to learn from Laxmi, who is in the 10th standard, that she was actually considering leaving school, giving up her dreams and other future prospects to marry someone she barely knew. Currently she is under WOW’s counseling and rehabilitation program and is housed at a secure home where she will learn life skills and pursue her higher education as well.
Laxmi’s mother, like crores of mothers across our nation, struggle to provide for their families while living with abusive alcoholic husbands .
WOW intervenes in the lives of adolescent girls whose right to safety and well-being are threatened by uninformed choices and by society’s blind norms and tirelessly works towards empowering adolescent girls rescued from abuse, neglect and abandonment – one girl at a time. If you would like to support children like Laxmi live up to their full-potential, partner with us in our Girl Arise empowerment program and our Media Literacy workshops that help children make informed choices for their lives. Write to email@example.com for more info or log on to www.womenofworth.in/give to donate.
Our dream is to make every day, the day of the girl child!
*name changed to protect identity
Seema (name changed) is a runaway teen. Her story gives her more than one reason to run away from home. As a Sri Lankan refugee who lost both parents and was abandoned by siblings, she moved in with a caring grandmother in Tamilnadu, only to fall prey to a supposed boyfriend who swindled money from her.
All these traumatic childhood experiences have caused Seema to suffer from a mental illness. She wishes to someday go back to her home country and begin afresh, but that seems lofty while battling a world stacked against her.
To keep Seema from running from her past and to gain confidence before being repatriated, our rehab staff are providing individual counselling and life skills based group therapy. She has currently been enrolled in tailoring classes held at the home which she enjoys and has shown great aptitude towards. These are the first steps towards her complete rehabilitation.
The most common reason for rescuing girls between the ages of 14 – 18 is because they run away from home. Once they are rescued they are brought to a centre in Chennai where WOW provides counselling and conducts rehabilitation programs.
The reason for running away might vary but revolves around the age old rationale of escaping the clutches of something unpleasant. However, when they run, these teen girls put themselves in more danger.
WOW would also like to start programs to equip girls like Seema with the right resources and tools that would empower them after repatriation. If you want to support our work with girls like Seema, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
I have a room!
The house we recently moved into was previously colonized by a furry feline and the master bedroom was its throne room. We discovered its existence without ever having the trouble of meeting it. The allergic reactions suffered by my husband and my daughter immediately informed us of this room’s previous tenant.
The only other room available was being used as a home office which now had to accommodate our master bed as well, rendering the actual master bedroom into a storage space. Most of the office furniture including some bookshelves and a couch were moved into the master bedroom. Slowly, other items that needed to be stored away clumsily made this room their abode. This was now the forbidden room which had an invisible sign: “No Trespassing. High Risk of Itchiness and Sneezing.”
Wait! What? Recap: There now exists a room that nobody wanted. More like, a room that nobody could have even if they wanted it without risking lung infections or asphyxiation…except for yours truly!
I knew what I had to do; Rearrange, reorganize, stack all the shelves, create floor space, use the couch, add some curtains, maybe some pictures, some things I’ve collected from my travels, and a floor rug for the dog (yes, the dog is always welcome. Besides, the room intrigues her senses). And before I knew it, I had a room.
I have since heard that other women have created rooms for themselves; they are called she sheds. But this was no fantastical, whimsical, Pinterest-worthy she shed. It really was a glorified storage closet. But to me, it was what the DeLorean was to Marty McFly – a time machine – transporting me to explore interests I’ve ignored or discarded. It was what the Fortress of Solitude was to Superman – a hideout – giving me space and time to actually experience silence and meditation. It was what the pages of Mein Kampf were to Max as he hid in Liesel’s basement – a scabrous canvas – to paint my story about how I reconnected with myself.
Out of unplanned, unintended, and unexpected circumstances, I discovered how to celebrate me.
Dear DISB campaigners,
We’ve been selfishly and gloriously focusing on YOU all through the month of November. You are valued and worthy! What you celebrate expands you. So tell us how you Celebrate You – flaws and all! Send in your stories. #DISBcelebratesYOU
#MeToo – a hashtag determined to prove that tens of thousands of women across the world have a Harvey Weinstein in their lives; a power mongering predator who uses coercion, deception, manipulation, or force for their own sexual gratification.
#MeToo – a hashtag that united the victims from all walks of life, validated their pain and endorsed their right to safety.
#MeToo – a hashtag that got men – perpetrators or not – to lend their support in ending violence against women.
Many people shared their stories, and others made proclamations to change the status quo. To this end, Mayim Bialik, a Hollywood actress, neuroscientist, and a mom, shared a video called Will I Raise a Son like Harvey Weinstein?
Bialik uses the video to reminisce about the lessons she learnt from her parents as a child actress in Hollywood. One lesson in particular was to be wary of men as they are always motivated by only one thing – sex. As she continues to navigate the importance of raising sons who will be the antithesis of Harvey Weinstein, she asks a very important question: Will the lack of trust in men, that my parents raised me with, serve me well as I raise my own sons?
This is an important question to grapple with as parents, and as a society. Most of the work that we as an organization do revolves mainly around empowering girls and women. This mom’s question forces us to consider training boys to view their world through a feminist lens.
Though Bialik’s views are socially conservative or lack cultural nuances, they are certainly a good place to start. Here is her list of 7 teachings that parents need to impart to their sons:
Equality: Everyone is virtually the same. We all have the same hearts, same desire to be loved, respected and protected.
This is especially difficult in cultures where religion, class, and caste divides create systems of hierarchies that deify or dehumanize people based on where they belong in the spectrum. But the belief in humanity and the ability to consider equality as stated above is never beyond grasp even in archaic and patriarchal cultures.
Rights: Everyone has a right to feel safe. If you put someone in a situation where they don’t feel safe – It’s not okay.
Our children have the right to safety. Our women have the right to safety. Our men have the right to safety. Schools, colleges, workplaces, hospitals, public places are covered under several legislatures that call for safety protocols that are yet to be translated into actionable changes. Modeling this behavior becomes difficult when excuses are the norm and safety is only a buzzword.
Consent: You do not have the right to touch someone if they do not want to be touched – Even by your own mother.
This is a tough nugget to teach. Saying ‘no’ is seen as rejection, defiance, and rebellion – an act which undermines authority – making consent less important and obedience a virtue. This fallacy goes against the very nature of consent. Parents, as figures of authority, have a unique privilege to model consent by setting and respecting healthy boundaries with children – both boys and girls.
Common Sense: It’s never okay to be intimate or touch someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the point that they cannot give consent
Statements like, “Boys will be boys” or “Girls like ‘this’ are asking for it,” shred common sense and allow abuse to piggy back on the blame game. It’s easy to see alcohol, or a party, or articles of clothing as the culprit instead of common sense that informs us that people are equal, people have a right to safety, and people have to consent.
Location: You are responsible for where you are. If you are in a place where there are bad things going, leave and report it. Strip clubs and places where people pay to have sex, don’t go there. It is your responsibility to protect a man or woman that you see in a dangerous place. Get out. Get help. That’s on you
This might seem tricky as defining good and bad in respect to sexual preferences or reclaiming sexuality is always debated. If we teach our boys about equality, rights, consent, and common sense, there are greater chances that systems of abuse can be overcome as they self regulate where they should or should not be.
Ingesting: Scientifically speaking, the human brain doesn’t really behave with great judgment in the teens and even into the twenties. Things you would never think you would do, people do them when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Ingesting pornography…likely contributes to the degradation and abuse of men and women.
As a neuroscientist, Bialik naturally turns steers the conversation towards topics such as brain plasticity as something we need to teach our sons to be aware of as they navigate life and form their identity, theories on life, overcome peer pressure, be media literate, etc. Everything that is permissible is not necessarily beneficial, especially if it contributes to the objectification and abuse of people, women in particular.
Daily: Every single day respect people that you interact with but specifically, pay special attention to those who have not been appreciated or represented historically.
This is difficult when privilege is woven into the fabric of our existence, but let’s walk two moons in their moccasins to understand the position of privilege as it applies to each of us. Let’s make it a habit to be more than politically correct; not by being patronizing, but with the belief that everybody is created equally, that everybody has rights, that consent and common sense are essential in intimate relationships, and that learning can lead to better understanding.
In faith, we echo Bialik’s closing comment: We have inherited a broken world and it is our job to fix it.
Share with us how parents could model this behavior within families.
- What was it about the flawesome series that got you interested in sharing your story with us ?
News is that none of us are flawless and it was my desire to share my common place story so that it would make a difference to atleast one person.
- Give us a bit of your background for starters.
Unexpectedly arrived as the seventh child after a gap of seven years and weighed 10 pounds. Not much has changed in the physical realm – even now I look really healthy. Grew up in a simple home where academics were high priority as well as exposure to multiple activities while community engagement was also a priority. I put my hand in various activities in school and did relatively well in most of them. School and college were well invested years.
- What event/incident turned your life around or was pivotal to you?
I have had many a challenge that I have faced all through the years of my life though one of them could be a fairness cream and whitening cream concept defeating piece. It was in my mid-thirties that I suddenly began a journey of an auto-immune condition called “vitiligo”- the loss of melanin and of course your skin tone takes on a new shade- undefined by color schemes of cosmetic companies. Though I turned white quite quickly – it was interesting as my husband’s little boy day dreams of marrying a fair girl came true as he got a fair wife after 7 years into mariage. Look and feel chemistry definitely did not decide our marriage as the proof of the pudding is that we have held on together through it all for many years thereafter.
- What were the challenges you faced because of your condition and how did you cope and overcome them?
People and their questions were an unresolvable lot. Their curiosity was way beyond our comprehension. They were more bothered about my condition – both in good and odd ways. Personally, I could not look into the mirror for a year. And that’s the year my husband as an adult began to smoke cigarettes. The not-so right treatment that I received bloated me further. Use of any make-up and the like was hard as colours did not display the same on my skin. My hair turned 90% grey and it was strange to see a new – not so likeable you.
That’s when I turned to my faith and got the strength and confidence I needed and believe me in 12 months time I had a break through where I could stand in front of the mirror and look at myself and say to myself that I am beautiful and wonderful.
- Have you struggled with feelings of inadequacy?
I believe it was a struggle of accepting my physical condition and not one of comparison. So I used to just lie low and quiet without doing anything frontline except at work.
- If we asked you what some of your wildest dreams are, what would you say?
I desire to collaborate in the area of academics and work as an influence. This has become a reality now. I am able to coach those who cannot afford it and that has really taken off. I make others grow tall on my shoulders as I can’t grow any shorter(did not grow tall from 8th grade). I love making others look their best at my cost. I love people and help them to walk in freedom and fullness of life here on earth.
- What has been the greatest achievement and joy of your life so far?
My faith has been my greatest strength. My relationship with God has carried me through the greatest struggles of my life and has given me great joy.
- What is your advice to our readers today?
Focus on another even when you are going through pain and believe me “People are important” will become your mantra.
[su_box title=”About the author” style=”soft” box_color=”#f3f3f3″ title_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Jaya is a trainer and motivational speaker.
She resides in Mumbai with her husband Abraham. [/su_box]
- Why is safety awareness against sexual abuse among children important?
Sadly, kids are the easiest and the softest targets. That they are innocent and naïve hardly matters. It’s the only reason why kids should know the boundaries that cannot be crossed. They also need to know how to not let anyone cross that boundary.
- Does our “Fearless project” resonate with you on some level? If yes, how?
Yes it most certainly does! In fact, I love that the Fearless Project is also about prevention as much as it’s about recovery. Our country needs to learn how to keep our children safe. We need to learn to create an impenetrable fence all around them. We need to raise our kids with love and not with fear, impalement or shame.
- How did you overcome the trauma of abuse? What aspects were most difficult to heal? What aspects made the healing process difficult?
It was a process.
I think overnight healing is only temporary healing and so, I’m rather glad my healing took time.One by one, the layers of hurt got peeled off and eventually, withered. I don’t think there’s a set formula to overcome the trauma of being victimized but over time I’ve gotten to understand that we all go through the same stages – feeling of uncleanness, self blame, living in denial and finally, confrontation. Let me break it down a bit more.
- Feeling of uncleanness – as kids, we understand that we’ve been violated even though we may not know the words to use to articulate our feelings. With this understanding comes the feeling on uncleanness.
- Self blame – thoughts like – “I invited trouble” or “it’s because I’m not pretty enough” or “it’s because I’m ugly” constantly resonate in the head. Add to it, our society conditions us to think that it’s always the girls’ fault.
- Denial – this is when we start thinking that ‘the act’ never happened and then we graduate to think that it happened but it wasn’t as big a deal as we’re making out to be.
Mind you, all this is still about ‘ME’. In the sense that up until now I haven’t even started thinking about how the perpetrator has been in the wrong! That’s the worst part about the ordeal. The perpetrator goes on to live his life normally and the victim gets stuck in time.
When I did start thinking about the person responsible for this, the part that hurt the most was the broken trust. To be able to trust another man was a task! It felt like no one deserves to be trusted, like no one’s trust worthy.
It took a lot of time, a lot of friends and a lot of love to overcome these doubts and questions.
- What is your advice to children who have faced abuse?
Don’t hide it from anyone. Don’t hide it from yourself either. Talk about it, shed tears, vent….basically, address it and give yourself the dignity of words.You don’t necessarily need to address it in a recurrent manner but address it in a way that helps you get over it without having to rue about it over and over again.Learn to let go. Learn to forgive. It’s a process that will be worth your while.
- How important is it for Student campuses to ensure both awareness, precautions and a safety mandate against child sexual abuse?
Apart from teaching our kids to excel in life we need to teach them to be safe as well!
Campuses are where our personalities form and develop and so, it should be an environment for growth! It shouldn’t be stifling or terrifying instead it should be encouraging and gratifying. If sexual predators wander around in our campuses, it’s the slow death of life!
- What word of advice would you have for parents and teachers in bringing awareness on child sexual abuse?
Relentlessly and consistently pursue the cause please. I know the results are far too few but you are impacting generations to come. Your work is not a drop in an ocean. It’s like yeast making its way through the toughest situations.Don’t for a moment be under the assumption that sexual abuse cannot take place in our home. It has and it will continue to, unless we remain vigilant.
- Teachers and Parents sometimes say that it may be harmful or unnecessary to give too much information about sex too early in life. What is your comment?
How much is too much? And honestly, we live in a day and age where the world is at our finger tips – quite literally! If we are not the source of information to our kids, someone else will be. Perhaps even someone who’s less trustworthy. Is that a gamble worth playing?
- What advice do you have for parents and teachers who are helping children overcome the trauma of abuse?
It’s not the end of the world and your kids need to know that. At the same time, they need to know that you understand what they’ve been through and it doesn’t change your relationship with them.They need to be surrounded by better men/women who are proof that there are good human beings in their world too.They need to be encouraged with words of appreciation and validation.They need to be taught to forgive. But they also need to see you confront the perpetrators.
- What is your message to the world on Child Sexual Abuse?
It exists and maybe right in our own backyards. Let’s not run away from the fact. But let’s face it with hope and love.
[su_box title=”About the author” style=”soft” box_color=”#f3f3f3″ title_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Cindrella Prakash is not only a survivor of child sexual abuse but an overcomer in every sense of the word. She currently lives in Mumbai with her husband Asher Joe. For more on her incredible journey follow the link: http://www.satyamevjayate.in/watch-the-episodes/child-sexual-abuse/survivors-speak.aspx.[/su_box]