The Suffocated Little Girl

I had the displeasure of growing up with people who strongly believed that all girls had to behave a certain way. Surprisingly, though I was a child, their worldviews failed to change me. Instead, I found myself wrestling with comments like “She can’t even cook!” or “Watch it! Girls shouldn’t get so angry.”

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When Fear Drives Parenting

Sunjula Daniel, a Woman Of Worth staff member shares her perspective in this very relatable point of view of a mother.

​I​ first saw 5-year old Sushmitha looking through our compound gate. She didn’t say a word – just kept looking. I began to feel uncomfortable and guilty as I avoided her for a good twenty minutes and then I gave in and we invited her home. She was thrilled and rushed in without telling her parents who it appears were migrant construction labourers working nearby. The girl was smart, well-behaved and highly observant. I enjoyed her broken Tamil and her drama to illustrate how her mother and her brother would do things. She was so cute! She would come home everyday. When she wasn’t at our place, I would see her just roaming the street, chatting with much older men and women, whiling away time.

It is sad that we live in an era that feels like our kids are walking in the wild with predators lurking in the shadows.

She had both parents and a little brother. She also had food, shelter and enough clothes. But did she have safety? Each time I saw her, I kept asking myself “Is she safe? Will she be ok on these streets? What if something untoward happens? What if she is abused? Will she know? Will she ask for help? And if she does, will she be helped? Or will she be shushed?”

Sushmitha and her family have now left our neighbourhood. I often think of her and wonder if she is safe. It’s sad that I worry over her.​ It is sad that we live in an era that feels like our kids are walking in the wild with predators lurking in the shadows.​ ​It is sad that it is possible for a child so cute and lively to be abused!

​Childhood is sweet and tender. Let’s give our children a safe childhood. Let’s keep our eyes open for child sexual abuse. Let’s end it.

#endChildSexualAbuse #EndRape #FearlessProject

[su_box title=”About the author” style=”soft” box_color=”#f3f3f3″ title_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Sunjula Daniel is Operations Manager at WOW and a mother who is passionate about changing the world. [/su_box]

Silence is no longer Golden

It was indeed one of the highlights of the month to be part of the launch of Edex’s campaign THE REST IS HER STORY, (#safenotsorry). The panelists and guests namely Madhumitha(filmmaker), Rema Rajeshwari (IPS), Dr.Geeta Madhavan (advocate), Kirthi Jeyakumar (founder, The Red Elephant) and Leena Manimekalai (filmmaker)  made the evening matter in more than one way. What will really make women feel safer? Does sexism in films encourage abuse? Do we need revised laws with more stringent consequences to crimes against women? etc., were some of the questions in focus?

I was pleased to hear all the panelists single-mindedly assert and reiterate that what we need is education and awareness. The power and influence of awareness is often underestimated. As a result, much of our work as non-profits revolves around the areas of rehabilitation and trauma recovery. While that is critical and should be happening in increasing measures, we should be simultaneously investing our time and skill in bringing awareness through education to men and women, boys and girls on issues pertaining to safety and equality, which in turn brings attitudinal and behavioral changes.

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Safety for women at the workplace continues to be one of the major areas of concern. WOW conducted workshops titled WOMAN UNINTERRUPTED (WU) throughout the month of March. At these workshops, I met a wide range of interesting people, from those who say that there is absolutely no gender bias or inequality at the workplace to those who feel no progress has been made for women in general. I think the real answer to this lies somewhere in the middle. The bias we feel, or experience today at the workplace can be termed as ‘second generation bias – often very subtle and at times ‘unconscious’ or even ‘unintentional’ and is usually guided by gender stereotypes of the past. This type of bias is hard to identify but is very prevalent in general at the workplace.

We have certainly made positive strides towards change with the swift manner in which laws are being enacted to protect women at the workplace. For example, the mandatory Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) has ensured that Corporates seriously take action against all complaints that women face at the workplace. But as rightly pointed out by IPS officer Rema Rajeshwari, laws alone don’t bring about change. What we really need is change of attitude towards women, as well as a concerted collective response by society to enforce these laws to protect women.

Silence is no longer golden. Every woman must be heard, not just seen. Safety violations need to be reported. What will give women the courage they need to step out boldly and claim their right to safety at the workplace? Platforms provided by such campaigns are part of a public collective force to give back to women their voice and their rightful place in society. Safety is not the privilege of a few but the fundamental human right of all people irrespective of their gender, race, colour or faith.

So, what will make women feel safe and be safe? My answer to this question is simply this: It is when the world fully recognizes the inborn dignity, intrinsic value and worth of a woman, then she will feel safe and be safe. As WOW, therefore we have a lot of work to do.

Join us on May 11th, at the Novotel-Ibis hotel, OMR, Chennai for a workshop and networking platform titled: Barriers to Progress, to explore the effects of unconscious bias and its impact on women’s safety at the workplace. And do tell us YOUR STORY, stories of pain, of courage, or hope, and by doing so, you give a voice to those who feel alone and need that initial push to speak up.

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Dear Teacher, Five Tips To Remember While Talking About Safety With Your Students

To the teacher who told her students that girls should not dress in jeans and lipstick:

Dear Teacher, have you used public transportation in your city and never been groped? Have you walked along a street lined with men smoking beedi or drinking chai and never been hollered at? Have you never been judged as a woman when your parents sought a suitable alliance for you? Have you never been mentally undressed by perverted eyes in public? Or did your iron-clad-saree-armour protect you from these experiences?

Ever wonder why it’s easier to blame a girl for her jeans and lipstick?

People generally believe that bad things happen to others. The “others” is something people do not want to associate themselves with. Because once you do that, the threat becomes personal. Bad things could then happen to all people. We are scared to believe that. And so we start defining the characteristics of “others.” Jeans, lipstick, heels, being out after dark, alone with a boy, cell phones, Indian-Chinese food, peacocks, etc. etc. etc.

Don’t feel bad to associate yourself with your students. Yes, you are free to choose what modesty means to you and what perverse means to you. No, you are not free to pass judgment on a girl because she has defined her boundaries differently.

Dear Teacher, you are free to speculate Nirbhaya’s gruesome assault, torture, and demise. But you are not doing anyone any favors when your speculation has no bearing on statistical facts of a study showing 41% of women who reported their rape in India were dressed in sarees. And no, the other 59% were not all flaunting themselves in jeans or skirts. Majority of them were burkha clad, which indicates a very small possibility of sexual provocation as defined by you.

I am a woman, a mother, a sister, and all those wonderful tags that people use to associate themselves with others. I am saying this to find common ground with you. So that I may plead with you to not just take back your words but to learn the truth about sexual assault and rape.

Your prejudice filled rant might have actually been an attempt to educate your young students about safety. But I urge you to use not only sympathy but empathy, in the classroom. Without empathy, you will be fighting a losing battle. So here are some ideas that might help you to effectively advocate the safety of your students:

  1. Boys and girls are both in danger of being raped and sexually abused in our nation. The Study of Child Abuse: India 2007, published by the Government of India had a shocking revelation that 52% of boys surveyed claimed to be sexually abused. So, when addressing safety issues, make sure to keep students from all sexual and gender orientation safe.
  2. The hardest thing for a child to do is communicate the violation and abuse they experienced because often they lack the awareness and vocabulary to do so. The next time you choose to address your students on safety mandates, begin by assuring them that you will be an adult who will believe their broken words and incoherent stories. Assure them that the violation of their bodies was not their fault.
  3. Do not let socio-economic status or caste lead you to believe in the existence of an automatic safety zone for the child. Please know that most children are sexually abused during the day in places where they feel safe: their home, their neighborhood, their community. So make sure to talk to all your students about safe resources available to them, like 1098 (the phone number for Childline), or a school counselor, or your classroom – because it’s time to maintain an open door policy and create safe classrooms.
  4. Also, if anyone tells you that ignoring the abuse will allow the child to get over it sooner, please do not believe them. Trauma manifests itself in different ways and at different times, often hindering the student from enjoying healthy lifestyles and relationships as they grow older.
  5. I have already presented data to dispute that clothes don’t make a victim, and this is especially true in the case of child sexual abuse. But if clothes are something that distracts you from associating with a student who has been sexually abused, look for common ground as a fellow human being. Always exercise your power to empathize.

I am glad you want to address safety issues with your students. For a student to succeed academically, socially or emotionally, safety has to be a priority. Make sure the school administration supports you in this effort to keep your students safe.

There are several organizations that can help your school implement safety protocols in order to promote the best interest of the student. If you unable to find one in your area, write to wow@womenofworth.in and we’ll help you with your efforts.

Let’s build each other up instead of shaming those who have suffered much already.

Sincerely,

Lydia Durairaj, WOW Staff.

Committed to the Girl Child

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 girlarise@womenofworth.in 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

The Road to Change

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 info@womenofworth.in