This is the Best Day of My Life!03 Feb 2010, by Made By Survivors Programs in
On Monday morning, we began our 2 weeks of programming in Calcutta shelters and red light areas, starting with our very own Destiny girls. After some very silly and hilarious icebreakers, we joined in a forum discussion about women’s rights, comparing progress and continuing challenges in the women’s rights movements of each. We talked about the fact that although the girls all consider America more progressive, we have yet to have a woman president or vice president, whereas India has had two women in the two highest offices.
The girls felt that the biggest difference between Indian and American women is their confidence. American women have more
confidence, they unanimously think, because we are allowed to make all kinds of decisions for ourselves – what to wear, where and how long to study, who to marry, where to live, if we work, and in what field. In India, especially among the poor and in villages, male relatives make all these decisions. Even Becky has to give her father’s name every time she wants to rent an apartment of get a cellphone or Internet connection. Obviously, this systemic sexism is a huge factor in human
A male friend of Becky’s was appalled when he joined a group of work colleagues to go out on a Friday night and they led him
to the Sonagachi red light area, and casually asked ‘What age?’ At the end of our forum, we asked each participant to suggest one thing we should all do that will most improve women’s rights in India or America.
The girls’ answers were insightful – several felt we should concentrate on education. Taz felt we can not look just at
women’s rights in isolation –we need to always look at human rights and accord them equally to men and women. All the girls agreed – programs addressing abuse, trafficking or domestic violence have to consider the boys. A movement for change will never succeed unless it is supported by those in power.
Kali believes that big social change needs to start in the home – husbands need to respect their wives, parents need to value their daughters, educating rather than selling them or using their labor. She feels that larger scale social change will follow.
Sweety said ‘Since I am working at Destiny, my male family members no longer tell me what to do. I have just taken my own apartment, and I get to decide when to come home, what to eat, when to go to work, or to do housework. Women need an income to be independent. Then we can know and demand our rights’. There was hearty approval from everyone on this comment, most especially me.
Since my whole life is about creating economic opportunities for survivors, it was heartening to learn that they agree it is an
effective vehicle for change.
After the workshop, it was a long and winding, bumpy and dusty road that took us out to the Womens Interlink Foundation shelter home outside Calcutta. The girls applauded when we arrived and their faces lit up with excitement. In my current state of semi-exhaustion, I was overwhelmed with emotion from that warm welcome. There are 95 girls at this home, including survivors and girls who were intercepted literally while they were being auctioned into slavery – one three year old was about to be sold for $250 when community members intervened and took her to Aloka, the Director of WIF.
Despite their rough backgrounds, these are the merriest group of girls you could wish to meet. We started with a drawing workshop in preparation for painting a large tree of life mural. After that we played and played – hopscotch and Duck, Duck Goose, dancing and double-Dutch. We are in for an incredible week at the shelter and it will be a great opportunity to spend quality time with our school-sponsored girls, and to lay the groundwork for the jewelry program we will be offering the older teens and young adults.
Volunteer Janell Hofmann summed up how we all feel, as she sat on the dusty floor surrounded by girls, engulfed in their love and swept up in their joy, inspired by their courage: “This is the best day of my life!
School Sponsorship Kids with Becky
Drawing workshop with boarding school sponsored kids
Volunteers were made to perform the electric slide!
Survivors sketching in the mural