20th of February 2015 was the World Day of Social Justice. If you would have asked me 6 months ago about this day, I did not even know it existed. But then, 6 months ago I did not know that in February 2015 I will find myself in India again, working for a non governmental organization that addresses issues such as human trafficking, child labour and hazardous work, child marriage and abuse.
2015’s theme for the World Day of Social Justice was Ending Human Trafficking and Forced Labour. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO):
- “Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys.
- Almost 19 million victims are exploited by private individuals or enterprises and over 2 million by the state or rebel groups.
- Of those exploited by individuals or enterprises, 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation.
- Forced labour in the private economy generates US$ 150 billion in illegal profits per year.
- Domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment are among the sectors most concerned.
- Migrant workers and indigenous people are particularly vulnerable to forced labour.”
I have been with Aangan for one week now . It was intense! In my third day I visited one of the institutions we work with in Mumbai, close to Sandhurst Road train station. I participated in a Shakti session and met 9 girls, 14 to 17 years old, who have seen way too much for their young age. While I was aware child marriage, human trafficking, child labour and slavery exist in our world, being so close to it was a slap in my face. I knew before I applied for my fellowship that Aangan is an amazing organization but how amazing it is I am just starting to see.
You are probably asking yourself what is Shakti? Shakti means “strength” in Hindi. It means becoming empowered and strong by getting the knowledge needed to act for your safety and future. To quote the description from the Aangan website about the program: “Through Shakti, adolescent girls are connected to a peer network; are supported and empowered to recognize risk and develop strategies to resist pressures of child marriage, dangerous work, and being pulled out of school; to access services; negotiate for themselves; articulate aspirations and take steps towards achieving their life goals.” Do you see now why I love this program already?
You will find on the Aangan website testimonials such as this one, who speak volumes about the impact of the program in disadvantaged communities in India: “Asha is my friend, we go to Shakti sessions together. When she came to me crying, saying her parents were forcing her to get married, I had to do something. So I went with other Shakti girls, spoke with her family and after much convincing, her marriage was stopped.”- R, 16, Varanasi
Women face danger, sexism, abuse and harm everywhere in the world. Too few find the power to speak up and defend themselves. In some communities the fault of being sexually abused is often placed with the victim, while the abuser walks free. The family is scared they will “lose face” so they don’t talk about it. It can affect the marriage prospects of their girls and people will ask if the act was somehow provoked by the victim. Other women have issues identifying risk, even physical abuse. They don’t know it’s illegal and when a family member is the abuser, husband or father, they are inclined to believe that the situation is normal. After all, the person that they should trust the most is the one harming them.
After finalizing Shakti, girls are able to:
- Identify risk
- Articulate safeguards and strategies about how they might prevent dangerous situations and keep safe
- They have educational and vocational aspirations
- They found support to cope with situations of gender discrimination, abuse, oppression, atrocities
- They demonstrate negotiation skills around 3 key issues: child marriage, pressure to drop out of education and hazardous work
- They can identify positive role models for school/work
- They have the confidence to speak up and participate in family/home decision making
- They have at least one person to confide in
- They can affect change for community and self
You can read in the Shakti 2013 Impact Report how the girls in Hardasapur, Patna brought change in their community in a very unexpected way. Water is one of the things I always took for granted. The girls in Hardasapur had to take 3 trips a day to get water home. This was stopping them from attending school regularly and many of them had to drop out of education. Nobody wanted to hear about their dreams and aspirations. Their contribution to their families was to bring water and do the household chores.
During the Shakti sessions they realized a hand water pump in their community would change everything. The girls wrote an application, gathered signatures and approached the Ward Commissioner with their request. Sounds easy, right? But it was not! They faced a lot of ridicule from the community members, after all, they were “just girls, what could they do?” But the Ward Commissioner was impressed. The girls made sure to follow up with his office and, soon after, the pump arrived and it was installed. The girls could now go to school and their respect within the community grew. And this was just the beginning!
Another eye opening experience last week was participating to a training on India’s POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, held by Majlis Legal Centre. They are “a group of women lawyers and social activists committed to informing, educating and empowering women on their legal rights.” But more about this in my next blog!
I am an iCats Fellow with the Aangan Trust in Mumbai, India. As part of LGT Venture Philanthropy‘s support to scale proven local solutions, the ICats Program was established to provide additional know-how to social organizations. The program connects social organizations in need of professional know-how, and experts with the desire to apply their knowledge in a meaningful way, thus acting as “Impact Catalysts”. This is how the name ICats came about. Global corporations can integrate the ICats Program into their leadership development programs to promote responsible leadership through first hand experience.