I am jumping ahead here in my blogging journey as I’ve not actually written about our move to India, need to get myself sorted and write more!!
But it was International Women’s Day yesterday and I felt compelled to write about my experience taking part and how it’s really shaped my thoughts….
I’m sure most people reading this blog have grown up in a Western society, I most definitely have spent all my time up until now in the UK, I have a good education and had a good career. I have been very privileged, for the most part, not to have experienced too much discrimination for being born a woman. I like to think my parents were overjoyed to have a daughter as their firstborn child and then my sister a few years later. Certainly when my daughter was born 5 years ago I felt the luckiest person in the world and although she can be challenging I am very proud of the feisty, stubborn (!), independent girl she is turning out to be.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I had never really experienced first hand the terrible inequalities women face simply for being women. The times that I have encountered discrimination I was able to draw on my own independence and self worth and fight back to challenge what I was going through and change the outcome. I also am lucky to be surrounded by men, my dad, my husband, my friends and family who all firmly believe in gender equality.
But what if all of this was not a given, what if I had been born into a family who did not want a girl, who thought about burning me at birth as I was a burden to my family. Hearing stories yesterday really showed what a stark reality this is for many women in 2018 in India and I’m sure in many other countries around the world. Women here are not expected to look men in the eye, they have to be subservient, they experience terrible domestic violence (often in front of their children which then reinforces to their sons the ‘right’ men have to beat their wives), they are denied a basic education and can be married off in their teenage years. Basic sanitation is also a major issue in rural India, villagers use the fields as a toilet – women can only do this when it’s dark and run the risk of being raped under the cover of darkness.
I am not saying there is not discrimination against women in the UK, there definitely is and this must change. The inequalities I see in India are so startling as they are on such a basic level and compromise the most basic of human rights.
Things are starting to change over here and there are amazing charities and NGOs fighting to give women the equality they deserve. The school that I volunteer at, Shanti Bhavan takes in 24 new students each year, always 12 girls and 12 boys. The girls are educated in exactly the same way as the boys, they work really hard at building self-confidence and self-worth, they play football, they are expected to go to college and secure themselves good jobs. Seeing the girls developing into confidant, highly intelligent young women is amazing especially given their backgrounds as children of the ‘Dalit’ caste, the so called ‘untouchables’. This school has already smashed the perception that poor children are some how less intelligent, less deserving of a good start in life and most importantly are bringing up the boys to respect women and see them as their equals. Especially powerful when some of these boys return to their homes in the school holidays and witness first hand the violence of their fathers against their mothers. The boys at Shanti Bhavan are defying their circumstances and helping to bring about a change in today’s India, respecting all human life whether male or female. If you want to learn more about this school there is a fantastic document on Netflix called ‘Daughters of Destiny’. There is also a book called ‘The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter’ written by Shilpa Raj, one of the pupils of Shanti Bhavan.
If anyone would like to help with the great work this school does we have set up a fundraising page with the aim of sponsoring one child for a year
We all have a massive responsibility to help drive this change, bringing up our daughters to believe they can be whoever they want to be, supporting our friends to overcome challenges, coming together to celebrate all that is female and bashing through the wall of gender inequality. I feel as a mother of a son I must bring him up with a healthy attitude to respect and believe in equality for everyone.