19 March 2018

Gaining their voices to say "No more violence!” through Know Your Rights Campaign

On International Women’s Day, Pragya in India mobilised communities in five districts across three states in the first phase of its biannual ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign under the project 'Comprehensive primary prevention programme addressing violence against ethnic minority women in India’ focussed on the community-led interventions to address violence both within family or private sphere and violence that occurs in the community or public sphere. The project is currently running in the states of Rajasthan, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh, with a special focus on the tribal population. In order to create safer and enabling environment for women and girls, Women Peer Group (WPG) leaders across 5 states are actively engaging the community members to provide guidance on health, nutrition, rights, and issues related to violence against women and girls (VAWG) and empower girls by taking collective actions to prevent VAWG in the target communities.

Women participate in KYR campaign in Lakhimpur, Assam
These WPG leaders, the anchors of the project conducted the KYR campaign by organizing an interactive street-play called “Ramli kyu maar khaye?” portraying one day in the life of a rural woman fictionally called Ramli, who faces domestic violence and how others in the village like mukhiya, Women Peer Group leaders and neighbours around her come forward to combat the violence done to Ramli and positively influence her husband (fictional name Devilal) to say no to violence by informing him about the adverse effects of violence on women and the existing laws that women can use to exercise their rights.  The audience applauded the performance of Pragya volunteers and had a lively discussion with the staff on countering violence against women.

The rallies conducted had the participation of both community members and school students. The posters which were developed for the campaign highlighted the issue of domestic violence, education of and celebrating the girl child. The message through these activities emphasized that as responsible citizens, we should not remain as mute spectators when we see any form of violence in our neighborhood and to deal with every act of violence in a collective and concerted manner. Around 731 people participated actively in the street play on domestic violence and the rally along with an extended outreach of over +1500 observers of the rally.
School children in Chamba participate in the rally

The campaign also employed stimulating media like SMSs in vernacular focussing on the messages related to eliminating violence and women and educating girl child. These messages reached out to over 10,000 people in the target districts. The campaign also underlined the need to ensure safe domestic spaces and recognize that domestic violence exists around all of us and there is a need to come together to uproot this evil practice which enabled a platform to villagers to voice out their concerns and emerging needs related to construction of toilets for girls in the government schools, safety of girls and domestic violence. The stakeholders also informed the villagers on various mechanisms and bodies functioning at the village and panchayat level to help and guide aggrieved women on violence-related cases and ease out the legal process.

The event saw a magnificent turnout from the local communities who were moved by the essence and spirit of the message, “Har vyakti ka hain yahi kehna, hinsa ko ab nahi hain sehna!” (Every person says, we won’t tolerate violence!). In some of the locations, like Sonitpur and Lakhimpur, people also traveled from different villages to the location of the campaign, sharing the need to have such campaigns in their villages for sensitization on the issue of domestic violence.
Our campaign event covered in Dainik Bhaskar, Rajasthan

The Know Your Rights campaign was also covered by the local vernacular newspapers in all the three states. The Know Your Rights campaign would continue for the next 2 months where Pragya will continue engaging the communities to create safer and healthier spaces for women and girls. 

7 March 2018

Empowerment Center Caretakers provide information and referral services.

Dipali Mech [name altered], a domestic worker in Assam, wants her monthly wage to be paid on time. Renu Daimary [name altered] wants divorce and compensation from her husband for the years of emotional violence that she has faced. Jamuna Saikia [name altered] and Mandira Boro [name altered] want compensation from their employer for the physical assaults they had experienced at their workplace. In Rajasthan, Sharda Kumari [name altered] wants an end of the restrictions imposed on her mobility. All of these women had once approached the Empowerment Center [set up by Pragya with support from UNTF EVAW] in their vicinity, seeking information and guidance to solve their problems. At these centers, they met the women facilitators, who are very supportive friends and mentors to them now.

Semima Khatoon is the facilitator at the Empowerment Center in Sonitpur district, Assam. She hails from Keherukhunda village and has 10e11 years of experience in the field of social work. Before taking up this role, she has taught English, Hindi, and Assamese to children in primary school and run awareness campaigns on vaccination for a local NGO. Priyanka Kumari is the facilitator at the Empowerment Center in Dungarpur district, Rajasthan. She is a resident of Chak Mahori village and has completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in History, Political Science, and Geography. Both of them have been working untiringly to fight against illiteracy, poor access to information– that further exacerbate violence, and result in disempowerment of women and loss of their self-confidence.

Semima and Priyanka attend to people who visit the center or call on the helpline number seeking information or help. A vast majority of women approach them for seeking information on legal aid, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and career guidance. Semima recalls helping a man to get an ID for Persons with Disabilities for his daughter. She also gets calls asking about compensations/entitlements, punishments stipulated under various laws. Priyanka receives visitors asking her about training programs at the center, about government schemes and scholarship programmes for girls. Women also approach them to report incidences of eve-teasing, stalking, domestic violence, alcoholism, and polygamy. Once these cases are reported at the center, they ensure timely response by contacting the relevant authorities and support providers who can take up these cases. They ensure both prevention of and response to violence by helping women with information as well as judicial and social security services.

Semima Khatoon, Sonitpur, Assam
To be able to provide the correct information to the visitors and callers, Semima and Priyanka keep themselves updated with the latest news and legal provisions. “I have gained immense knowledge from working at the Empowerment Center. The information I share with the women also empowers me” reflects Semima. She maintains case log, visitor and call logs and promotes the services of the Empowerment Center at various events that she attends or organizes. Her day starts with reading the local newspaper and documenting cases of violence published in local news every day. This gives her a fair idea of the prevalence of different kinds of violence against women and girls in her district and new schemes that are launched. This, in turn, helps her give feedback to the Pragya team and local mentors, on the priority issues for village level campaigns. 

A diploma holder in Computers Application, Semima also teaches women to use the computer and helps them with application forms for higher education or job opportunities. Priyanka, like a skilled librarian, knows all the resources in the Center including which book is in which rack. She finds it easy to immediately take the relevant books/pamphlets out when people ask for them. Priyanka takes regular note of the problems reported by the women who visit the center. She finds that most of the problems are related to water access, shortage of food and violence in the domestic sphere. She feels that the Empowerment Center also provides women a safe space to take a break and use the toilet, in between their long journeys through the town or day-long struggle with paperwork and follow-ups at the government offices.

Priyanka sharing information with a visitor
at Empowerment Centre, Dungarpur, Rajasthan 
Semima and Priyanka have developed rapport, linkage, and contacts with local law enforcers and NGOs, from whom they seek advice and also refer the cases. “These linkages are essential to tackle the cases of child marriage, dowry-related harassment reported to the Center. I hope to see a gender-equal society and I know this would happen gradually. At least, for now, the women from the villages have a center, which they can call theirs, and feel free to step in for any of their queries,” says Priyanka. Today their peers value their opinion and have respect for them for the knowledge they have gained through their work experience. They are considered role models in their village for being the people who have not given up on their aspirations and for working passionately for a cause close to their heart.

Bringing children back to schools

The earthquakes and aftershocks which struck Nepal in 2015 had an enormous impact on the country’s poorest communities. The effect on Nepal...