Empower One: Change the Future of Many

It was in a small rural village in the state of Jharkhand, India, that I first met Naisban.  As we sat together on the floor of her home, I listened intently as she talked to me about the pressing issue of illiteracy in her community. In an area lacking proper sanitation and sufficient water supply, Naisban is one woman who is motivated to create far-reaching change.

Naisban
Naisban outside of her home

As we talked, I watched her eyes light up as she discussed the opportunities for development in her area. Unlike many women and children in India, she is fully literate, having been educated all the way through secondary school. A leader in her community, she has earned the respect of both the men and women through her initiation of meetings related to community development.

Naisban believes that literacy is a powerful tool in the fight to empower girls and women around the world. Her goal is to see every woman and girl in her village become literate and for many years, Naisban has dedicated her time to educating women and young girls by building her own literacy program.

India Girl
Empower One Girl: Change Many

India has one of the largest illiterate populations in the world. In 2001, it was reported that only half of the female population was literate. However, literacy rates have increased within the last decade, with the  female rate rising to 65.5% in 2011.

Much of the credit for this increase should go to women like Naisban. She is one of many women around the world who have the potential to improve the lives of girls and women in need. If you invest in the life of one woman like Naisban, you will be changing the lives of those around her.

Naisban’s passion brings to mind the life of Somaly Mam. Somaly, who was recently featured in Half the Sky, was born in a rural area of Cambodia and endured the horrors of being sold into sexual slavery. She has dedicated her life to loving and empowering young girls who have been abused and exploited by the sex trade. Her life and experience has made a difference in the lives of over 7,000 young girls in Cambodia and many more around the world.

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Photo Courtesy of somaly.org

“A seed is like a little girl,” Somaly believes, “It can look small and worthless, but if you treat it well then it will grow beautiful.” (The Road of Lost Innocence, The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine)

Millions of girls and women like Naisban and Somaly Mam are on the front lines, tirelessly fighting for women’s rights and dignity. Let’s get behind these girls and women and champion their visions and causes. By empowering even just one girl, we are changing the lives of many.

Do you know of organizations that seek to empower girls like Naisban? Tweet us @GirlsGlobe!

Want to learn about organizations that empower local girls and women?

Learn more about the Somaly Mam Foundation
On Twitter @SomalyMam

Check out the Girl Effect
On Twitter @girleffect

Sources:

Census  India 2011. http://censusindia.gov.in/2011census/censusinfodashboard/index.html
Census India 2001. http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/India_at_glance/literates1.asp

The Girl Effect. http://www.girleffect.org/
The Somaly Mam Foundation.  www.somaly.org
Somaly Mam. The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine

The Lost Daughters

I have now spent three weeks in India. It has been three weeks of an endless number of impressions, which have made me feel both inspired and frustrated, sometimes at the same time. The main reason for that is because of all the women’s activists I have met who are dedicated to change the future for the small girls of the nation. Because if it doesn’t change, there won’t be many girls left in India.

Sex-selective abortion is illegal in India but widely common. A daughter is far too often considered to be a burden and is therefore aborted in favor of a son. Why? Lack of education is usually the answer to most of the problems we are facing in the world (“If people only knew how to read / take care of their garbage / have a good health”) but female feticide seems to have other explanations. In Goa, one of the states in India with the highest standard of living and literacy rates, there are only 920 girls per 1000 boys in the range between 0-6 years. This means that despite a growing wealth the proportion of females has reduced drastically in the last 50 years.

As a response to this alarming trend the chief minister of Goa has designed a scheme which is supposed to stop female feticide, the so called Laadli Laxmi scheme. The idea is to provide 100 000 rupees to every girl child to use for her wedding ceremony. Women’s activists in Goa are furious. Dowry – the idea that the bride’s family should pay money to the family of the groom – has been illegal in India since 1961 but is still a reason to why daughters are unwanted. With the chief minister’s so-called solution the tradition is however encouraged – what else can these 100 000 rupees be called? The women I’ve met have been frustrated – isn’t it the responsibility of any progressive government to completely eliminate such traditions?

Rajeshree Nagarsekar, is one of them who believes that a solution only can be reached through a change in people’s mindset. In 2012 she started Evescape, Goa’s first women’s magazine, which she now is the chief editor of. In every issue of the magazine one picture spread is dedicated to celebrate the girl child. Parents send in photos of their daughter and write a short note about why they love them.

Meeting women such as Rajeshree makes me believe that a real solution actually can be reached, despite politicians who dodge the question and perpetuate gender discriminatory traditions.

"Journalism is not a profession, it's a mission"

"Journalism is not a profession, it's a mission"

– The only way to become a powerful nation is to start empowering your women.
These words come from Nandini Sahai from India, a woman who has been working as a journalist with focus on human development for more than 30 years.

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The Indian Enigma – Part II

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After last week’s blog describing the increasing presence of the phenomenon of the so-called “Indian Enigma,” you may have finished the article with a sense of hopelessness surrounding the undernutrition of women and girls.  However, that is not the case. Although a daunting task, non-profit organizations such as The Hunger Project, Freedom From Hunger and Oxfam International are successfully tackling these exact issues in order to improve nutrition for women and girls throughout India.

The Hunger Project works to improve undernutrition through its bottom-up strategy known as the Panchayati Raj Campaign whereby women become active local governing officials.  The Panchayati Raj Campaign mobilizes people at the grassroots level to build self-reliance, empowers women as key change agents and creates effective partnerships with local governments within a five-year cycle. In the past year, elected and empowered women representatives have led a series of successful campaigns including the Malnutrition Awareness Campaign.  The aforementioned campaign has successfully made the public aware of problems associated with malnutrition, ways to prevent and treat malnutrition, as well as the government’s role and responsibilities and how to ask for its help.

Similarly, Freedom from Hunger invites young women and girls to participate in “Learning Conversations,” a proven model whereby groups of women share information in order to foster a dialogue to inevitably create change aimed towards female empowerment.  Collaborating with local India-based organizations, Freedom from Hunger reaches over 25,000 girls and 500,000 mothers to provide educational training with a focus on empowering, protecting and educating girls. By educating women and girls about the importance of nutrition and food security, organizations such as Freedom from Hunger empower girls with the knowledge necessary to act as change agents.

Finally, according to Dr. Vandana Shiva of Oxfam International in her blog Seeds in Women’s Hands, “the seeds of food justice lie in creating food systems where seed is in women’s hands, and women’s knowledge of biodiversity is the foundation of food and nutritional security.” In order to secure food security and gender justice, Dr. Shiva suggests the following steps:

  • Recognize women’s seed breeding skills in the agricultural domain.
  • Create farming systems based on women’s nutritional knowledge, climate change, and the reduction of inputs of land, water and capital.
  • Creation of community seed banks with women managers who serve as the backbone of food security.
  • Change laws concerning intellectual property rights to remove seeds from being included as patentable subject matter, specifically in the World Trade Oranization’s Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
  • Recognize seed rights as women’s rights. Keep seeds as a public good.

With such high quality organizations working towards food security, not to mention organizations including but not limited to The World Bank, the United Nations, and the World Food Program, it is only a matter of time until poverty and undernutrition rates for Indian women and girls decline for good.

Image courtesy of the International Museum of Women  

The Indian Enigma

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India is home to one of the world’s fastest growing economies.  With a real GDP growth rate of 7.20 percent, India’s GDP purchasing power parity has risen to now serve as the fourth wealthiest state, behind only the European Union, the United States, and China. Growth in the country’s agricultural sector contributed for up to 21 percent of the GDP in 2011; however, this figure likely underestimates the sector’s importance as many rural poor households depend on the rain-fed agriculture and forestry for their livelihoods.  Although India’s economic gains should be good news for all those living within its borders, an unfortunate disconnect has recently taken shape that demonstrates the harsh remaining gender inequities.

In 2011, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its annual Global Gender Gap Report, demonstrating the state of gender inequalities around the world. From 2006 to 2011, India consistently fell in its gender equality rank in categories such as economic participation, educational attainment and health and survival.  By 2011, India ranked at 113th of 135 countries and now stands as one of the most gender unequal societies in the world. To make matters worse, a 2011 Oxfam International report found that the number of hungry people in India rose by 65 million from 1990 to 2005, rising to a figure so large that approximately one in four of the world’s hungry people now live in India. This spike in hunger and gender inequality contradicts patterns found in similar growing economies such as Brazil and Russia, causing some researchers to dub this phenomenon, “The Indian Enigma.”

Stark gender inequities are particularly true in the case of nutrition and food security. Nutrition related gender inequities can be demonstrated numerically in various forms as women and girls are continuously at greater risk for death and disease from undernutrition.  For example, Indian women suffer from a maternal mortality ratio of 230 per 100,000 live births and an infant mortality rate of 48 per 1,000 live births [1]. More than half of India’s female population suffer from anemia[2] and 35.8 percent live with an unhealthy Body Mass Index (BMI) of under 18.5.  A growing cultural preference for sons and increase of “gendercide” may be attributable to the rising gender inequalities, as parents more likely feed daughters only what food is available after the son has been fed.

Adolescent undernutrition also affects final adult body size and can result in permanent stunting or thinness.  Upon maturation, undernutrition can result in devastating intergenerational effects, whereby such women are at greater risk of having low birth weight babies, raising the baby’s risk for childhood mortality. Maternal undernutrition can also affect the developing fetus by potentially causing long-lasting negative physical and mental side effects on the health of the child. The issue of malnutrition related to maternal and pediatric development was recently brought to the forefront in a five-part series published in the renowned scientific journal, The Lancet, as researchers discovered that the food and nutrients consumed by the mother during the gestational period and by the child within the first thousand days of life were important determinants of an individual’s capability for greater learning, economic productivity, and improved health.

The good news is that there is a silver lining.  In March of 2010, the Indian Parliament’s upper house passed a bill stating that one-third of its representatives must be female.  With this bill’s passage, one can hope that women’s issues across the country will be more widely addressed, including those of food security and nutrition.


[1] To compare, the United States has a maternal mortality ratio of 24 and an infant mortality rate of 6.

[2] 51.8 percent of Indian women suffer from anemia.

Unlock a World of Possibilities

One thing that I believe in is stopping pity.

I have noticed that we are often taught to see the poverty, the hunger, the discrimination, all the problems, but not the possibilities, not the process of empowerment, development or change.

What if we see the positive reality? Isn’t it easier to solve the problem and look at the world without closing our eyes?

When we believe that girls and women are changemakers and equal citizens in their societies, able to make a difference to their own reality and the reality of others,  then we unlock a world of possibilities. Girls’ Globe is a place of raising awareness of dreadful realities facing girls and women around the world, but it is also a place where the pity should change into passion, playfulness, changemaking and positivity.

Here are two changemakers. Let’s celebrate them and stop the pity.

Don’t pity, don’t close your eyes. Open them to a world of change and potential.

Again, we would like to share this inspiring video from mamahope.org: