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“If you can’t support us, don’t stop us either” – young women have a very clear message for society.
‘International Day of the Girl Child’ – note the very specific use of the word, ‘Girl’. Why is it that some phrases seem incomplete without the word ‘girl, ‘female’, ‘women’ or ‘she’ thrown in? It’s not that we create a fuss to ‘play the gender card’. It is because unless you are in fact a ‘girl child’, you cannot understand the struggle for true empowerment.
International Day of the Girl Child (IDG), October 11th, is a UN-declared international observance day to support greater opportunities for girls and awareness of gender discrimination they endure worldwide. To celebrate this day, Plan India gave young women and girls the opportunity to step into the shoes of influential leaders in a series of takeovers. The #GirlsTakeover initiative was meant to provide enhanced visibility and investment in these young girls.
For many of the young girls I had the honour to meet, I realized that power is simply the ability to bring about a cognitive shift – for those who believe that girls are undeserving of opportunities or simply cannot do so. These girls know they are able. They want to bring this to the forefront and challenge notions and stereotypes about their gender.
The International Day of the Girl event started with a senior delegate talking about how the struggle is real and exists every single day. She spoke about a young woman who was chosen to be a representative at the event; however her workplace manager did not grant her a leave for the day. After much cajoling, the office manager agreed. But at midnight she informed the delegate that her parents were refusing to let her attend the event!
This highlighted clearly what one of the girls told me – the challenge is first about convincing your loved ones rather than the outside world. The girls and young women shared their experiences as part of Plan India’s #GirlsTakeover initiative where these girls ‘took over’ diplomatic missions in Delhi.
Riya from Dwarka has just completed her first year of graduation and spoke of her passion for singing, drawing and her ambition to become a fashion designer. She was involved in the takeover as representing the High Commissioner of South Africa. She told me, “I had the opportunity to meet people from other departments too who shared their experiences. They told me about challenges at their work and their viewpoint on relations between South Africa and India. They also told me how they felt about being in India and their experience interacting with people in our country.” Riya mentioned how polite the seniors were and how they went out of their way to make her feel valued and special.
The girls also spoke of their learnings beyond textbooks. Khushboo, a confident 19 year old, spoke of the imports and exports of South Africa as well as the languages spoken there. She spoke of how she learnt through talking to seniors and Indians living there as well. Pratibha, who represented Plan India, took over as a Deputy Administrator. She interacted with members from the Swedish Embassy and spoke of Fika. “I learnt about a part of Swedish culture known as Fika which means ‘to have coffee and cookies’ which was so interesting and fun.”
Vidhi, a student at a Gurgaon school was a part of the takeover and interned with Plan India as well. She stated, “As a part of this internship I worked for Saksham (a non-profit working for the differently abled) and Ericsson Digital Learning Centre, to impart vocational training to people with differential needs so they can take up jobs and earn a living for themselves. When I went to the Swedish Embassy as the Ambassador we had a staff meeting where we discussed gender issues.”
The girls highlighted how they realized that stereotypes have a strong hold on the mind. Khushboo told me, “It is only when interacted with people of a different country that I realized that they are not rude as I had heard; they were in fact so friendly and warm to all of us.” Pratibha highlighted a gesture so small yet so significant. ‘‘They had Vidhi’s name on the door, laminated, as one does when they hold a position in office. I found that a huge sign of respect and support for us and I felt so proud, even if it was a team member’s name”, she said.
The humility with which Pratibha said this was admirable. Without realizing it, she herself passed on such a strong message – that we must all raise each other up as girls and women. It is only when we support and help each other that we can all move forward. Barely in her twenties and such insight!
They further shared their learnings from the whole experience and Vidhi went on to mention that female stereotypes are derived from male stereotypes as well, where the men feel pressured in their roles and women feel the results. That needs to change for both men and women, not just women alone.
Pratibha spoke of the role of women in bringing about greater awareness. “The mother is the very first teacher to her children. If this is done all through childhood, this is the message that shall be strengthened. The boys are made to feel that they have no limits whereas we are constantly reminded to be within our boundaries. We need to have parents think differently and think of us as equal to boys.”
Riya went on to highlight the support she receives from her father. “In the morning when I was leaving with my father, the lady next door told him isse sar pe mat chadao (make her arrogant/ too big for her boots). My father retorted that she’s a girl, that’s why I am making sure I do all I can for her,” she exclaimed happily! “I am proud to be from a family who didn’t pressure me into marriage and always encourage me.”
Khushboo signed off the session with words of wisdom much beyond her years. “We are not just made for the kitchen. We can accomplish anything we set our mind to.” The most beautiful words I heard all day for the girl child everywhere, as Khushboo rightly said, “To all parents and people in society – please support us. And if you can’t support, don’t stop us either.”
If you would like to be a part of this initiative, and help create a more just world for all our girls, learn more about this initiative and you can become a volunteer or donate to support Plan India’s valuable work.
This article is part of the #LeaveNoGirlBehind campaign supported by Plan India, of which Women’s Web is a proud media partner.