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What would the life of the daughters or sisters, or any other girls in the families of your domestic help be if they had better opportunities? Let’s find out by talking to 4 gutsy girls who did it.
“I tell my story not because it is unique. But because it is not. It is the story of many girls”
Think of the young woman who might be coming to your homes to work as a domestic help. Imagine her life. What do you think her story might be? Or the story of a girl in her family?
Every morning, she rings the bell of your house at 7:30 am. Tends to dirty dishes and mops the house. Till a few months back, she used to fill in for her mother sometimes, but now it is a routine. Her mother told you that she is 18, but you know her age won’t be more than 16. Often, you ask about her ailing mother and sympathize. But beyond that, you don’t pause and think. Maybe because there is a cost to an action beyond that gesture, but there is a higher cost she is paying – of sacrificing a future which could have been brighter and better. Her fault — she never got an opportunity like you and me. Her dreams were never allowed to soar higher beyond the walls of her community.
Today on the #InternationalDayOfGirlChild, I try to shine the spotlight on four marginalized girls, breaking the biased narratives dominated by patriarchy. They are first generation learners in their families, who are creating their own identity, and thus are forging ahead to lead the wave of change in their communities.
Radha, Age 23 years, resident of Sangam Vihar, Delhi
“The mentality of people in the community is terrible. They believe that if a girl is going out, she must be involved in something wrong. I still remember the day when I started working, there was a big fight in the community where my father faced several uncomfortable questions,” says Radha.
Today, Radha works in the role of MIS operator at ETASHA (the non-profit which trains marginalized youth to become employable and also has been the force behind her transformation). Brimming with happiness, she shares with me about her recent promotion.
“I always felt bad when my father had to pay for my education expenses. The motivation to become independent came from there. And ETASHA made it happen”
Convincing the family amidst vehement opposition did take a lot of effort and courage, yet she never gave up. Along with graduation in commerce, she enrolled for an employability course at ETASHA. Today, Radha not only supports the education of her siblings, but also takes pride in being a part of the decision process of the family. Her mother is a tailor, and father has been a contractual worker but has been unemployed since some time now.
On being asked about gender discrimination in the family, she denies that. But is quick to add, “My sister and I were moved to government school early on in our primary education, but the brothers continued in private schools.” She ends with absolute assured positivity. “My parents always told us that because girls are smarter and can manage in a government school, but your brothers won’t be able to” she smiles.
It’s been almost three years that Radha has been working and is independent. She shares that the period has been full of challenges and personal roadblocks. And that she had to conquer them with a lot of effort, yet she feels very positive about the ripples of change that she has initiated in her community.
“I feel proud because no girl in my family has been able to study till 12th. I feel I am a role model for them because I not just finished school, but also graduation and am earning now.”
Haseena, 20 years, Sangam Vihar, South Delhi
“I started working when I was 18 years, and I love this feeling, it is so liberating.”
The first thing that strikes me about Haseena is her exuberance and positive spirit. What she has achieved being in a conservative Muslim family setup, is no mean feat, and she takes pride in sharing it. “I am from a community where even till today, the girls get married at 15 years of age , but I am 20 and can confidently tell my family that I don’t want to marry.”
She continues, “Of course, nothing would have been possible without the support of the family, especially my mother who supported me in every way” The family supported Haseena and even withheld sharing about her job for a considerable time to avoid any conflict in the community.
In 2017, the employability program at ETASHA changed the course of her life. The journey started with working as a sales executive at Haldiram’s and today Haseena works as a counsellor at a publishing house which publishes books for various medical and engineering competitions.
“My mother worked as domestic help for several years until serious medical problem didn’t let her continue. I told her not to worry that I will take care but not as domestic help but by studying and pursuing a career.”
About the gender inequality in her community, she shares “They think that if girls get educated beyond a point, they get crazy. (zyada pada likha ke dimaag chal jaata hai). And so there is always a rush to get them married as soon as possible.”
I tell her that she is an inspiration for her community. She cheerfully agrees. “I belong to the part of UP, where not even a single girl is pursuing graduation. I feel proud to have done this. And soon I can tell you Inshallah; there will be more Haseenas amongst us.”
Kajal, 20 years, Nasirpur slum, West Delhi
Kajal comes from Nasirpur slum in West Delhi. In this very densely populated slum, every year, thousands of people migrate from villages in the countryside in search of employment opportunities. While men engage in construction work, women and girls have to take up household work to ensure the survival of the family.
While Kajal’s father, who earlier worked as a labourer remains at home due to health issues, her mother is a housewife. With two elder married sisters, I ask her how she has been able to push back on her marriage till now.
“It hasn’t been easy. And I could make it because I followed a step by step approach with patience. First I convinced them for 10th, once I passed it I sought time till 12th. When I passed out of 12th, it was time to push them for graduation and job. Now my family understands that I will not stop till I achieve something in life.”
Along with pursuing last year of her graduation, she did a course in computers and teachers’ training at The Vigyan Vijay Foundation. Today, she works at a retail store near Palam in West Delhi, as a Sales Executive marketing a new variant of cooking oil. Having witnessed her journey closely, I ask her what message she has for other girls in her community.
“In my community, there are a lot of challenges. We, as girls, have to revolt and stay strong. Keep pushing; things will not happen if we aren’t determined. I was told at each step by parents and relatives that this was it and no need for more. But I keep moving. Also, without the hand-holding of The Vigyan Vijay Foundation and my mentors there, it wouldn’t have been possible.”
Arti, 21 years, Nasirpur slum, West Delhi
Arti is also a resident of the underprivileged Nasirpur community. Two years back, I had first met her during a community mobilization drive. She had finished her class 12th and used to go with her mother for household work.
Very timid and shy by nature, she had come and shared how much she wanted to continue her education. It took time but thanks to the help from the non-profit organization, Vigyan Vijay Foundation, today Arti is pursuing a course in software, and also teaches basics of computer to other young girls in her community.
Pursuing a path after school education has come with a clause. The day starts with going to a few houses for cleaning and mopping in Dwarka. This being an assumed rule of the family if she had to continue her education after school.
“My family’s condition and community’s environment is such that if I have to do anything, I shouldn’t stop bringing money for the family. So I decided to use the time after 12 pm when my work at houses gets done”
Arti decided to take her classes at The Vigyan Vijay Foundation. Because of her excellent grasp on computers, the organization provided her with a paid opportunity of imparting basic computer education to the school going girls of the community.
For Arti, the daughter of a construction worker and household help, it hasn’t been easy. But that hasn’t stopped her to aspire. “I convinced my parents to come and meet teachers at The Vigyan Vijay Foundation, and that changed a lot of things.”
It is a long way, but Arti sounds determined. “I look forward to being in a job soon, where I can use my computer skills and earn money in a proper office job. And I am confident that with even with baby steps, I shall achieve it one day.”
Educating a girl means educating an entire family and a generation. The Sustainable Development goals (SDG goals 4.1 and 4.5) and RTE (Right To Education) necessitate education for every child. Attributed to them, the access to school education for girls has improved.
However, the urgency to get the girl child married or have her contribute to the family earning early on remain significant issues at the grassroots.
There are several challenges on the ground. The biggest bottleneck is the mindset problem which inhibits girls from getting empowered. Thanks to the age-old narratives of patriarchy and illiteracy especially strong in the marginalized communities, girls are discouraged to even dream of a life outside their limited boundaries.
Just a step away from our privileged worlds where girls get access to education and career in most cases by default, there is this world of underprivileged girls.
In spite of several policies and acts, the right of girls to dream and break out hasn’t been provisioned. And that’s the reason the stories of girls like Radha, Haseena, Kajal and Arti who are rebels in their way, are breaking out and inspiring others in their communities should be widely shared.
During the process of reaching out to these girls, when I asked for their consent to share their stories, I got an emphatic affirmation. Isn’t that confidence a beautiful indicator of transformation and empowerment? And all this has been actualized by the support and mentorship of organizations working relentlessly at the grassroots to empower these girls.
As we raise confident daughters at home, let’s extend a hand of help and guidance to girls outside our peripheries. A small promise on this special day for Girl child can help many girls in a big way.
Author’s note: The International Day of Girl Child is an international observance day declared by the UN. It is celebrated every year on October 11th. First observed in 2012, the aim is to create awareness about the inequality faced by girls. The observation supports more opportunities for girls and increases awareness about gender inequality. The focus areas include access to education, nutrition, legal rights, violence, forced child marriage etc. faced by girls worldwide. The day also celebrates the successful emergence of girls and young women as a distinct cohort.
Every year this day is associated with a theme. This year’s theme is GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable.
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