Recently I was part of a field trip visiting World Vision projects in communities in North West Delhi, India. Led by World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello, it was an amazing time, seeing the real difference World Vision was making in the lives of the vulnerable and marginalised, through infant nutrition programs, improving the lives of children with disabilities, to micro-credit projects, and child rescue and rehabilitation. It was my third visit to India, my first as a World Vision Ambassador. I had so many deeply moving and inspiring experiences.
Vandana and me at World Vision’s centre for disabled children in a North West Delhi community
Among them was meeting a young woman leader, Vandana. At only 23, she is a powerhouse for change in her community, inspiring other young women to stand up for themselves, speaking out about harassment and violence and encouraging them to be politically active. She is respected and has the attention of local leaders and politicians. If she asks them to support her projects, they do. She was recently subjected to ongoing harassment by a man sending offensive messages to her phone. She arranged to meet him. However when he turned up he was greeted not by her but by police, who she had notified. He stopped harassing her after that. This is the kind of bravery that inspires other girls in India – and women and girls everywhere. She is finding her voice and using it (Lesson one in another article which appears below). I interviewed Vandana for International Women’s Day today.
What got you interested in trying to help other girls? Please describe some of your personal experiences that led you to this, for example, being involved in self defence classes.
Its a long story but just to get it short, I have had some bad experience when I was just around 12 years with a neighbour which led me to fight for my own safety. This has led me to understand what other girls go through and therefore I help them. I had learnt self defence to gain confidence and be equipped. This has helped me to be more bold and so I ensured that the other girls in my community also go through self defence classes.
How long have you been volunteering/working at the disability centre? Why do you think this is important?
I have been volunteering at the centre for the last six months. Many of the disabled children are neglected at home and do not go anywhere hence I feel it is important for them to come out of their homes, play with their friends, learn something and feel they are also important.
How have you tried to inspire other young people to be active in their communities and also to apply political pressure? Do you have your family’s support?
I am lucky to have a family that trusts me and supports me. The political system is for us but very often we do not make use of it but from my experience I know we can get a lot of benefits from them so I encourage the young girls to approach the police or any other officer to ensure that justice is given to them. Many parents think it would be shameful to be seen at the police station so they need to understand that we have to fight for our rights and get justice through the system. Now since we have formed youth groups as a group we go the police and local leader to get their support. We have helped many girls and so the moment we enter the police station as a group they cannot send us away and have to help.
What would you like to see India’s political leaders do to improve the situation for women and girls? Do you think there is more of a desire and determination to fight back?
More awareness is needed and also the police should immediately note down complaints and act upon it. Women police should be present at all the police stations and they should be sensitive to our needs. We also need parks in our areas for the girls so that we can also come out of our homes to play and interact with each other. Now are parks have men playing cards and drinking so unsafe for us. Young girls like me are now sensitized and therefore we are not fearful and want to fight back however there are many girls who probably are scared. Therefore it’s very important to get more girls into our youth groups so that we are united.
Vanada and young people with our WV team after a demonstration by the young women of their self-defence skills
What are your hopes for the future?
I want to see a change in our country especially regarding the safety of women and girls. We want to be safe here in our country.
A few other offerings for International Women’s Day
After a meeting of 30,000 suffragettes in 1906, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence said she had “never met anyone so fearless as were these young girls. I never saw a suffragette, under menace of violence, otherwise than cool and collected.”
‘Nine Inspiring Lessons the Suffragettes can teach feminist today’ by Kira Cochranewas published in The Guardian in May last year. I often turn to it when my energy is flagging. I hope it will inspire my fellow activists.
These are the nine lessons:
• Find your voice, and use it
• Sweetness is overrated
• Take strength from the haters
• Accept that those haters will include other women
• Fortune favours the brave
• Publicity is power
• Strength through solidarity
• Never give up
• Accept victory – nothing else
There are often arguments today about who should represent feminism, but the suffrage fight suggests we need the whole spectrum: the rabble-rousers, theorists, dogged campaigners, sympathetic politicians, those whose wit draws women to the cause, those whose anger keeps them motivated, and those who quietly, conscientiously chip away at issues that make others give up in despair. We need those who refuse to see any conceivable option but victory. Women like the one who wrote to the Daily Telegraph in 1913. “Sir, Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual. 1. Kill every woman in the United Kingdom. 2. Give women the vote. Yours truly, Bertha Brewster.”
Their rebellion will go on…
Listen to Emily Blunt reading Emmeline Pankhurst’s electrifying speech from 14 July 1913: ‘Kill Me Or Give Me My Freedom’ at The People Speak event, London, September 2012.
And this personal communication from my friend, colleague and co-editor (Big Porn Inc: Exposing the harms of the global pornography industry, Spinifex Press) Abigail Bray:
The other day i was thinking about how the suffragettes were so militant, even though they mostly dressed like ‘ladies’, damaged public property, annoyed the aristocracy, died sometimes, when on hunger strikes and recognised that they were involved in a civil war against the patriarchal state, how this recognition has been largely lost.
It’s time to recognise it anew.
See also: Killjoys, Wowsers And The P-rn Wars, Dr Helen Pringle, New Matilda, January 19, 2012