All these young women were victims of acid attacks in India.
Rupa (right) has now designed her own fashion range. The Herald Sun has featured images from the shoot. It is just the best fashion photo shoot I think I’ve ever seen. Despite their suffering, multiple operations, the cruelty they have suffered, they appear radiant and determined to embrace life. Their courage shines and shames their abusers.
Indian designer Rupa, along with her friends Rita, Sonam, Laxmi and Chanchal modelled the clothing from her new range, Rupa Designs for photographer Rahul Saharan. All five women are the victims of acid attacks, which are very common in India.
In 2008, Rupa suffered extensive injuries after her stepmother threw acid in her face while she was sleeping.
“I always wanted to be a designer but after the attack there was a pause in my life,” the 22-year-old told the Daily Mail . “I was so insecure and embarrassed by my scars, I used to cover my face with a scarf,” she said.
“I always hung onto my dream but I never knew that one day it would be possible and I would be launching my own label.”
Rupa now works with the Stop Acid Attacks organisation, which helps survivors ease back into society.
If you are moved by what you have just seen and read, please decide right now to support Rupa to establish her own business to sell her lovely designs and support herself.
Our Goal is to rent a shop for Rupa in a decent locality in Delhi which Rupa can decorate as her boutique. We want to also provide her with the initial capital for her shop so that she can buy the equipment and employ other acid attack survivors to work with her.
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.”
• 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 felt like I had arrived at a wedding. The girls were dressed like brides. Their hair was immaculate. Their necks were bedecked with jewellery. Happy chatter filled the air as they awaited the biggest event of their lives so far.
These were slum girls, Dalits, on the lowest rung of India’s class ladder. Their lives before then had been spent collecting rags out of stinking piles of garbage, to sell for their family’s survival.
But today they would graduate.
There were many who believed such girls were not worthy of an education. Going to school was just for the wealthy and privileged, not to be wasted on ”untouchables”.
But a Christian NGO gave them this gift. These girls were not unclean but worthy of dignity and respect. Worthy, even, of an education. The basic human right of education belonged to them as much as anyone else.
I was travelling in India with two girlfriends and two of our daughters, visiting aid projects. I was given the great honour of giving out the graduation certifications.
After the ceremony, the girls joined together and sang We Shall Overcome in Hindi. We all cried.
The girls now had hope; not just for themselves, but for their whole families. They were the first in their families to learn how to read and write. No more wading through muck and slime to scavenge something to sell to be able to eat.
I realised anew that day the power of education, not just in the life of one individual girl, but to break entire cycles of poverty.
A new film, screening in Australia for the International Day of the Girl Child on Friday, drives this message home with compelling and intimate force.
Internationally acclaimed, Girl Rising shows the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world.
It tells the stories of nine girls born into cultures where girls come last.
”It’s a simple fact,” narrator Liam Neeson says, ”there is nobody more vulnerable than a girl.”
Girls are marginalised and discriminated against, denied opportunities due to harmful traditions and social norms. There are 66 million girls currently out of school. And yet, educating a girl can break the cycle of poverty in just one generation.
If India enrolled 1 per cent more girls in secondary school, its GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. A girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 per cent more as an adult. Girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be married as children.
A child born to a literate mother is 50 per cent more likely to survive past the age of five. Educated mothers are more than twice as likely to send their children to school.
Girl Rising chronicles the struggles they face in this fight for an education: early marriage, extreme poverty, child slavery. In daydreams they picture rows of sharpened pencils at desks, the chant of the alphabet, of school uniforms and shelves full of books.
Suma works as a bonded labourer in Nepal. Sold at six, and called ”Unlucky Girl” by her owners, she sleeps in the goat shed, eats scraps from her master’s plate and is beaten daily. Eventually social workers enrol her in a Room to Read night class.
They demand she be set free, telling her owners that bonded slavery has been illegal in Nepal since 2000. Suma becomes the last bonded worker in her family.
”I am my own master now,” she says. ”After me, everyone will be free; I feel like I can do anything.” Suma wants to use her education to help all girls get to school.
Azmera is 13. Her widowed mother is under pressure to marry her to an older man. But her older brother says he will sell everything he has to keep her in school, thus avoiding a fate that will see 38,000 girls married today.
Amina, in Afghanistan, is married as a child to a cousin. ”My body is a resource to be spent for pleasure or profit,” she says. But she wants to change things for other girls.
”I will speak. I will not be silenced. I am the beginning of a different story.”
She lays out a challenge to all of us. ”Don’t tell me you are on my side; your silence has spoken for you.”
As the film tells us: ”These girls hold our future in their hands. If they get what they need incredible things will happen.”
The gang-rape of a 23-year-old student in a moving bus on the night of December 16 in the capital city of Delhi has triggered anger, outrage and shock amongst every citizen this country.
The National Crime Records Bureau records 572 rapes reported from Delhi for the year 2011. This year 635 rapes had already been reported as of December 15, 2012, Rape is not a problem that afflicts Delhi alone. In recent months, we have seen a rising crime graph against women being reported from virtually every corner of the country including Haryana, Kerala and Bangalore.
Each time a rape is reported, civil society reacts with anger and outrage, which unfortunately dies down and is forgotten, until the next time. The question to ask: what is the inflexion point? At what stage do we say collectively and in one voice: Enough.
Many solutions have been offered in the light of this particular gang-rape and in the past. Some of these include:
1. The setting up of fast track courts (as in Rajasthan recently) to ensure speedy trials.
2. The imposition of maximum, exemplary sentence.
3. The immediate clearing of all pending cases involving crimes against women.
4. Immediate training and sensitisation of police force to crimes against women, including domestic violence, molestation and sexual assault.
5. The immediate passage of pending bills that seek to protect women, including the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill 2012 and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2012
6. Consultations with the Ministry of Human Resources to see how best to address the issue of sensitising boys through the school curriculum.
7. National-level, open consultations involving civil society and other stake-holders on how best to tackle the growing misogyny and hostility against women as well as rising crimes against them.
Despite having so many women in positions of political leadership, a survey by TrustLaw found India to be ranked as the worst country in the world for women. At a time when women are increasingly claiming their rightful share of half the sky and asserting their autonomy and independence, the rising crimes against them are conducted with absolute impunity by criminals who have no fear of the law.
We are writing to you in the hope that you will direct government and judiciary to take special note of the escalation of gender violence and work together on a priority basis to implement the measures detailed above.
Lack of gender justice, lack of fear of the law, police and judicial apathy, failure of governance and shrinking public spaces is a matter of grave concern, not just for women but for every citizen of this country.
‘It’s a Girl’, a disturbing but awareness-raising film, screened in Sydney last night. I was asked to say a few words. Here they are.
It’s a girl.
I’ve heard those words three times in my life.
Unlike the women we will hear about tonight, those words brought joy. It’s a girl. Three times for me – each child a cause for celebration.
It’s difficult, actually I would say impossible, for those of us in a country like ours, to imagine the dread that comes for other women in other worlds, when they hear these words. The words are not delivered with joy. They are more like a curse. It’s a girl. A terrible fate awaits her. She will suffer. She will eat last. She will need a dowry you can’t afford. If she doesn’t please her husband or her in-laws, she may be burned. If she has daughters also, she will be blamed, even though, biologically, sex is determined by the male.
She may be bought and sold, traded like a piece of meat, used in brothels, sold as a bride. There are so many opportunities for her but they all opportunities to be treated badly, as second class, essentially owned, a slave, for the rest of her life.
So a dreadful option presents itself. Perhaps this suffering can be avoided, perhaps another chance for a prized son will come, if this girl child is done away with. Female foeticide, female infanticide, amounting to femicide on a global scale. According to the UN, about 200 million girls in the world today are ‘missing’. India and China are believed to eliminate more baby girls than the number of girls born in the US each year.
Girls, disposable, their lives snuffed out because of a systemic, embedded, ingrained, cultural bias against them.
I’ve spent time in the countries where these unspeakable human rights violations take place.
Some of the most moving experiences of my life have taken place in South Asia, the focus of this film.
Hyderabad, India, a home for abandoned girls and women. There were three levels. On one, young single pregnant girls, (who names on a blackboard were listed under the heading ‘inmates’), among them girls who had left their villages and come to this city to work, taken advantage of by their male bosses, made pregnant, and came here). On another level, the abandoned baby girls, and on the third, the widows.
Each floor represented a despised group of women and girls…one baby girl blinded, another with limbs broken after being thrown onto a rubbish heap. I can still picture her. She lay naked in a wire crib. I didn’t think she would live very long.
I have sat with prostituted women in brothels in India, cared for abandoned Chinese baby girls, met female children rescued from the prostitution and pornography industries of Cambodia (all used, I might add, by Australian men), and girls used as slave labourers in Thailand, through my work with World Vision. (I hope to do the same in my role as a soon to be appointed ambassador for Compassion Australia).
The hatred of women is hard to believe. The systematic, orchestrated abuse against them by individuals, groups and society as a whole. The systematic erasure of lives by an unspoken cultural decree demanding female genocide.
But there is a growing tide against these anti-women and girl practices. New grassroots actions springing up around the world. Girls themselves rising up and demanding their right to be treated with equality and fairness, girls like Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan. I want to go to school, she said. And got shot by the Taliban for it. But she lives and inspires other girls to recognise their dignity and worth and their right to live and move freely in the world and partake of all that is to offer.
This film can help. It can create awareness that will hopefully be turned into action.
As you watch it, think of the women and girls eradicated from our midst. Who knows what they might have done, what they might have achieved.
Think about how you can engage and make a difference in the lives of women? Can we give ourselves to this just cause and not retreat a single inch? Can we dare to think we really could make a difference?
The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of “gendercide”. Girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls.
The film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son.
Venue: Hoyts Mandarin Centre Chatswood Level 3 65 Albert Avenue, Chatswood NSW. See the Facebook page here.
Tell World Leaders To End the Female Gendercide in India: sign petition today.
For 6 years, we at The 50 Million Missing Campaign have been working hard to tell the world about the ongoing female gendercide in India which has killed about 50 million women in the country in 3 generations through practices like infanticide, feticide, deliberate starvation and neglect of girl under 6 years, dowry murders, bride ‘trafficking,’ “honor” killings, and “witch” hunts.
It is our goal now to get large global mandate, of at least a million people to demand official accountability and action to stop female genocide in India through the systematic, and accountable implementation of existent laws. Read more here.
Here at the MTR blog we’re not exactly what you’d call fans of the global corporation Unilever.
Unilever has been named and shamed here before for its sexist advertising through the Lynx/Axe brand as highlighted here and here, for its hypocrisy in promoting so-called “real beauty” through its Dove brand while presenting women in degrading and objectifying ways, for its Slimfast products promoting rapid weight loss (because real beauty only comes in size skinny) and for promoting skin whitening products to dark-skinned women (Unilever – to the rescue of dark not skinny women everywhere!).
Now Unilever has taken its white supremacist ways a step further, with a new Facebook application which enables Indian men to lighten their profiles, while at the same time promoting its Vaseline brand of skin lightening products. The company spruiks the product using a Bollywood star whose face is split in half, showing the (unsightly) dark side and the (magically transformed) light side.
Unilever appears to have no shame. One of its earlier skin bleaching products was called “White Beauty”. Playing on certain racial insecurities by telling dark skinned people that they can never really be beautiful – that’s what Unilever is doing. For some great Unilever dark skin despising action, check out this You Tube clip.
Of course, it’s not just Unilever. Garnier, Nivea and L’Oreal (‘because you’re worth white skin’. OK, I made that up) do the same.
These products promote ethnocentric stereotypes about the superiority of white people.
Sociology professor T. K. Oommen at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi told Agence France Presse:
Lighter skin is associated with the ruling social class, with wealth, with general betterment. Skin lightening creams for women have been a cosmetics staple in India for decades, so when a men’s cream debuted a few years ago, its success was almost ensured.
“I see patients with hypo-pigmentation (loss of pigment) resulting in white patches and hyper-pigmentation leading to darker areas – both are caused by skin bleaching agents. People buy these creams that offer false hopes, but the fact is, there is no safe way to whiten your skin. There needs to be more stringent moderating of these products, as it is a very serious problem.”
Spot on commentary here which illustrates the hypocrisy involved by placing the Dove onslaught ad about airbrushing beside that for Unilever’s ‘Fair & Lovely’ whitening cream.
This is a perfect quote illustrating the hypocrisy, also from The Guardian:
…in an era of increasing transparency, parent companies like Unilever can’t hide behind a barrage of sub-brands anymore. They can’t promote skin-lightening in India and self-esteem in England and expect to retain any credibility when it comes to their corporate brand.
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Ruby Who? is the sweet and innocent story of a little girl’s adventure in re-discovering her identity. Ruby wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others. Will she end up forgetting how to just be herself?
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