Among all those who’ve taken to ink to communicate their angst, I doubt that anyone has been able to illustrate the anguish of marginalisation in the society like Toni Morrison.
October 11 was observed as International Day of the Girl Child world over. However, it is Morrison’s immortal words that I recall in its wake — “This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late.”
I think those words are ever-so-loaded in the context of the world live in today; perhaps the world would not need a call for hurrah-ing girls had the world been better to them in the first place.
Manasa P. was in class nine when she first came to VOICE Camp. Originally from Bommakal, a small village in Telangana, Manasa was enrolled in a government residential school. She lives with her mother; her father died a few years back. When she’s not at school, Manasa is busy attending to household chores. Her mother is not educated and has to work in the field to support them both.
“It is not easy being a girl in my village. Many girls of my age are already married. When parents want to get their daughters married off, it is very hard to stop them. Girls do not get to decide their own futures. Or that is what I thought; I didn’t think I could take charge of my life or future either!” says Manasa.
But Manasa’s life took a drastic turn when she came to a camp organised by VOICE 4 Girls, a Hyderabad-based NGO working towards empowering marginalised adolescent girls with critical information and life skills.
So when, some ‘akkas’ from VOICE 4 Girls came and spoke to Manasa and her friends about menstruation, gender equality, human rights, etc. She said, “I started feeling confident – about myself and my future after attending the camp. I have learnt that boys and girls are equal and deserve the same opportunities. I want to grow up and become an astronaut and maybe discover new planets! I know that to do this, I need to work very hard and not let anyone stop me.”
After attending the camp, Manasa also went on to attend VOICE’s Sakhi (friend) Camp, where she learnt how she could go back to her school and community and teach younger girls what she has learnt. “I like being a leader,” she quips. She added, “girls love learning about these things through the activity-based VOICE camp! After teaching the girls in my school, I wanted to reach out to the girls in my village also.”
Manasa went back to Bommakal and spoke to people in the village about the importance of educating girls and delaying their marriage. She also wrote a book called “Naa Laksham” (My Aim) in Telugu for the girls in her community, telling them what she learnt at camp.
Manasa is, but one example of the kind of potential a ravenous mind has – given the right tools and information! There are more than 113 million adolescent girls in India; a majority of these girls lose their childhood, education and basic human rights to poverty, ignorance, abuse, early marriage and discrimination at the hands of regressive and patriarchal norms.
Even today, the birth of a girl is bad news across echelons in society. Growing up, these girls feel no ownership of their lives, their bodies or their futures. Statistics show, a whopping 40% of girls don’t graduate class 10, and 47% are married before they turn 18! The result is a perpetuating cycle of poverty, ignorance and discrimination.
But what if, a girl entering adolescence is mentored? What if, she is given information about her body, health, safety and rights? What if she is shown that she is special; that if she can be confident and stand up for herself, she can reimagine her future? What if she is able to negotiate with her family to continue to stay in school and delay marriage till she is an adult? Wouldn’t she then be able to break out of the cycle she is trapped in?
Yes. That’s the change VOICE 4 Girls is aspiring to achieve. By organising activity-based camps at government and low-cost residential schools, where trained college students teach adolescent girls about vital aspects of their life and bodies along with some life skills and basic communicative English.
To this end, VOICE is also looking to raise funds for 25 camps which would directly reach out to more than 600 girls like Manasa. Help us reach our goal. Let, “It is not easy being a girl” not be said by the Manasa(s) of tomorrow.