We started with a vision. A vision to empower adolescent girls and young women to stand up for themselves and emerge as changemakers. As leaders. As live-ers of their rights and dreams. As believers.
Every year, we at The Gender Lab work in schools across Mumbai, Delhi, and Jind (Haryana), where 20-25-year-old women (The Gender Lab fellows) mentor adolescent girls in solving social issues in their communities. Together, they take up a social issue, research it by going on the field, talking to people or reading about it, and then taking action.
Some of the issues which they raise are access to safe drinking water by complaining to the municipal corporation, talk to the police about the sexual harassment faced by women and girls in their area, ensure safety in their community to help them step out of their homes without being scared, raising gender issues prevalent at home to claim their space, etc.
Ten years later, we stand with the same vision. Only this time, we have 30,000+ girls and young women sharing that vision with us. The dream is to empower ourselves and each other, stand up against gender-based violence, question gender stereotypes, exercise our power as girls and women, and raise our voice.
This year, on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl 2020, The Gender Lab acknowledged and celebrated the voices of adolescent girls by hosting an event ‘मैं बोलूंगी‘ (I will speak up). This aligned with UNICEF’s theme, ‘My voice, our equal future‘.
The intention was to amplify the voices of adolescent girls to stand up for their rights, to amplify their work in their communities, and to enable them to reimagine a gender-equal world. The highlight of the event was the coming together of around 300 adolescent girls from both rural and urban settings, despite the constraints they have been facing in the midst of the CoVid-19 pandemic like lack of financial support, safety, internet connection, increased domestic work at home, exposure to gender-based violence, and discontinued education.
These girls came together that day to make the event happen, to make their event happen. For the first time ever, we hosted an all-adolescent-girls panel discussion. We believe in shared power, and the organization of this entire event was centred around the needs expressed by the girls, girls themselves co-holding the panel discussion, setting topics to be discussed, and hosting the event.
A group of girls volunteered to mobilize their friends online from school and community and assisted our outreach team. Their ‘didis’ (The Gender Lab fellows who mentored them) got in touch with them, and with their help, we could reach out to girls from the remotest places! The panellists and the moderator spent each day practising with the team (our daily dose of inspiration!) and preparing for the D-day.
The panel girls were selected to consist of girls from all spheres of representation like geography (urban and rural), class, caste, and religion, which enriched the panel with intersectional, inclusive, and wholesome insights. These were also the girls who had already brought a change in their community by working on social issues like caste and gender discrimination, health and hygiene, clean public toilets, awareness on traffic rules, girls’ right to education and women employment.
So when these girls spoke on the panel, they spoke from their lived experiences. It would be safe to say that together, they showed us how an adolescent girl could question things around her, take ownership of social issues and utilize their leadership skills and the fact that girls are capable of bringing change in the world.
Other values that they showed throughout the preparation of the event was sisterhood and perseverance. When 15-year-old Ravina from Jind felt she wasn’t speaking well during the practice round, Siddhi and Qamar from Mumbai immediately encouraged her! “रवीना, आप अच्छा बोल रहे हो। लम्बी सास लेलो अभी फिरसे कोशिश करते हैं।” (Ravina, you are speaking well. Take a deep breath now and let’s try again). When Pratibha from Delhi, who was hosting the event, showed immense patience and confidence while practising, which increased our belief that we can make the event happen successfully!
Muskan and Abitha were facing many mobility and internet issues, and yet somehow, with blurred screens and cracking audio, they were present for every practice session so that they could speak about the change they made in their community.
“When we stepped out in the community to speak to people to treat boys and girls equally, we were finally able to speak our minds and heart out because we were feeling confident.”
– Anju, Haryana
With this kind of strength and support with us prior to the event, added to the unyielding presence of The Gender Lab fellows and team in mobilizing girls for the event, planning the flow of the event, constantly encouraging the girls (even talking to 70-80 girls in a day!), designing a workshop and preparing to make the day perfect for their girls, we geared up for 11th October.
In the morning, about 300 girls joined us on the Zoom call from across Mumbai, Delhi, Jind (Haryana) to imagine and create a gender-equal world for each other. These girls belong to varied identities and diversities, but one common string that brings them together is their journey of being the changemakers in their community and solving issues on the ground through their projects.
Here is what they want caregivers, educators, leaders and decision-makers to know:
In the evening, the initial plan was to do a live panel discussion with the girls. However, after realizing that adolescent girls still don’t have mobile phones or proper internet connection, a part of the panel discussion was recorded and screened.
14-year-old Abitha Kounder from Mumbai spoke about the project she and her group did on clean public toilets. Her team wrote a letter to the MLA to raise this issue. She shared that this journey has helped her to be more vocal and build teamwork qualities.
15-year-old Ravina from Jind said that now a girl in their community has resumed her studies because of the project done by her. She gained courage and confidence and is able to speak in front of people now.
She said on the panel that the thoughts and ideas of adolescent girls matter so that they don’t have to face the atrocities that their mothers and grandmothers suffered. They want to put an end to this cycle of suffering. She really wishes to hear from the world that girls are capable of doing whatever they dream of and feel like doing.
We launched ‘Main Bolungi song‘ for the girls all across the globe on this day. This song conveys the turmoil of emotions girls goes through, but they say ‘Main Bolungi’. This song is written and composed by Preeti Kanungo and sung by Tanya Jain, who are both The Gender Lab fellows. We hope to encourage the voices, dreams, and magic of all the adolescent girls out there with this song.
Together, we believe, we can create a gender-equal world!
Note: If you want to co-create the ‘Main Bolungi’ song in your regional language with us, we would love to explore that! Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org