International Women’s Day: A Celebration of Empowered Women

Today marks International Women’s Day — a day to reflect on and celebrate the work being done around the world to free and empower women. It’s a day to honor and recognize the many women who are contributing to this work by speaking out and standing up for those still suffering.

Women like Narayanamma.

Narayanamma grew up in a poverty-stricken community in rural India, yet still had a promising start to life. Not only was she able to attend school as a child, but she was able to continue her education through 10th grade.

Sadly, extreme poverty took its toll.

Narayanamma’s father was very old and unable to support her family. Her mother struggled with mental illness and was also unable to work. Being an only child, Narayanamma was their only hope for income and support. Her parents did not want her to marry, as it meant she would leave the house to live with her husband’s family, unable to contribute to the family income.

So, at the age of 15, Narayanamma was dedicated as a jogini (temple prostitute); in essence, “married” to a goddess.

She immediately dropped out of school to fulfill her temple duties. These duties involved her being used sexually by the men of her village. As hope slowly faded from her life, Narayanamma began to feel severely exploited and was saddened that she would not be able to have a real husband.

Men came and went. Some offered Narayanamma hope and promises of a lasting relationship, but after she became pregnant, she was abandoned.

“Men think that no one will stand up for joginis and challenge them,” she says. “Men use us to satisfy their desires, then they forget us. No wonder we feel worthless. For us, if just one woman is abused, this gives permission for all of us to be abused. If one woman loses respect, we all lose respect.”

It was a dark time in her life. Her spirit was broken and she was overwhelmed by self-doubt and fear.

But love and generosity showed up when she least expected it.

Because of the compassionate support of friends like you, DFN partners were able to start working in her village to help empower and free joginis from the exploitation and abuse they face daily.

Narayanamma received funds through our economic development programs to set up a small  stall selling basic provisions. Because of the funds she received, she was able to escape the clutches of dishonest lenders – which meant she avoided being forced into exploitative bonded labor.

Her life trajectory has changed for the better. She still faces challenges, but her mother’s mental health has improved and she is able to send her two children to school.

One thing Narayanamma knows for sure — she will fight so that other young women can escape the life of a jogini. She now works with our anti-trafficking unit to challenge the practice and works hard to protect joginis from sexually transmitted diseases and ill-health.

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“I am very sad when I see girls being made joginis,” she says. “I’ve helped to stop dedications. In one dedication we stopped, the girl was then able to marry someone who would be a real husband.”

Life still isn’t easy for Narayanamma, who is now 24-years-old. But she perseveres. Her own experience has empowered her to raise awareness of this exploitative, centuries-old practice and it drives her to help others find the same hope she found.

This International Women’s Day, we hope you’ll join us in becoming a catalyst for change — to help more women like Narayanamma. Here are three ways you can support and empower women today and every day of the year!

 

  1. Pray for women — even better, ask the women in your life what prayers they need!
  2. Tell the women in your life that you love, respect and support them.
  3. Donate to help free more women from exploitation.

Inspired Women Inspire Women

Kavitha beams as she works her loom.

For the first time in her life she is free. With skills she learned at a vocational training center and with the encouragement of other women in her self-help group, Kavitha is proud to have a skill she can use to support her family.

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It wasn’t always this way.

Like most Dalit women, Kavitha was born into extreme poverty and faced incredible hardship as she grew up. Unable to read or write, she was forced into domestic service with very long hours for very low pay. She said, “I thought the rest of my life would be spent like this. But thanks to my training, it’s not! I am making mats for people to use in their homes now. Not only am I helping myself, I am helping others. Thank you to those who helped make this possible.”

Kavitha is one of thousands of women who now inspire others. She gives them hope.

Last March, nearly 2,000 women gathered in locations all over India in a show of solidarity and sisterhood for a day. It was a mini-conference of sorts. Vocational training graduates were honored, achievements were celebrated, and local dignitaries brought greetings. In one village, the women were able to shut down a shop that sold illegal alcohol, and they also organized a midday meal program in their local school to ensure students received adequate nutrition.

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Beyond the certificates and the celebrations are the friendships made and the inspiration women give each other. Many women living in poverty are isolated. With the daily struggle to survive, there is no time for friendships, relaxing, enjoying a cup of chai, and laughing. These mini-conferences give women the chance to be with each other, share their joys as well as their hardships. They leave the day renewed, inspired to share their stories with others in similar circumstances.

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This is the way communities are transformed.

They are transformed from the inside out. From the ground up. One conference participant, an agricultural worker, said, “This was the best day I had in a long time. I was able to meet new friends, and I was inspired by seeing those in my village receive certificates of achievement. It made me want to join a vocational program myself.”

We salute these women.

We lift them up. Each one is precious. Each one has worth. Each one has gifts she can use for good. At Dalit Freedom Network, we are committed to empowering women.

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It takes just $5 to send a woman to a mini-conference. It takes just $100 to start a woman on the road to freedom. Will you join us in freeing Dalit women?

Free A Woman

 

At-Risk Girls and Women Discover Rescue is Real

These beautiful girls were rag pickers.

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Up at 4:30 a.m. and out of the house by 5, three girls in Bangalore climb through dumpsters and walk the streets looking for bits of paper and plastic they can turn into a few rupees. Exposed to filth and toxins, they cover their faces with rags and their eyes sting as they go about their work. The stench is sometimes overwhelming, the heat almost unbearable.

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At the end of the day, home is little refuge. Living conditions are miserable and their fathers are either absent or addicted to alcohol. Their mothers have no education and no vocational skills.

It was altogether a bleak life. But not any more.

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Today, these three girls describe their former life as “a living hell.” In their slum, most of the girls earn income by garbage collection, begging, petty theft or prostitution.

But these three have a brighter future. And so do their mothers.

Because of your support of our women’s shelters, these girls are safe. They are getting an education. They have dreams for their future. And their mothers have access to training programs. Cosmetology, tailoring, computers, English language conversational skills. These are the tools that hold the keys to a better life.

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Now these girls describe their lives with words like “safety,” “gratitude,” even “love.”

What a difference a little bit of love makes.

If you want to make a difference, please consider giving today. Any amount will make an impact on a girl or a woman. Just write “girls and women” in the comments field when you give.
 To help others understand what life is like for a great many people in India, please share this post using the links at the bottom of the page.

International Women’s Day 2015 – #makeithappen

International Women’s Day 2015 is March 8

Theme: MAKE IT HAPPEN

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All around the world, International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. (source)

It has been said that Dalit women are “thrice dalit.” They endure gender-based violence and discrimination, economic oppression through extreme poverty, and caste-based discrimination based on Dalit status. One of the basic principles of DFN’s work, as we covered in our recent #Dalit101 series, is economic empowerment, specifically women’s economic empowerment.

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Last month, a team from DFN visited several of our India schools and offices. We sat down with the director of our Self-Help and LAMP (Livelihood Augmentation Management Program) programs for nearly an hour listening to story after story of women being given new hope and changed futures by the simple, minor investment of seed money or a sewing machine and training. Most of these women know they have the potential for so much more and only need someone to:

a.) believe them, and;

b.) invest in them to get things going.

In short, they need someone to help #makeithappen for them as they continue to make things happen for their families and communities.

We also learned about past and present International Women’s Day celebrations happening all over India. These celebrations are planned to help educate, empower and generally celebrate Dalit women. This year, our amazing Indian partners have planned gatherings in strategic areas so the maximum number of women can attend.

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(photos from IWD gatherings in 2014)

International Women’s Day, for us,  is a day to say “Dalit women matter.” That they are of value and purpose… not for what they do or can provide others, but simply by being born. Our director of LAMP beamed as he told us the stories of seeing these women gather together, sharing their pain as well as standing together in hope for a better future for themselves and their children.

This month, in honor of International Women’s Day, there will be 8 event locations over 6 different days with an expected 3800 – 4000 women attending. This is extraordinary. We wish we could attend each and every gathering to encourage, support and elevate these women. And we commend our amazing Indian partners for creating the time, space and resources to celebrate Dalit women.

As Dr. Ambedkar has said,

I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.

Join us this month as we celebrate and support Dalit women. Help us #makeithappen for Dalit women.

Did you know it costs only $100 to free a woman from a life-cycle of abject poverty? With an investment of $100, a woman can receive the means and training to start her own business… whether that is selling buffalo milk, a fruit and veggie cart, grinding and selling chili powder, tailoring and sewing projects. It is such a minimal investment with an immeasurable return.

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