By Emily Nicola
Recently I travelled to India with Opportunity International Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that provides small loans and community development services to families in developing countries. India is a place that cannot really be explained – you have to experience it for yourself. There’s nowhere else in the world that provides such a feast for your senses; the noisy traffic, the aroma of street food, the bright colourful saris and the sweetness of chai tea. It’s joyful chaos.
It is also a place where lots of women still fall short in many different aspects of life. Not only do women face poverty, inadequate education, discrimination and a lack of opportunity, but also, overwhelmingly, nearly 50% of Indian women experience violence in their own homes. What is even more disturbing is that 50% of men, women, boys and girls believe that this is normal. It’s due to the cultural norms that undervalue girls, the acceptance of men controlling and abusing women and the pressure to stay quiet in order to protect family reputation. All of this has caused the cycle of abuse to go unchecked.
Opportunity International has recently partnered with My Choices Foundation in Hyderabad, Telangana, to reduce violence against women and girls in India. One of the ways this is achieved is through training and employing local women like Shahjahan (pictured below) as PeaceMakers. They work within their communities to protect women and girls and build safer, stronger families through free counselling, legal aid and women’s rights education.
The extent of a challenge like this can be overwhelming. However, meeting and speaking with some of these PeaceMakers left me feeling hopeful that change is happening. Whilst many of these PeaceMakers have experienced domestic violence themselves, the focus of our conversations wasn’t on what had happened to them. Rather, it was on their journey to be “Champions of Change.” The overwhelming response I got from these women was the strength and confidence they felt as a result of being a PeaceMaker. Whilst this sense of purpose now comes from their role in helping others to help themselves, it started with self-empowerment through education and awareness.
“I do not wish women to have power over men but power over themselves” – Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft, eighteenth-century writer, philosopher and advocate of women’s rights, is one of many who urged women to take control of their own lives through education and awareness. Whilst we can ask everyone to contribute to creating change in this world, at the end of the day, change starts in our own communities. It starts with ourselves. The PeaceMakers are living proof that this is happening and is succeeding. These women have chosen to be leaders within their own spheres of influence. They have committed to take pragmatic action to change their communities for the better from the ground up. I feel blessed to have met them and to have witnessed this type of transformation taking place.
Tuesday 8th March marks International Women’s Day; a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the globe. Whilst there are many places in the world where there is still a long way to go to reach gender parity, a part of me feels hopeful to know that in a tiny corner of Hyderabad, a ripple of change is being created by women doing it for themselves.
Emily grew up in Canberra, ran away to South America after completing a double Bachelor of Marketing/Spanish and is now happy to call Sydney home. Currently she is the Supporter Development Coordinator at Opportunity International Australia, creating tangible ways for supporters to connect to the programs overseas. Emily is passionate about initiatives that aim to change attitudes and behaviours that create positive social change for both individuals and their communities, and is currently on a mission to engage the youth of Australia to make this happen.
Featured image shows the Old City, Hyderabad. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Latest posts by Guest Author/s (see all)
- No ordinary hazard: Risking climate change - February 9, 2017
- Achieving social cohesion in Iraqi “nation building” - January 26, 2017