Safe and violence-free environment… it’s a girl’s job!
Julie Thomas, Program Officer, is working to change attitudes towards women and girls in the villages of Sonipat and Panipat in Haryana. Amidst the many patriarchal mindsets she encounters, the courage to change among the boys and girls who participate in Kadam Badhate Chalo makes her smile.
“Ladkiya jithna awaaz nikalengi, uthne ziddi ladke banange, ye unka samajhna zaroori hai” (The more the girls raise their voice, the more stubborn the boys will become. It’s important for the girls to understand this!)
As part of Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC), PRIA and Martha Farrell Foundation have begun collaborating with government schools in Sonipat and Panipat districts, working on issues of gender, masculinities and violence against women with the young students in these mostly co-educational schools.
The principals in these schools are aware and concerned about the issue of violence against women and girls in their communities. They also recognize that during adolescence, boys and girls, stuck between childhood and adulthood, are conflicted. Principals are empathetic and want change, they want an end to violence, and they want a safer place for girls and women…
They think the solution lies only with girls!
Girls must use their ‘magical powers’ to ensure that boys are not tempted. “Kya aap ladkiyo ko sikha sakthi hai ki kaise unko love letter na mile ladko se?” [In KBC], can you teach girls how can they avoid getting love letters from boys? one principal asks me.
Another informs me girls have a higher tolerance level. This is God’s gift only to women. Would I be teaching girls to make tolerance their weapon? “Ladkiyo main bohut sehensheeltha hai, jo bhagwaan ne sirf unko diya hai. Hum apne ladkiyo ko kaise bataein ki sehensheeltha ko apna hathiyaar banayo.”
In my work with youth, I often meet the parents of young girls and all of them invariably ask me how do they keep their girls safe? How can she avoid violence? It’s a parent’s job to be practical, they say.
“Jab ladke ladkiyo ka peecha karte hain, tab ye ladkiya unko apne daant dikha deti hain. Phir jo hota hai wo kiski zimmedari? Hum unko kaise bataein ki daant dikhana theek baath nahin?” (When boys follow girls, then these girls bare their teeth to repel the boys. Then, who is responsible for what follows? How do we teach the girls that baring their teeth is not a good thing?)
I have no answers to these questions, only my conviction that changing attitudes will take time, maybe even 50 years! The journey is long, requiring continuous intervention. KBC works to pave another road, away from the generations-old patriarchal path so many young girls and women are being forced to walk.
Slowly, we are gathering fellow travelers on this new road. Like the young boy, who is a KBC youth group member. The other day, he shared a post on his Facebook page which said that it’s a girls right to walk wherever she wants to, wear whatever she wants …. it’s a boy’s job to check himself and stop being a hindrance.
It takes courage to change.