SAFE SPACES FOR WOMEN, SAFER COMMUNITIES FOR EVERYONE

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What are the factors that prevent the formation of women-centric collectives? Is there a favourable time of day for women or girls to get together? What do women and girls perceive as safe spaces?

A neighbourhood can flourish only if the women and girls within can interact freely and decide what’s best for them as a collective. At Aangan, a key component of our intervention objectives depend on how often the community members and leaders can come together and chart out initiatives and roadmaps. However, the absence of safe spaces for women in communities is a critical but unheralded part of determining the success of community-led initiatives. A lack of safe spaces to congregate and debate means progressive actions at the community level suffer. It also depicts an ingrained gender-based structural form of violence, where societal structure prevents women from accessing a rather basic social need. Considering the importance that such spaces hold, we decided to dwell deep by conducting a survey that we hoped would help throw more light into resolving this conundrum. 

The gendered reality in impoverished settlements

As individuals, mothers and young girls are constantly negotiating with the men in their environments and trying to break out of their gender-designated roles. Women have to contend with the men-folk in the family as well as the older womenfolk; while young girls are forced to juggle the complexities of sibling care, household chores, work/ studies and conservative social norms. What this means is really a lack of opportunity to sit together and spend time in understanding each other’s problems and arrive at workable solutions. Then, there’s the constant societal male imposition, a parochialism that prevents women from meeting each other and organizing their own collectives. Even accounting for the successes of self-help groups in areas such as microfinance, women collectives are known to still be frowned upon by males in the neighbourhood. 

Additionally, the basic physical environment, and the lack of adequate safety infrastructure tend to physically impede or be a deterrent for women leaving the house unaccompanied. Anticipated dangers and concerns around family honour both inform as well as inhibit their daily routines. This is a serious issue for women wishing to meet in public spaces, as K Viswanath and S.T. Mehrotra articulate in their journal article ‘Shall We Go out?’.  In another book on women’s safety and everyday mobility, Whitzman makes a case for environmental safety as a critical enabler that will help women congregate and form spaces amongst themselves.

The Evidence from Aangan’s Survey

The factors discussed above are not mere theoretical constructs, but rather situations that women and girls living in impoverished villages and slum settlements encounter on a daily basis. We’ve been able to ascertain this through a quantitative and qualitative research conducted with over 140 women and adolescent girls across 6 districts in as many states – Mumbai, Patna, Varanasi, Khurdha, North 24 Paraganas and Bharatpur.

Overall, 44% of women and girls do not get to meet together with peers from their community in slum settlements. If, however, one considers only adult women, this number rises to 53%; that is, over half of the women surveyed have no communication or contact with their peers. This is primarily due to restrictions imposed by family members (51%), followed by the lack of a conducive safe physical space within the community (19%).

Interestingly, of the adult women that did meet, a majority 74% chose to discuss community and child-related issues. Yet a majority (57%) of the women stated that there was no privacy in the spaces where they met, which acted as a deterrent to the quality of the discussions and the resulting outcomes.

Further, we attempted to dig deeper into what does prohibit the 44% from meeting up more regularly. Just under half of these respondents have said that they literally have no time to meet with peers due to household and family-related responsibilities. Two-thirds (67%) of the women who don’t meet, acknowledge that with a safe space for discussion, they would be able to bring up real issues that affect them, their children and the community. As for the appropriate time, the data clearly spells it out – over 88% of women and 75% of girls surveyed have selected the afternoon time as their most preferred time to meet.

The survey results reveal that the biggest challenge in creating safe conducive spaces for both women and girls is ‘family restrictions’, followed closely by the absence of privacy and a safe physical space. This shows that a gender-biased parochial mindset may be harder to overcome even if there are spaces available. It’s encouraging though that where women have been able to create a safe gathering of peers or hope to do so, their choice of topic veers towards community and child-safety concerns and solutions thereof.

What does the lack of opportunity for women in this scenario mean?

So, what does happen when women don’t get the opportunity to meet and exchange notes, thoughts and ideas in a community setting?

The most obvious one is to be excluded from decision-making inputs and contributions within communities, since their collective voice would never be heard. It also means ceding important public spaces exclusively to the men in the community, and thereby reducing safe spaces available to women.

These insights are again borne out by our survey. For instance, a woman from Orissa shared, There is no space for us to meet really, all the good ones are already taken over by men”. A girl in Mumbai concurs, At any half-decent available space in the community; you’ll find boys who sit around, do drugs, harass girls and pass comments (chhed-chhad). Seeing this, our families don’t even allow us get out of our homes unaccompanied

Another woman from Varanasi adds, If we had accessible public places, then I think we could have contributed so much more to the community… by getting together with the sarpanch, ward members… but that is not to be

Further, men often do not allow women participation in public activities, with the patriarchal mindset hiding behind the garb of societal norms. A woman from West Bengal confirms, We have to take permission from our male relatives whenever we want to go out of the house, even if it is to buy groceries from the nearby market. I tried to fight this out initially, but eventually just got tired and gave up. Now I rarely meet or talk to the other women in the community, except for exchanging pleasantries when I occasionally run into them. All of this points to a systemic issue in creating safe spaces for women.

Often, women from male-dominated societies find ways to take advantage of the inherent loopholes or lacunae in infrastructure to find their own safe space. In their book The Business Solution to Poverty (2013), Polak and Warwick share an anecdote of a group of rural women in Kenya. These women walked several miles every day to fetch water in heavy vessels to be used in their homes. A foreign entrepreneur became aware of this situation and decided to install a water pump in close proximity to the women’s town. To the entrepreneur’s dismay, the pump was frequently broken. After investigating, it was found that the women of the town were breaking the pump. They were actually keen on trudging miles for water because it gave them precious time to be amongst themselves, away from the ears of their husbands and elders.

Deductions and the way forward

Women as a collective that can devise how to solve community issues is critical to the progressive growth of a community and to the success of any community-based intervention. Studies from South India (by Frank Tresorio) and Kenya (by Nyaga Mwaniki) show that women who participated in a self-help group were found to be more confident and united in their ability to bring about social change as compared to women who did not.

Aangan’s own impact evaluation across 85 high-risk locations revealed a similar trend. 96% of the women who had formed and participated in women-centric collectives believed that they were capable of affecting change within entire communities so their children would be safer; as opposed to only 16% of the women who were not part of such collectives. Further, 97% of those who were members of women collectives had gotten together to address child harm situations, as against only 32% of those who didn’t identify with a collective. Clearly, women collectives are powerful facilitators for bringing about sustainable change.

Further, a few factors have become apparent through our survey. For instance, the afternoon timing is crucial for facilitating women collectives as we have ascertained. For girls, it’s the time after school that they’re free, and for women, this is the time they’re not beholden to their household responsibilities or answerable to the male members of the family. Another significant factor is the perception and availability of safe spaces. Schools for instance, are seen as a designated safe space for school girls (47%), and therefore an important part of the strategy. The local anganwadi centre is also identified in the survey as a designated safe space by a large proportion of community women. There thus appears a need to extend schools and anganwadis beyond their typical working hours into ‘safe meeting spots’.

To conclude, our survey helped us identify some of the key enablers in terms of time and space for women to come together, but the most critical factor remains the breaking down of outdated societal norms that encourage gender biases. As we continue to engage with the local communities working closely with women, men, girls, boys, and local government officials, we see ourselves – through our women-headed community safety collectives – becoming the critical catalyst for this.

Author: Neeti Daftari

Data Compilation: Srabonti Ghosh, Sneha Gupta

Field Researchers: Varanasi – Ajit Yadav, Charu Mishra, Smriti Gupta; Patna – Aditya Pratap Singh, Anupama Singh; West Bengal – Archita Nath Khan, Moumi Sengupta; Bharatpur – Shalini, Vanisha Tiwari; Orissa – Eugene Soreng; Mumbai – Mugdha Naik, Rachel Varghese

 

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How safe is your child’s school?

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When a seven-year old boy is tragically murdered in the toilet of an international school, it brings home the terrifying truth that violence, abuse, attacks, illness, injury, or accidents can and do happen in schools of every kind. Schools have to anticipate a wide range of risks and dangers that children can face and ensure precaution and planning to prevent them from occurring.

So, how can schools stay active and alert to risks and dangers? This is a massive and complex task that even the best-intentioned school or most conscientious parent might slip up on. Really, the only way to approach school safety is to think of it as the joint responsibility of school authorities and parent bodies, with joint accountability. As a parent you might argue that you pay school fees assuming that it brings the assurance of your child’s care and protection and thus it is school staff who should be accountable. But while thinking about preventing harm, surely the safety and protection of our kids is too important to leave to just one stakeholder. Child protection is everybody’s business and a 360-degree engagement can only make things safer. Besides, there are also many safety issues that while they manifest in school have their origin outside, even in the home.

If you are a child, a concerned parent or school staff member, make it your business, right now, to find out how safe your school is. Then get people together to take collective, concrete steps to strengthen harm prevention and response systems to make your school safe for all children.

Here are some pointers on how you could get started:

1. Prioritize School Safety and Review the School Safety Policy: In the “best school” rat race where infrastructure, cutting edge technology, innovative pedagogy and college admissions are priorities for how schools position themselves, and for how parents choose them, does children’s safety even feature as an issue to be considered? We found not. A review of some “best school” surveys from around the country showed that something as essential as child protection policies and measures didn’t get so much as a mention in the midst of criteria like sports facilities, cultural/extra curricular activities, teachers capacity or global exposure and awards. Review your school’s safety and child protection policy. Aspects of it could be listed in a handbook, a set of codes or in everyday rules. Meticulously study all of these and check to see if they really work. The important thing is for a school policy to not just be a piece of paper that parents and staff simply sign off on for the sake of compliance. So start a conversation about implementation and track action regularly.

2. Form a School Safety Committee: Appoint a School Safety Committee that includes staff, parents, experts and children.  Your Committee should ideally have linkages to civic bodies, local hospitals and even the police. While respecting confidential child-specific information (which should only be accessible to relevant school authorities) – leverage parent power and volunteerism to conduct regular checks and inspections on different safety aspects. If you have legal, medical and other specialists in your parent body, include them in your school safety committee. Parents could also be involved in inspections and in disseminating school safety information on a regular basis. Parent volunteers could plan a school safety calendar – ensuring monthly inspections, activities and meetings. Remember, that these should ideally be headed by school authorities (like principals, administrators or trustees) because at the end of the day it is they who are legally liable and accountable.

3. Define School Safety Clearly: While there is generally a fairly clear understanding about issues like sexual abuse or what a school bus policy should be, it is important to preempt and prepare for a wide range of child protection issues. In the recent past there have been school safety challenges like school bus accidents, monsoon flooding, a child drowning in a school water tank, harsh corporal punishment resulting in a death, school bullying that has serious health and emotional consequences and much, much more. The early signs of these have to be understood and prevention planned. A school safety policy should ideally cover themes like: a) Physical Safety Health and Well-being b) Personal Safety c) Emotional and Social Safety d) Emergency Protocols and Crisis Response d) Records and Documentation including things like police checks, verification, training and monitoring of staff working in the school. Develop checklists of important criteria and plan both preventive action and response protocol for each.

4. Build an Active School Community: The best school polices need to be housed inside active school communities. So a pre-requisite of effective implementation is a democratic, nurturing, open school environment where children feel heard, parents have space to participate and authorities feel supported and understood. Co-creating or jointly reviewing policies with perspectives from each stakeholder is ideal. But at the very least, strong communication about the school safety policy so that everyone is clear about the spirit of the policy and the rationale behind rules is very important. There might be resistance from school authorities in case they believe that regular school safety checks/inspection are going to be a mere finger pointing inspection exercise by parents or government officials. But starting off with a constructive intention will be valuable. Focus on collaborating on safety strategies. A good school safety policy when formulated and implemented in the right spirit will neither irritate nor intimidate parents/children/authorities – rather it will feel empowering and secure.

5. Don’t Wait for a Law! Why wait for the government to make a particular action mandatory? School safety steps are basic, important and urgent. Understand protective laws, rights and liability, so that your school policy is in harmony with the country/state specifics. For instance, it is imperative that every school authority understands their legal obligations to mandatorily report harm or apprehension of harm under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) law or know about guidelines to report missing children in the Juvenile Justice Act. Harmonizing policies broadly to the UN Child Rights Convention, the Indian Constitution, the Right to Education Act and Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act is recommended. Know the protective aspects of these laws, understand them well (rather than find legal loopholes to avoid them) – and use them effectively.

6. Training on Recognizing Risk and Responding to It: School Safety Committee parent volunteers can actively design information and awareness campaigns to keep parent bodies, children and staff well trained to recognize a wide range of risks and become familiar with strategies for prevention. For example a study conducted by the International Journal of Health System and Disaster Management with teachers in Maharashtra in 2014 found that out of 540 teachers surveyed, 74% were not exposed to any first aid training and were unprepared to respond to a health emergency in the classroom. About 80%of them reported that they would feel better if they were trained and prepared for such emergencies. Schools should rehearse crisis response: Practice response drills to prepare for fire, earthquake, and other dangers should not be neglected.

7. Be Specific About Accountability: For each safety action your School Safety Committee plans and lists (either to work on preventively or as a response protocol) – assign a specific stakeholder in charge of it, so that accountability and every aspect of safety is clear.

Making your child’s school safe can start with you. It’s not that hard to do. But it is urgent. And it needs to happen now.

If you need help initiating or customizing your school safety discussion, write to us at contact@aanganindia.org and ask about Aangan’s School Safety Checklist.

The author, Suparna Gupta, is the Founder-Director of Aangan

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The reality in our schools: Playful Bullying or Actual Violence?

Slide1.JPGBullying, ragging, hazing…call it what you will, but we need to look at this through a new lens and see it for what it is –violence and abuse. Bullying is seen by some as a rite-of-passage, but it can cause serious physical and psychological harm to a child. Children who are the victims of violence at school are more likely than their peers to display signs of depression and generalized anxiety disorder. What’s more, victims of bulling may suffer from low self-esteem, high anxiety and social difficulties even as adults. Victims of violence in schools are more likely to contemplate suicide, and this is particularly dangerous as parents often miss the warning signs.

So why do we underplay and normalize what really is a serious issue in schools today? We at Aangan want to understand how we can affect the way violence in schools is dealt with. But first, let’s dig deeper into what the prevalent situation is in terms of bullying in schools.


Peeling the layers on school violence

In order to better understand the ground reality of the level of violence and abuse in schools today, we did a survey of current school-going children and former school students (currently adults) from different parts of the country, on the key triggers and perpetrators of bullying.

With the caveat that this research covers only a small spectrum of elite and mid-level schools and convents, here are some of our key findings.

  1. A total of 159 incidences of ‘bullying’ that caused physical, sexual and emotional harm was reported, including 35 recurring incidents.
  2. Of this, 51% of incidents were to do with emotional abuse, 42% were physical abuse and sexual abuse at a worrying 7%.
  3. Surprisingly, it’s not just students who are the perpetrators of bullying or violence. Teachers were the perpetrators of abuse in over one-third of all incidents.
  4. Females tend to recall more emotional abuse (67%) compared to males (51%). On the other hand, males experience more physical abuse than females – with 46% reporting such incidents compared to 28% females.

The numbers only tell half the story though. Rather more informative are the actual statements of the people interviewed. For instance, one school-going girl recounts her experience of how the teacher contributed to her mental harassment.

The teacher told me to stand on the bench, saying ‘Yeh to hamari class ki model hain’. Everyone in the class made lewd gestures like they were throwing money, like I was a bar dancer. It was a humiliating experience and I’ll never forget this.

Cyber-bullying too is showing its ugly head in schools. One of our survey respondent shares:

“I know this one girl who is seventeen, and has now been in and out of depression many a times. They have WhatsApp groups for different divisions in her grade, and a few of them have lewd comments about her breasts. She has also been touched inappropriately several times by boys in her school. In her art class, she frequently draws images of shooting herself and of bloodshed.”

There are several other disturbing incidents that have emerged from the survey. Students being teased for the color of their skin, the way they talk, look or dress; students being beaten and stabbed with pens, sticks, and even knives; girls being asked by their teachers to jump up and down in class for wearing skirts ending above their knee, boys being told to remove their shirts as punishment for not having paid school fees – the list is endless.

While a few incidents from the survey do show that some teachers look to prevent bullying, they’re more often than not complicit in allowing this to happen. Can we really afford to let this continue? Should teachers and schools be allowed to continue to hold no accountability for the safety of our children?

The larger evidence pointing to violence in schools

Do our study and the academic studies we’ve looked at corroborate what happens in the real world? Unfortunately, it does. There are several media reports of young students being irreparably affected or committing suicide due to the constant physical and emotional abuse they were subjected to.

Consider just a few instances of teachers being the perpetrators of harm. This rather shocking video of a teacher slapping a student in front of the class forty times has just come to light on September 1, 2017. The presence of a CCTV indicates that this is in all likelihood an elite school. The teacher has now been suspended. In 2014, Rouvanjit Rawla, from one of India’s premier schools, La Martiniere Kolkata, had committed suicide after a ‘severe physical thrashing’  at the hands of the principal and three other teachers. In August this year, a young 8-year old girl was slapped for not cleaning a table, one which she didn’t even dirty. Her hands were tied behind her back on a chair, and her mouth was stuffed with a cloth.

Child perpetrators too have pushed naive young children over the edge on several occasions. This July, Raunak Bannerjee, a 14-year old from a renowned Bengaluru School committed suicide after being bullied in school. He had named his bully in his suicide note. In 2015, a 15-year-old class 10 student, R. Karthika from Chennai took her life. She experienced harassment from both girls and boys at her school, and her mother noticed physical signs of abuse on her daughter’s body. When the mother approached the headmaster of the school, she was told that her daughter had brought the mistreatment onto herself by being talkative. In 2013, 11-year old Oindrilla Das was locked in the bathroom of her school by her seniors for seven hours; she didn’t survive the trauma. Several other cases of violence abound, but are still often referenced to as ragging or bullying without the necessary gravitas.

Finally, there are cases of sexual assault and molestation which are increasingly cause for concern. Incidents comprise of rape of girls as young as 3 years old, to sexual harassment and molestation of students by school staff and older students, amongst others. Even as more incidents come to light, it is quite likely that several other sexual harassment incidents remain under wraps.

In conclusion, it is impossible to look at these incidents and then brush them away as inconsequential. So, let’s recognize it for what it really is – acts of VIOLENCE – with lifelong and often severe repercussions for the child. If we hope to protect children from harm, we can no longer excuse such violence amongst students or between staff and student, as an unavoidable aspect of schooling. There needs to be a more concerted effort from all stakeholders concerned – parents, teachers, school administration – to nip in the bud any instances of violence towards children. A lot is at stake for every time a child is teased, hit or abused, from his physical and mental well-being to his entire future. We hope that schools start looking at violence more seriously and take more responsibility in preventing it.

The author, Neeti Daftari, is the head of Knowledge and Impact, at Aangan

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Hold on to that Anger

Seventy years of freedom, Independence day and more than sixty children dead because the oxygen supply was cut at the local hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, or so the story goes. We know the drill well. Social media outrage, indignant press, political blame games and couch conversations about the sad state of the country. Or, in the best-case scenario a swift legal response where some culprit is brought to book.

Then, we go back to sleep, until the next nightmare jolts us awake.

It doesn’t matter if it was Baby Falak, whose bashed-in skull and injured body told a tangled story of abuse, trafficking and violence five years ago, or the two teenage girls raped and killed on their way to a toilet in an Uttar Pradesh village that brought home the truth about girl vulnerability, caste violence and police apathy – these tragic incidents turn quickly into cases for all of us. As a country we then busy ourselves with crime and punishment. We demand explanations, press for investigation, petition for arrests and lobby for resignations. Finally, when the judge delivers a tough sentence, we are redeemed, having participated in ensuring justice for victims.

But let’s not fool ourselves. The survival, health, security and safety of children growing up in districts like Gorakhpur (one of the 250 districts identified by the Government of India as eligible for India’s most backward regions grant) continue to be just as fragile as ever before. Families across India’s most vulnerable districts have lived for years battered by structural violence – their children harmed by the chronic lack of access to basic services and rights.  So much so that failures of the system or the dangerous circumstances in which children grow up are well accepted by them and to a large extent by us.

Which means that no matter how many officials are suspended or politicians are replaced– lives and childhood will continue to be lost. Thousands of children are going missing, their mothers too frightened to report to the police. Parents are being pressured to put children down as deposits for unpaid loans, unaware of laws that prohibit bonded labor. Boys from scheduled caste groups are silently suffering brutal beatings believing that nobody will help, and adolescent girls are learning to expect attacks and assault every evening on their way to the public toilet, as if this is normal.

In a survey done by Aangan with 19000 mothers across eighteen districts in five states, 58% women reported they could not access police stations, 37% had taken loans to cover medical treatment. Despite this, 75% believed they had no access to hospitals. 27% had to leave their babies (under six years) unsupervised when they went to work or to fetch water because they could not use the local aanganwadi crèches/health centers provided by the government – placing their children at risk each day.  It would be shameful to wait for another tragedy the proportion of the recent Gorakhpur incident before action is taken to make under supervised babies safer or ensure that families can trust the police. But for this, early signs of risk must be understood and action initiated quickly by families in the poorest districts.

Building of a preventative community child safety system is urgent. Across vulnerable districts, work with families is crucial to ensure deep awareness of risks, resources, rights and services.  Child survival, health and safety are dependent on people re-imagining civic engagement – empowered to tackle intimidating factors like institutional apathy, inert officials, social hierarchies or feudal practices that have kept poor parents in accepting silence. It takes collective action to ensure that local officials are pushed to deliver better results on child health and safety. Attention, spotlight, political will and investment – this is the kind of backing needed to build child safety systems from the ground up, starting today.

It’s been less than a week since sixty children died and there are plenty of painful unanswered questions that will probably be cleared up over the next few months. But if we hold on to that anger a little longer and sustain the concern, it will also force us to engage with an even harder question: What must we do before it is too late again?

The author, Suparna Gupta, is the Founder-Director of Aangan, an Indian non-profit that works with children in dangerous situations like child trafficking, child marriage, hazardous work, and violence and abuse, to prevent and protect them from harm.

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Why Children Labour: A Tangled Interwoven Web

On #WorldDayAgainstChildLabour, we are looking at ground-level data collected by 350 community-based women volunteers using Aangan’s child safety mobile app. Insights from this data provide a window into the circumstances that compels families to send their children to work – of a loan to build a house, an illness or death of an earning member. It’s an opportunity to look at this complex web in its entirely.

This June 12, we think is a good day to have a conversation on why children labour.

 

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Building Bharosa

Patna police at a trauma informed workshop by Aangan

In our work in communities living with deep deprivation and exposed to everyday violence, we’ve supported families whose children have come to harm — children who have been sexually abused, stalked and harassed, or lured away on the pretext of work and gone missing. For many parents, coping with this ever-present threat of violence has meant forcing their daughter to stay home, drop out of school, isolated ‘for her safety’, or early marriage. We’ve seen that while many families have needed access to the police to seek protection or recourse from harm, fear, or experiences of being turned away in the past have made them reluctant. This has meant that children continue to be harmed. To live with violence or the threat of it.

Yet, when it comes down to it, the police are the first point of contact for almost anyone who needs the protection of the law. That’s where we’d go with families, sitting in police thanas to ensure that an FIR was filed for a missing child, a boy senselessly beaten at work by his maalik (employer), or a girl who had been abused. It was where we’d go when adolescent girls talked about how they are harassed everyday on their way to school, or the public toilet, afraid to tell anyone at home for fear of the repercussions. Despite decades of mistrust and fear of approaching the police, it’s where the journey would begin for a victim or survivor of harm seeking justice and protection.

That’s why we’ve started Bharosa (trust) — a program to build a bridge between the police, women and girls so that there is increased access to protection and safety. So that adolescent girls, their mothers, and families have the confidence to walk into a police station and file a complaint, or to call a police helpline number, ask for help and get a response. To know that action is taken. It’s an initiative to establish a platform for ongoing conversations and joint actions so that women and girls can be safer to live the life they choose.

In the last 10 days, on May 20 and May 28 in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the police made a commitment to build this bridge and establish Bharosa with women and girls. 65 police officers from 16 thanas in Varanasi, and 19 thanas in Patna attended workshops where they made themselves come closer to understanding a child’s experience of harm — the helplessness, terror, fear. Coming together for the first of a year-long series of Bharosa workshops, they were part of discussions and role plays on what is a trauma informed response — understanding what a child has endured, how to have a conversation with sensitivity and why that’s crucial both for the child to begin to feel safe again, as well as for them to be able to do their job well.

Making a commitment to keep girls safe – Bihar Police

Over the next year, these officers will conduct community outreach meetings to talk to families about being alert to early warning signs of child harm and about laws that exist for their protection; they will sit down with adolescent girls and listen and respond to their experiences of danger and safety.

This last week, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar police personnel made a pledge to girls and women — to be close at hand, responsive and accountable.

The author, Deepika Khatri, is the Training and Impact Specialist – Government Partnerships, at Aangan

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In Kalpana’s Words

Kalpana at the CII Women Exemplar Awards in Delhi, 2016

Kalpana Mistry at the CII Women Exemplar Awards in Delhi, 2016

Aangan’s very own Kalpana Mistry has been selected as one of CII Foundation’s Women Exemplars for 2016. She was felicitated today (April 4, 2016)  in New Delhi and received her award from none other than the Finance Minister at CII’s Annual Session.  It’s a great honour and achievement, and we at Aangan are incredibly proud of Kalpana.

Here’s what Kalpana has to say about what this award and her work mean to her.

In Kalpana’s Words

Today I am just so overwhelmed. I feel a whole range of emotions many of which are impossible to describe.

Most overpoweringly, I feel blessed and fortunate that everything I have struggled for, worked for, everything I believe, every hurdle I have crossed, every hardship I have borne has been recognised and acknowledged. Being acknowledged is a very empowering feeling. I did not really know how important it is before today. Like most other people, I have worked my whole life.  I have done what I thought I must, not for any reason other than that I believed it was important. Then suddenly one day Aangan nominated me for this award, and I realised that the people I work with had actually really seen me, had appreciated me, they showed me that I am valued and valuable. It was a very emotional experience. And then finally when a prestigious body like CII has given me this award because they also think that my work has been important – I can only say that it’s a great and humbling feeling!

My work here at Aangan has been a lifetime in the making. As a child I experienced a great deal of hardship and heartbreak myself. My parents had a lot of painful struggles of their own and I was estranged from them at a young age. These are not things I like to dwell on, because they are difficult still, but I do know that they have shaped me and my thinking. Honestly, it’s why I work here, it’s why I do what I do. My own thoughts and experiences make me a strong believer in the work that we do over here because I am able to personally connect with it. My work at Aangan involves keeping children safe, ensuring that young girls understand the risks they face and learn to overcome them, families learn how to make themselves more secure so that they can protect their children from harm. I don’t think that there is any work that is more compelling, more urgent and more satisfying than this. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to do this work. Here, not only have I been able to do work that has been important and rewarding, but here I have also been given the room to grow, to dig deeper into myself, not only to understand more about the children and families we serve, but also to understand more about myself, and to find peace with some of my own troubles.

I believe that a life of dignity is what we all deserve. Today, I have such a life. I work in an organisation that values this. And so now I am able to work to ensure that every child and every family that I work with can also live a life of dignity and meaning. To have the chance to be able to do that is a very special thing.

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