In India, newspapers contain countless stories of burning of brides, dowry harassment, rape of teenaged girls and other types of abuse on women and girls. Despite awareness being created through various forms, including media, all these incidents have become usual for most of the people. Such incidents show the reality faced by Indian girls and women.
Dr. Ambedkar, the Champion of Women's Rights and the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of India’s Constitution, had assured the empowerment of every person in the Constitution. But in India, males are socialized to view themselves as breadwinners and heads of households whilst females are taught to be obedient and submissive housekeepers. This attitude is infused into the minds of the Indians who are continuing to exercise violence and discrimination on girls and women in different forms. Since men are the breadwinners in the families, the women are mostly at the receiving end, living under the mercy of men. This trend further gives way to ‘a culture of silence’ which maintains the gender disparity unquestioned. To break the ‘culture of silence’, everyone needs to continuously fight against the system that keeps women subservient and secondary citizens.
Photo at top: Mrs Rama Devi speaks at the Public Meeting. Sr Aruna George is seated second from right.
Sisters and Lay Mission Partners of the Good Shepherd working in Amaravathi region, who are committed to the rights of women and children living in especially difficult circumstances, make use of every opportunity to create awareness on the issues and problems being faced by the women and children. International Women’s Day is one such occasion which is used to sensitise the women as well as the general community on the issues and problems of women and promote change in the lives of women.
On 9 March 2017, the Sisters and the Lay Partners in association with the village-level Women Leaders organised the International Women’s Day with the theme of ‘I will be BOLD for CHANGE’, a theme suggested by the international community.
The programme was attended by 320 people - 265 women and girls, 55 men and young boys.
The day was marked by a rally held on the streets of Amaravathi Town, a play for reflection on the theme of the day, a public meeting with eminent speakers, felicitation of the women leaders. Under the leadership of Sr. Aruna George, the Community Leader of the Good Shepherd Convent, Amaravathi, this day was observed with lot of enthusiasm by the participants.
On a sunny day, women participated in a public Rally on the Streets of Amaravathi Town. Women shouted slogans against the practice of child marriage, dowry demanding, denial of educational and development rights for children and women. The rally stopped for a while at Dr. Ambedkar’s statue near the bus stand, and the participants collectively sang a song to rekindle the spirit to fight against the violence and discrimination inflicted on them over the years by the male-dominated society.
Soon after the rally, a cultural activity called Palleshruthulu (an oral storytelling technique in the song form, performed in villages of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana States of India) was performed by a Cultural Team based upon the theme of the day: 'I will be BOLD for CHANGE'. In their songs, the Cultural Team conveyed the discrimination and violations being faced by the dalit women and girl children. The message conveyed through the cultural programmes was that from now on, women should not keep quiet when they are forced to take only certain specific activities such as maintaining the house, cooking and feeding the children, instead of being a part of the mainstream.
In order to give an opportunity to share the learning by the local leaders, village-level Women Leaders were asked to speak. Everyone was happy to share their experiences as each one had their own stories in becoming an active member in the community. In total, 12 women leaders from different villages were identified as active members and were felicitated. As a sign of appreciation, a shawl was put on them by the special guests and the organisers and the participants expressed their approval through applause.
Mrs. Auto Durga Dharanikotta shared her life experiences. After the demise of her husband, Durga became a driver of a four wheeler and earns her living. She never bothers about the new customers as she is very strong in her character and is known by many people in Amaravathi and the neighbouring regions too. She is being seen as a woman of great achievement as she rides her vehicle at any point of time. All she does, she says, is only for the good her children.
Mrs. M. Samrajam is another leader from Enikapadu. She is a woman of perseverance and steadfastness who takes every step to accommodate everyone in the group. Enikapadu is a remote village, cut off from transport facilities. But, Samrajam has been very supportive to the women in her group by way of helping the women connecting with Government schemes.
Mrs. Jayashree of Jyothirmai Women Group from Narkulapadu village is yet another leader who is swift in her understanding of anything being taught to her. She is good in organising the women of her village and maintaining books and records of her women's group. Softly spoken, Jayashree is good in managing her family and she has determined to educate her two children up to post graduation.
According to Sr. Aruna George, the current social reality is that patriarchy is a social system in which men appropriate all social roles and keep women in subordinate positions. This has to be understood and an appropriate action must be taken to fight against such oppressive attitudes. India now has become notorious place for sex crimes following a series of highly-publicised gang rapes a couple of years ago This shows the extent of the problem and suggests that increased awareness alone leads to increased reporting and, perhaps ultimately, improved response.
Smt. D. Rama Devi, Secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist), Andhra Pradesh, applauded the efforts of women coming together and talking loudly about their rights. She appreciated the contribution by the Sisters and the Lay Partners of the Good Shepherd in making such things happen in Amaravathi region.
At the end of the day, the women took an oath on 5 areas where they will be bold to express their rights; their boldness will be to challenge bias and inequality; they will be bold to forge women's advancement; they will be bold to celebrate women's achievement and they will be bold to champion women's education.
A film crew hired by the International Good Shepherd Mission Development Office, Rome for documenting the mission of the Sisters and Lay Partners of the Good Shepherd was there to document certain parts of the International Women Day celebration. The crew at the end of the day expressed their happiness over the beautiful arrangement of activities which had meant a lot to them.
Sisters and the Lay Partners of the Good Shepherd working in Amaravathi Site always make use of every opportunity to advocate for the rights of women and children, especially those who are at the lowest rung of the society. International Women’s Day is a vehicle for raising awareness on the rights of women and girls and promote greater understanding and appreciation of women’s contribution within society.
The theme, 'I will be BOLD for CHANGE' was taken as point of reference for all aspects of the event:
Theme-related literature was translated in terms of slogans used in the rally
Banners were developed on the broad five areas where the women can express their boldness
The cultural activities were developed to give a thrust to the theme
Special Guests and Speakers’ talks were focused on the theme and
The oath taking session was a time for expressing one’s commitment towards their own empowerment.
Each activity, one after the other, was carried out perfectly keeping the spirit of the participants intact.
Women had expressed their happiness over the initiatives taken by the Sisters and Lay Mission Partners for making the day commendable as well as educative.