The graduation of 52 girl leaders from EMpower’s Adolescent Girls Learning Community in Delhi was a special occasion made even more meaningful through the participation of the girls’ families. As a crucial step in raising the issues that negatively impact their mobility, girl leaders used the event to report the results from a community-based survey on restrictions, which was designed and executed entirely by them.
The Adolescent Girls Learning Community is a space created by EMpower that nurtures and empowers girl leadership. Conceptualized first in Mumbai in 2012, the Learning Communities position and support adolescent girls as change-makers. Through the course of the year-long cycle, girl leaders learn to work collectively to identify, reflect upon and address the restrictive norms and attitudes within their communities.
In a first, the girl leaders invited their families to the event, who took their roles as cheerleaders very seriously, applauding and providing encouragement to the girls at every crucial moment. Family members also presented certificates to the girl leaders at the end of the day.
This year, the Learning Community focused on restrictions that girls face, concerning small to major decisions in their own lives (for example, the clothes they wear, how they spend their free time, using technology, choosing a partner etc.).
A snapshot of the survey results was presented in an engaging broadcast news format with an aim to uncover the impact that restrictions can have on girls’ overall well-being and progress. Some of the categories under which maximum respondents – who were adolescent girls and young women from ages 11 to 25 – reported facing restrictions were marrying a person of their choice (64%), wearing the clothes they preferred (62%), hanging out with friends (55%), using cellphones (51%), and taking up a job (49%).
They shared that most of these restrictions came either from their parents, siblings or close relatives (who predominantly happened to be male members in the family). Respondents believed that rules were imposed on them because they were girls and because families equated their honor with societal approval.
Frustration, anger and disappointment emerged as the primary reactions of respondents to the restrictive norms and attitudes prevalent in the society. This underlines how restrictions around seemingly small decisions can build up resentment in girls over a period of time and be damaging to their capacity for independent thinking and decision-making.
Using the power of their own survey results, girl leaders effectively asked all those in attendance, which was about 150 people including family, community members and friends – “What is society if not you and me? And how can we expect society to change if you and I don’t change first?”
Mentors and girl leaders traded places for a humorous role-play where they enacted the uphill yet rewarding journeys of mentors and the crucial role that they play in supporting girl leaders.
Girl leaders from The YP Foundation spread out in the room as ‘human libraries’, sharing stories from their own personal lives. One of the girl leaders spoke about the trauma that her mother, a widow, had to suffer, for encouraging her daughters to pursue education. But her mother didn’t back down, and the girl leader shared how today, no one in the community dares to say anything, because she and her sisters are doing so well academically.
This was the most inspiring portion of the event. Family members – mostly mothers – of some of the girl leaders sat before the audience as the girl leaders questioned them about their views on supporting their daughters and the role of the Learning Community.
“We should create more such opportunities for our daughters to grow and do well in life”, said one mother.
Another one declared proudly, “I will stand for my daughters even if no one else does. I will do whatever it takes to educate my daughters.”
One of the panellists said, “I have learnt how to negotiate and fight for my daughter’s freedoms with my husband.”
It makes us very happy that families participated in this event in such a big way and helped boost the spirit of the girls, many of whom, often see this as validation of their roles as leaders.
Through community events around the theme of gender-based discrimination, street plays, wall painting, etc. girl leaders have been able to really ramp up the visibility of the Learning Community in different pockets of Delhi and channel their communities’ attention to their issues.
The number of people from their communities – be it mothers, grandmothers, siblings, or friends – who showed up to support them at this event is proof not only of the concerted efforts of these girl leaders through the Adolescent Girls Learning Community to raise awareness around the restrictions they face but also an indicator of its perceived value
in their families and among peers.
Change is a gradual process, but the Learning Community continues to enable girls to start seeing the bigger picture when it comes to gender issues, while also examining them at an individual level. Working together has instilled confidence in them and equipped them with a vocabulary to talk about the challenges they face as girls and young women.
The EMpower team congratulates the girl leaders and partner organizations (Swechha, Feminist Approach to Technology, JOSH (Joint Operation for Social Help), The YP Foundation and Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group) in making the graduation event and this year’s chapter of the Learning Community in Delhi a success!
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