Frontline Stories

Girl Power - Changing Gender Stereotypes in India's Slums

In northern India, girls are routinely harassed and often attacked. These are unfortunate realities.

“The situation is very bad. Girls are teased and harassed a lot,” explains 16-year-old Kushboo.

12-year-old Chanda shares, “When we walk on the streets minding ourselves and dressing according to what the society calls decent, still, for no reason the boys on the road pass bad and degrading comments. I feel very bad.”

In the same space, another girl shares how she was harassed for months.

“Passing vulgar and cheap comments, he constantly threatened me verbally and said that if I opened my mouth to tell the truth, he would kill my parents and my siblings,” Lali says.

Gender inequality in Northern India

For the girls living in the slums of North West Delhi, the evidence of a male prejudice is visible in the most minuscule of societal norms.

Hailing from a large family, 17-year-old Arti is well acquainted with the pressures associated with wanting a boy child. After having eight girls, her parents still pursued the quest for a male child, accomplishing the goal in the ninth attempt.

“There was this pressure of society over my parents, saying that there should be at least one boy. They used to say, ‘the girls will get married and go off and then who will take care of you? The boy can earn and take care of you’,” Arti says.

“A girl is perceived as an object and a liability. This perception makes her more susceptible to social evils like sexual assault, harassment, domestic violence, rape and other heinous acts,” says Jesleen Kher, gender and development specialist of World Vision India.

Forming bonds in the struggle

For a long time, the girls living in North West Delhi faced similar struggles but there was no sense of unity.

“They did not have a platform where they could come together and share with each other their experiences,” says Vandhana, a community member and World Vision volunteer.

When news came that World Vision wanted to start a girls group, the community was fascinated. Hungry for knowledge, girls poured into a World Vision centre and diligently attended group meetings.

From awareness of self to lessons on critical and creative thinking, from problem-solving to communication skills, a group rose to clutch the very treasure which had been stolen from them – self-confidence.

“Earlier we lived in fear,” adds 15-year-old Kiran, president of the girls group. “Now, we are not afraid anymore to raise our voices against injustice and share our opinions. After joining with World Vision, we have got the boldness to face the world.”

Ganging up to fight violence

To help overcome the fear of harassment, World Vision facilitated a special training workshop along with the Delhi Police.

“With the help of the Delhi Police, we facilitated a self-defense workshop where 67 girls participated, learning the necessary skills to protect themselves in case of attack,” says Shiny Mathew, a community development coordinator of World Vision.

Equipped with the sword of empowerment, the girls group now sets out to tear down the stringent culture and reform their community. They use skits, street plays and videos as medium to evoke change.

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