Ever since Project Jatropha was started in 2007, environmental protection, sustainability and preventive health care have been the primary objectives. This year, we decided to expand our outreach programs by adding ‘Women empowerment’ to our core objectives.
Women, especially rural women, are in need of more than ever a support system, where they could feel reassured that they are not alone in their struggles and that they have someone to turn to when faced with difficult and uncomfortable situations, whether at home or at work. With discussion of topics like menstruation and sexual health education considered a taboo, with many unhygienic orthodox practices concerning menstruation and with little access to internet, girls studying in rural schools and colleges suffer in silence as they are left with many unanswered questions. So, our objective is to reach as many girl students as possible and educate them about personal hygiene, menstruation and to establish a support system.
This year, we decided to carry out our outreach programs of planting the saplings, educating about renewable sources of energy and Women Empowerment in 3 schools. The 1st school was DTMN school at Bettadapura. After planting of saplings and distribution of solar kits among the girls, a first aid kit to their school and after a nice lunch, we all assembled under the tent that the school had so thoughtfully erected for our convenience. For our ‘Women empowerment’ workshop, we had decided to talk about 3 inspiring women who were path-breakers in their respective fields – Kalpana Chawla (1st woman of Indian descent to go to space), Indra Nooyi (PepiCo’s 1st female CEO) and Anandibai Joshi (India’s 1st female Doctor).We believed that if we focus more on the personal journey and the stories of struggles of these women, it would be more effective than just listing out their career milestones. Whenever we watch a movie or read a story, it’s our natural tendency to try to identify ourselves with the story or with the protagonist. We tend to find some common factor with the protagonist and their journey becomes our journey. So, we thought that through sharing the stories of how these women overcame their struggles and shut the mouth of their naysayers, these girls would also realize that through hard work and determination nothing is impossible for them, no matter their social and economic status.
Then, we touched upon the topic of menstruation, where we taught them about menstrual hygiene and made them realize that menstruation is a natural process and definitely not something to be ashamed of. Only by overcoming our shyness in discussing the topic with our friends and families can we overcome the orthodox and often unhygienic practices regarding the same. Victim blaming and shaming is quite prevalent in rural areas (and elsewhere) when it comes to molestation and sexual assault. Oftentimes, these young girls on facing such situations suffer in silence for fear of facing the wrath of the society. It was our duty to inform them that it is not so and to always approach a person of authority on whom they have trust whenever they encounter such situations, and we also stressed upon the lesson that irrespective of our feelings towards another girl, us women should always support one another.
What we observed after doing these workshops in Bettadapura and 2 other schools in Hullekere and Dombaranahalli was that when we started to talk about Menstrual health and personal safety, there was a pin drop silence irrespective of which school we were in, clearly indicating the girls’ discomfort in addressing these topics. But by the end of the workshop, not only were they comfortable enough but also paid rapt attention to what was being said. Hopefully, we managed to remove the taboo on talking about these things by at least a little. The beginning of a story is always the hardest to write, similarly, the initiative in educating young women about their health and personal safety, especially in rural areas, is hard but we are hoping that this initiative would encourage talks about the aforementioned topics and establish a support system for these women.