EMPOWERING RURAL INDIA’S GIRL-CHILD – AGAINST CHILD MARRIAGES
My general research directed me to pinpoint the condition of rural women folk, identified as key agents of sustainable development where words of "equality" and "empowerment" are central to a more holistic approach towards establishing new patterns and processes of development that are sustainable. I read that the World Bank stressed on empowerment of women where debates on "what constitutes the word – empowerment ?" was defined as: "the expansion in people’s ability to make strategic life choices in a context where this ability was previously denied to them."
Stepping back to analyze the defination, I wonder whether this empowerment of women in India consists in the realms of the personal, social, economic and political, where the Government of India had shown increasing concerns for women’s issues through a variety of legislaton promoting the participation of women, working with World Bank and United Nations on women’s issues, especially the empowerment of poor women in rural areas, catering to health and educational needs. This was the key aspect of all social development programs.
During a one hour drive from Gurgaon beyond the modern capital city of Delhi to some Mewat villages, I was transported into the countryside of rural India where, I found, nothing had changed through the last centuries. Of course, the cowdung thatched huts made of sticks, leaves and mud were transforming into one-room brick houses, where the village people wore colorful "synthetic wash-and-wear" clothes and some carried cell-phone (mobiles), while children with bloated-stomaches looked well-fed.
Slowly, I discovered nothing had really changed in the "mind-set" of the village people. Family planning campaigns started from the mid-60s to 80s had failed miserably, as young girls reported being part of 7-9 siblings in their families, where the traditional Hindu and Mulsim social welfare of women did not address the deprivations of the status of rural women from childhood to maturity. Everything before me … stood still in time.
As a filmmaker, I had completed a one-hour 16mm TV film-for the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) titled: "SHAKTI: She is Vital Energy" on rural women of India, in order to give her voice in the corridors of the United Nations during of the annual International Womens Years in 1975 .. 1980 … 1985 … 1990. It pained me to see how Western TV and documentarians depicted rural India in dire hunger, poverty and starvation, without ever capturing the true essence of the traditional social and cultural pride and the courage of survival in Rural India. I had read reports how NGOs and Government of India’s teacher trainers and social workers had challenged goals to empower women, but with very little success in the programs, bringing only a handful of success stories. It was mind blowing that nothing had really changed for rural India since the country’s independence in 1947.
Returnng to New York, I produced a short 4 min 4 sec video EMPOWERING RURAL INDIA’S GIRL-CHILD exploring the status of the rural girl-child who is forced into "child marriage" – amidst the larger population found in isolated village families of 7-9 siblings and part of the highly patriarchal Muslim and HIndu rural social and religious communities. The video clip can be reviewed on YouTube at http://www.vimeo.com/12770343.
More short video clips and feature films on the subject are being planned, especially a major Bollywood film with major movie stars like Sabana Azmi and Jaya Bachchan who will be the "bearers and advocates for change" of Muslim and Hindu traditons in the role of mothers and mother-in-laws. It is not the girl child, but her mother, grandmother and members of the older male famly that must be educated to bring about any social behaviorial changes, through the art of mass TV entertainment.
Feedback on the video clip from a large number of women and men around the world, across the Internet, showed "concern for this important subject" … because they remembered their own childhood and youth and those strong traditonal conditions they themsleves had fought against to become empowered. One lawyer from London sent a synposis titled: "THE FORCED" showing how young educated girls born and bred in UK, USA and Canada from South Asia (including other developing countries) are forced into arranged marriages by their immigrant parents who return to their home towns and villages, marrying off their Western educated daughters (ages15-18) to village educated men as their religious traditons demand. The results have been "high divorce ratings," "single parenting," and the worst scenario "family honor killings – if the daughters objected !"
To conclude, the video clips and film will answer questions to be solved: "How does anyone bring social behavior changes, whether through mere education ? Or traditonal life-skills education ? To move one step further: How does any individual, literate or illiterate, undertake and transform new behaviors such as self-empowerment ? Especially with the reality of women being brought up with low self-esteem and traditional and religious beliefs which stem from being limited and disadvantaged position in society.
The new video clips will challenge and welcome any behavior changes towards self-empowerment and show the difficulties, if it merely relies on verbal persuasion. The best way by which self-esteem is acquired is "combining persuasion with role models in a supportive and appreciative environment". Social workers must themseves model empowered behaviors, in order to evoke sustained behavior modification to the women they serve.
Despite the psychological training given in the film clips to promote empowerment, there may still be gaps between what the film preaches and what women may practice in their own lives. Thus it is important to use film to EMPOWERING THE GIRL-CHILD and achieve its goals.
After a 5 weeks trip to India traveling in Delhi and Mumbai, I returned to New York eye-witnessing, for the first time, the "cultural-shock" foreign social workers from overseas undergo when working in rural India . It was part of an assignment for six months by the Sehgal Family Foundation (SFF- http://www.sff.org) Des Moines, Iowa, as a consultant PR/Media/Fundraiser.
By early Februrary, I started research and scripting at SFF’s Institute for Rural Research & Development (IRRAD – "http://www.irrad.org/) in Gurgaon, a florishing mega-suburb of Delhi, where SFF/IRRAD is headquartered and working from 4 to 20 "poorest of poor villages" since 1999.
My job was to "get a feel"for what had been accomplished in the ten years in order to invite Non-Government Organizations(NGOs), Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), the World Bank, UNDP-South-South agencies and foundations to join and collaborate with SFF/IRRAD to bring about an strong impact in the 461 Mewat villages by "adopting a village," and funding joint-ventures: "growing trees," "digging wells," "solar electricity," "water management and harvesting," etc.