I’m Special – By Adi Yacobi

I’m Special – By Adi Yacobi

In a world where we get so many messages from social media, TV, and radio on how we need to look, what we need to wear, and how we need to be, we need to remember that each of us is special and unique in each person’s own way. 

You have so many special gifts that make you – YOU. I wrote “I’m Special” to remind and empower every woman around the globe that you are special just the way you are. You don’t need to change your looks and the size of your body just to “fit.” You were born into this world to create a better reality, to lead, to follow your dreams, and to make a change. That change can start only from you accepting yourself, accepting the things you think are not good enough in you, and embracing and strengthening the traits that make you unique. 

In my B.A. in Psychology and Sociology, I’ve studied and researched the power of words. I highly believe in the power of words and how it affects your reality. For example, when you listen and sing to the chorus of “I’m Special”, “I know what I can do and how far I’ll go – cos I’m myself – I’m Special.” I want you to feel empowered, unique, strong, and that you have infinite possibilities to achieve your dreams by being yourself. My mission in this world is to help women go through a journey of self-love and acceptance through lyrics and music.

What is beautiful and “normal” is a matter of where you grew up and what culture tells you is “right” and what is not. The secret is to understand what makes you special, different, and embrace your special traits as your strength to make a difference and make this world a better place. If someone tells you that you are not good enough, that you can’t make it, that you are not beautiful enough – it’s just a reflection of what they think about themselves or what they have been told by others. No matter where you are located in this world right now, and if you had a bad day, remember that – You are Special.

I believe that every person’s soul lives inside their body and your body is your home. You should “feel comfortable in your own home” – in your own body. Reconnect with your body, your instincts, trust what your body tells you. Nowadays, society still tells us we should be thinner and we should lose weight just to look thin. It’s important to be healthy, to eat well, and exercise for a healthy body and soul while always understanding our natural body shape and our physiognomy. 

I believe in you. I see you. I know you have the strength to overcome all the bad things people told you when you were a child and even now. I know how it feels to be treated as not good enough, people seeing only the size of your body and your looks and I can tell you that you have that innate light inside yourself that makes you unique and special. Please don’t keep that light only to yourself – share it with us – You are Special.

Final thoughts:

When I was a child, I was told to eat less and lose weight. My body was “not good enough”, “not thin enough” and I didn’t feel good about the way I looked. Later in life, I traveled to many places such as India, China, United States, Europe, and Africa. In these journeys, I had the honor to talk to many people from these countries, and I’ve heard things that I could not understand that shocked me. 

I remember my enchanting trip to India, where I’ve seen the discrimination of people based on their color of skin, the obstacles people with darker skin (which I think is beautiful) face every day. I’ve seen women and men trying to bleach their skin to look whiter, basically, trying to look like others – not seeing that they are beautiful naturally. This really broke my heart. 

In China, another fascinating country, I have heard the same thing about the beauty standards of having whiter skin but there I have heard about another phenomenon, surgical procedures to widen their eyes to look more western (a phenomenon that also happens in South Korea). In western countries, black women straighten their (amazing curly) hair to look like other women with straight hair. This is a phenomenon that is slowly changing, but black women who don’t straighten their hair may be seen as unprofessional and might not be hired to certain jobs just because of their hair. These are just some examples of things women experience every day. We have the power to create a better environment for women of all cultures around the world. There are many inspiring women all over the world who share their body positivity and body neutrality as a way of life which is very important in the reality we create. Each of these women started from a small step. The next step starts with you – by accepting yourself and remembering that you are special. 

Women should not lose weight just to fit into another type of body dictated by other beauty standards. Sometimes our bodies change because of mental health issues and the pressure of our daily lives. There are women who may lose weight because of depression or disease. These women often get positive feedback from people saying “Wow, you’ve lost weight – you look great” or the opposite “Oh, you’ve gained weight” but usually they don’t see that inner soul which is damaged and just wants a hug or support. What really matters is how you nourish your body and soul. Your body is precious because it gives you the opportunity to express your special soul. So be kind to your body, remember to make your body a warm and happy place to live in.

No matter what is the shape of your body and what size the fashion industry labeled you, you are a model. People always told me that I’m not thin, that I’m not fat – that I’m “In between”. I know many women who are under the “In between” category. I think that this categorization of women and models as “models” or “Plus Size Models” or “In between” is completely wrong and has a horrible effect on the body image of women. The fashion industry should stop categorizing women just because of the shape of their bodies and start calling all models – “models”, no matter which size. Trust me, women don’t need the help of a label such as “Plus Size” to know what is the size of their bodies.

Diversity and inclusion are part of my core values in the art I create and share with you. I see so many talented, charismatic, intelligent, and gorgeous women who have so much to give to this world and they have so many dreams, but since they are physically disabled or with a certain syndrome, many doors are closed to them. I don’t see their disabilities – I see opportunities. I see what special gifts and wisdom they can share with us if only we give them the chance. Sometimes, because of our egos, we think we know better than others, better than those who we think are “inferior” to us, and we miss the opportunity to learn and grow together. There is room for everyone in this world, and we need to create this difference when we meet someone by seeing their special soul and not judging them by their appearance. We sometimes forget that we are all “disabled” in some way, some of us are disabled physically, but most of us are disabled, injured in some way from the inside (heartbroken, sad, depressed, anxious) – the fact that we can’t see the disability, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I would like to see more people with disabilities in companies, in the music and fashion industry, and in other sectors.

About The Author

Adi Yacobi is a singer and songwriter. She has created the Women Empowerment Music Project, which is about body positivity, inclusion, self-acceptance, disability, diversity and women empowerment.

Freedom – A Reality Check

Freedom – A Reality Check

As we celebrate 75 years of Independence, we think of the many sacrifices that have been made to help us be free. Sometimes, we appreciate the importance of this freedom only once in a year, failing to realize its true meaning. Is our nation and every person in this nation really free? Have we considered how many people–men, women and children are still craving for freedom today in our nation and around the world? What does being denied this basic human right look like for them?

When you see an 11 year old child, what comes to your mind generally? For me, I see the innocence of their lives through their laughter, the joy of dreams that need to be fulfilled and the hope and the desire to change the world. Children have unwavering faith and trust which makes them unique.

 

What happens when that same trust is broken? When their innocence is taken advantage of? When they are no longer allowed to dream the big dreams that they have and their hopes are crushed? That’s what trafficking does to them.

Trafficking restricts the basic freedom of a human being. It creates a bondage that may not be seen with chains but surely chains a person down. Freedom for a trafficked victim is being able to come out of the bondage and to be able to experience the world without someone dictating the terms of their lives. In India every 8 minutes a child goes missing. That’s not freedom! We have a long way to go before we can bring freedom to these lives.

Rescued to Freedom

In a recent rescue operation that I was a part of, the team rescued about 42 young women from a place of extreme abuse. What was overwhelming to see was the living conditions of these young children and women– they didn’t even have basic hygiene in the rooms they were being kept in.

In that moment, standing in the middle of the red light area, looking at that 11 year old fighting against the freedom that awaited her, I realized that trafficking and abuse is not just a distant concept, but a reality that rips a person apart and changes the definition of who a child is.

Four to six young girls were cramped in a room with a hole in the ground which constituted a urinal for them. They didn’t have the freedom of movement or the right to express their opinion. Yet, when help was rendered to them to come out of that space, they were hostile and resistant. The idea of freedom was nonexistent for them.

When the team went to a quiet 11 year old sitting on a bed, visibly abused and tortured by a middle aged man, she resisted even a gentle loving gesture to help her out of the room. She started screaming and crying. 

Time stopped for me at that moment, and I realized how bondage works. This child was literally made into a ‘slave’ to the madams and pimps who ‘owned’ her. She couldn’t see the hope and the dreams that lay ahead of her. I realized that freedom is something I have taken for granted in my life.

I saw that the innocence of these children was crushed and they were manipulated into believing that what they are experiencing  is good for them. In spite of all that is being done to end the trafficking and the abuse of children, there is still so much more that needs to be done. The evil of sex trafficking permeates every part of society without exception– every child in this world is vulnerable to it.

Two days after our rescue operation, this entire red light area was shut down by the District Magistrate. Every single brothel, every single shop was sealed and the entire area was shut off and all commercial sex workers were removed from the area. This is historic.

Statistics tell us that 60% of the people who are trafficked are children. In that moment, standing in the middle of the red light area, looking at that 11 year old fighting against the freedom that awaited her, it dawned on me that trafficking and abuse is not just a distant concept, but a reality that rips a person apart and changes the definition of who a child is.

Freedom Is A Process

Eventually, bringing these 42 young women out of that place of abuse and while speaking with them, I realized that freedom is not something that happens overnight. It is a process. It is a fight, but that fight is worth it because it changes the course of history. These 42 young women will never again have to worry about being abused by multiple men every night and day. 

Two days after our rescue operation, this entire red light area was shut down by the District Magistrate. Every single brothel, every single shop was sealed and the entire area was shut off and all commercial sex workers were removed from the area. This is historic. We had only read about this in law books, but to experience the shut down of a whole red light area was a first time experience!

As a team, we are so thankful for the police officers and the government social and rehabilitation teams who are committed to putting a stop to this, no matter the dangers and complications involved.

Every citizen has the right to live with human dignity and all other aspects which make life meaningful, complete and worth living.

To help a fellow human being get the freedom they deserve is one of the most rewarding experiences one can ever have. Over 75 years ago the fight that our freedom fighters fought and the pain that they and their families experienced, helps us to live today in a country where every citizen has the right to live with human dignity and all other aspects which make life meaningful, complete and worth living.

May I encourage you dear reader,  to look for ways in which you could engage in your community and partner with people or organizations in bringing freedom to the countless men, women and children being held in bondage and trafficked for sex, bonded labour, the organ trade, the skin trade and more.

Let us allow our hearts to be stirred by the pain of our fellow Indians, and may we never stop fighting till each life is meaningful, complete and worth living.

About The Author

Dolphy Biswas is Partnerships Director at Women Of Worth. She has about 10 years of experience in rescue operations to free young children from the sex trade and is passionate about bringing freedom to children who are trapped into commercial sexual exploitation. She regularly rescues girls from trafficking and dreams of a day when there won’t be anymore children who are exploited.

Why The WOW Norm- Breaker of the month

Why The WOW Norm- Breaker of the month

The challenges to a gender-equal world are overwhelmingly many. Do our efforts count? Is the goal of a gender-equal world achievable? One antidote to the sense of hopelessness this stirs is to look at the progress we have made so far. We look back to pick up the courage to move ahead. Our predecessors stopped at nothing. They stood for what they believed in about themselves. We share in their success as norm-breakers. Everything that we do to promote a gender-equal world benefits not just us but those in our world of influence. It also has the potential to influence a whole generation and the ones to come. At WOW, we believe in the power of representation.  Generations of today and tomorrow depend on us to create those representations as our predecessors have done for us. One of our initiatives for 2021 to inspire us to keep moving forward is to recognize women and girls who have been norm-breakers and trendsetters whose life and achievements keep propelling us to rise-up to the challenges ahead of us. 

As we celebrate our 72nd Republic Day here in India, we want to remind you that 15 women helped shape the Constitution of India.

And today we want to recognize and honour Dakshayani Velayudhan who was one of the youngest and the only Dalit woman among the 15 !

She is the WOW Norm-Breaker of the month. 

If you were to break one norm that helps us move towards a gender-equal world, what would you #ChoosetoChallenge?

Participate in our upcoming discussions and social media interactions. 

#genderequalworld #justiceequalitychange #norm-breakerforgenderequality 

 

 

Kavitha Emmanuel

Kavitha Emmanuel, Founder- Director

Women of Worth

The Punching Bags in the Community

The Punching Bags in the Community

When we all first started hearing about COVID-19 we assumed that it would not be ‘our’ problem. It was ‘their’ problem. The reality hit the country at the end of March, with the lockdown in place. While some of us were thinking of ‘being safe’ in the comfort of our homes there was a segment of society that didn’t know what safety meant. They didn’t know how to get the next meal for themselves. In the middle of a busy city like Kolkata with millions of people, in the north lies a community of about 44,000 people who are daily wage labourers, domestic help, rickshaw pullers and garbage cleaners. They are the people who make our lives comfortable.

WHO ARE THE PUNCHING BAGS?

With the people of the community losing their income and their future looking bleak, there was an increase in frustration, hopelessness and anxiety among the people. One of the biggest issues in our nation is the fact that only some of us have access to the legal remedial and to justice. There are millions of people in our country who are far away from receiving access to justice or even legal help.

It was during this time that the WoW team in Kolkata was able to connect with some of the city authorities. The team assured them that they were available to stand by the authorities to help during the time of crisis.

Very quickly this community was introduced to the WoW team. The team was told that it would be a difficult place to work at and would be uncomfortable. We were ready for the challenge.

When we first walked into the community it was indeed something words couldn’t have prepared us for.  The houses were crowded- on top of each other literally. There was no sense of lockdown being executed and there were people everywhere. There was no space for social distancing in the area. There was a feeling of hopelessness and sadness in the air. We quickly befriended the political leaders in the area and worked alongside them to reach out to the women and children. We were given a little shack in the middle of the vegetable market where we could station ourselves and wait for the women who would come to buy their daily groceries to find us and speak with us. We were immediately asked to intervene in some of the cases that were happening in the community and help with the problems.

The very first intervention was for a 25- year old lady who was married for about 8 months. Her in laws wanted a dowry of Rs. 2,00,000 but the family was only able to give Rs. 1,80,000. The in laws were not happy with the amount and she was continuously raped by her husband and many times by her father in law as well. On the day we were called, there was some major issue that had happened and the in laws set her on fire. We immediately assisted in getting her transferred to the hospital, being with her late in the evening to ensure she knew there was someone for her.

She was burnt 60% and it was a long and hard few days of battling for her life. We stood with her and helped in getting the statements to law enforcement. Unfortunately, she didn’t live to see justice done.

It was not easy to see her dying right in front of us and we wished there was a different end to her story and her life. She didn’t know she could have received justice for herself since her fight was for survival.

In another instance a 19-year old girl from a Hindu family ran away from home and got married to a 22-year old boy from a Muslim family. There was a lot of tension in the home because of the different faiths. The boy’s family, specifically his mother, would often beat the girl, since she didn’t accept her being from another faith. She was three months pregnant when her mother in law took her to someone in the mosque who looked at the girl and said she was pregnant with a girl child. The mother in law wanted a boy and therefore the severity of the abuse increased. When it got out of control, she ran out of the house to look for help and lost the baby the same night. She didn’t have the security to return to her parental house because they wouldn’t accept her back. We helped in counselling her, standing with her in the hospital, seeing the still born baby and sending the baby for cremation. We were there to support her, so that she knew she wasn’t alone especially when her own family despised her. She chose to return back to her in laws and continue to stay with her husband. She had no complaints against them. She didn’t want to go to the police or resort to any legal action since her survival and security of family and home was more important than fighting for her rights and for justice. We have continued to stand with her to ensure her safety and protection.

In another case, under the influence of alcohol, a girl from the same community was being beaten up by her husband. When we reached, we saw her dripping in petroleum and had we not intervened she would have been burnt alive. We were able to remove her and repatriate her back to her house in Sunderbans. It was a 4-hour long journey to take her back home by road and then crossing over the river in a boat.

Unfortunately, she was not safe in the maternal house either. We are unsure of the details of what happened, but it’s most likely that she was beaten, abused and died a couple of days later.

We couldn’t return back to help her because of the approaching cyclone and all communication on the Bay of Bengal was interrupted. Where was her justice? Did she really need a functional system or people to just be there for her?

What was common for all of the three women was that they needed basic security. They needed to know they are more important than dowry, than the child they would give birth to and that their lives mattered. They needed people to come and stand with them, affirm their worth and teach them that they had a right to life and dignity.

 

 

About the Author: Dolphy Biswas is from Kolkata and is passionate about working for women and children who don’t have a voice to speak up for themselves. For the past few years, as a community worker , Manager, and trainer with Women of Worth, she is involved in addressing the needs of women and adolescent girls in crisis situations. The COVID-19 pandemic became a season of torture for many of these women and girls who were already vulnerable. Dolphy has been able to do daily visits and be a source of support.
How Independent Are You This Independence Day?

How Independent Are You This Independence Day?

India’s current population is 1.35 billion and women constitute nearly half of it. The decreasing male-female ratio is indeed alarming but that may not change till we address our root issues. It is hard to change that just with policies and policing. Have you ever considered why and how almost one half of our population are also counted among the ‘marginalized’? How can such a huge segment of the population continue to be among the ‘marginalized’ for the last 73 years? The answer to that is not just in fighting for newer policies alone but in bringing about a transformation of culture itself. Transforming our culture is about changing prevailing mindsets from the grassroots level up and in this case that would mean challenging stereotypes birthed by patriarchal notions and norms.

Every time you raise your voice for your own freedom, to be who you are, you are also fighting for those around you. Freedom is contagious.

– Kavitha Emmanuel

So, the level of independence a woman experiences also determines the level of cultural progress in a community and this hugely affects the progress of the nation as a whole. When we talk about ‘independence’ we have to remember that it is not to create societies that are ‘individualistic’. The sort of independence that we are addressing here is about having the freedom to be, to choose and to decide. For women this sort of independence means that they need to have access to equal opportunity in all spheres. It also means that a woman’s perspectives are to be given equal weightage in all decision making processes across boardrooms and leadership teams. This can happen only when we radically change the very male-oriented definitions of leadership and include women as leaders in all avenues.

Every woman should feel the freedom to lead her own life, make her own choices. Every woman within the structures of families should be a leader still in her own right and not be pushed to a corner when it comes to decision making.

Freedom Is Our Birth-Right

Leadership positions are easily offered today for women at the workplace but is she still that vivacious leader when she comes home? True cultural transformation is to see women and men as inter-independent individuals in families and within communities. This means that each individual is a person in their own right even within a family but there is also a healthy mutual sharing of lives. Marriage should be seen as a merging of dreams and visions. Patriarchal norms have so submerged our subconscious minds and thinking patterns that giving up their decision making rights comes as second-nature to women.

As Indian women, our true celebration begins when we can boldly speak up for what is truly ours. Freedom is our birth-right. It is true that we have come to experience more freedom today than our predecessors. Always remember that every time you raise your voice for your own freedom, to be who you are, you are also fighting for those around you. Freedom is contagious. Are you determined to fight for your freedom? In doing so the others will experience it too.

So, don’t stay silent when you face any injustice. Speak up. When you need help, ask for it. Be free. Be yourself!

Jai Hind!

Kavitha Emmanuel is the founder of Women Of Worth, India. She is an advocate for women’s issues and believes that every individual is unique and intrinsically valuable.

Dreaming Of Space

Dreaming Of Space

I’m really not sure who the hero of this story is. Is it Udhaya Keerthika – an astronaut aspirant? Or her parents? A dad who is a writer and painter currently facing the herculean task of finding  funds for his daughter’s higher studies or the mother who works as a typist with a meagre income, yet determined that her girl’s dream is not compromised for anything.

I had the opportunity to spend the day with Keerthika and her parents at their home in Theni a few weeks ago, and was struck by the humility and patience they displayed. Between the non-stop phone calls and visitors, Keerthika’s parents tirelessly explained their daughter’s aspiration to everyone they met. When I caught a few minutes with her mother, she said,

“it might seem irrational that we are spending so much time and  effort to find resources to fuel her dreams, rather than get her married. However, we feel that education is equally important for a girl child.

In fact, my advice to all parents who have girls is to never ever underestimate what a girl can achieve. Girls are just as capable as boys. Girls and boys have aspirations that are equally important, and parents must make sure they believe in their children and encourage them. My husband and I are committed to supporting our daughter and her dreams.”

Her dad remembers when Keerthika was born, he would go around and tell everyone that he had a ‘PT Usha’ in his family, referring to the athlete PT Usha who achieved world records in athletics for India. “I aspire to see my daughter being a good scientist and an astronaut for our nation. One day, we as a family want to encourage and support other girls with dreams like Keerthika. A lack of resources cannot be an excuse for not achieving one’s dream”, says Keerthika’s father.

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Dare To Dream Big Dreams

Keerthika, a 21 year old from Theni, a small town in Tamil Nadu, who recently graduated with 92% in Aircraft Engineering from Kharkiv National Aerospace University in Ukraine. Though her entire schooling was done in Tamil medium, Keerthika always dreamt of reaching for the stars – quite literally, via being part of a manned mission for ISRO and to be the first woman astronaut for India.

Having very little to live by, her friends and family thought that Keerthi was ‘dreaming well beyond her means’, but when her father would tell her stories of real life heroes like Bharathiyar, Abdul Kalam, Karl Marx, Kalpana Chawla and other contemporary achievers, they inspired her!

As a teenager, she stood first in two competitions conducted by ISRO before she was 18 and that really encouraged her to keep her focus firm on space studies and to become an astronaut. She says she would lie down under the open skies at night and gaze at the stars endlessly. “I am so very eager to see the stars and the outer space that God has created”, she says.

As I spoke with Keerthika, I noticed that she is a person with absolute clarity of thought. Although a private person, she politely answered the incessant phone calls, received visitors and humbly accepted the shawl honour that each of them came with.

Keerthika told me that she doesn’t spend more than 10 minutes a day on social media and believes that social media is the biggest distraction for today’s youth.

As an aspiring astronaut, she says there are lot of physical challenges to be overcome as a woman, but that she is determined and has dedicated her life to being an astronaut and studying space. She says, “my parents have taught me to fight when things get tough. They have given me the freedom to dream and aspire.”

An Appeal

Her appeal to all the other parents is that they need to recognise that every child first trusts their own parents, and so it is their responsibility to encourage and be there for their children through failure and success. Most importantly, to never compare their child with others and to teach them to face hardships with the right attitude.

She said, “I am grateful for all the challenges that we had to face for they have made me resilient and strong, capable of facing any situation in life.”

I later notice that she sneaks into her room to spend some time in prayer before getting back to the living room to meet with the next stream of visitors.

A Wealth Like No Other

As the day comes to an end, I walk away realising that this family is one of the wealthiest people I know. Rich because of their right attitude, hard work, strong faith and their love and trust of each other.

To me , it seemed like her parents were not just raising a girl child,  they were raising a future astronaut and they saw themselves as simply being the ‘wind beneath her wings’.

A few days after my visit, it warmed my heart to find out that the family was able to raise the money for her to go to Poland for a two month course in analog astronaut training, and she is one of just 8 people from around the world that have been selected for this training.

As Kalpana Chawla once said, “If you have a dream, follow it. It doesn’t really matter whether you are a woman or from India or from wherever.”

Christy is a producer for a tv channel. Her first love is street photography and she strives to be a story teller through her images. She is also a volunteer with Women Of Worth and a regular contributor to our blogs.