Dear Teacher, Five Tips To Remember While Talking About Safety With Your Students

To the teacher who told her students that girls should not dress in jeans and lipstick:

Dear Teacher, have you used public transportation in your city and never been groped? Have you walked along a street lined with men smoking beedi or drinking chai and never been hollered at? Have you never been judged as a woman when your parents sought a suitable alliance for you? Have you never been mentally undressed by perverted eyes in public? Or did your iron-clad-saree-armour protect you from these experiences?

Ever wonder why it’s easier to blame a girl for her jeans and lipstick?

People generally believe that bad things happen to others. The “others” is something people do not want to associate themselves with. Because once you do that, the threat becomes personal. Bad things could then happen to all people. We are scared to believe that. And so we start defining the characteristics of “others.” Jeans, lipstick, heels, being out after dark, alone with a boy, cell phones, Indian-Chinese food, peacocks, etc. etc. etc.

Don’t feel bad to associate yourself with your students. Yes, you are free to choose what modesty means to you and what perverse means to you. No, you are not free to pass judgment on a girl because she has defined her boundaries differently.

Dear Teacher, you are free to speculate Nirbhaya’s gruesome assault, torture, and demise. But you are not doing anyone any favors when your speculation has no bearing on statistical facts of a study showing 41% of women who reported their rape in India were dressed in sarees. And no, the other 59% were not all flaunting themselves in jeans or skirts. Majority of them were burkha clad, which indicates a very small possibility of sexual provocation as defined by you.

I am a woman, a mother, a sister, and all those wonderful tags that people use to associate themselves with others. I am saying this to find common ground with you. So that I may plead with you to not just take back your words but to learn the truth about sexual assault and rape.

Your prejudice filled rant might have actually been an attempt to educate your young students about safety. But I urge you to use not only sympathy but empathy, in the classroom. Without empathy, you will be fighting a losing battle. So here are some ideas that might help you to effectively advocate the safety of your students:

  1. Boys and girls are both in danger of being raped and sexually abused in our nation. The Study of Child Abuse: India 2007, published by the Government of India had a shocking revelation that 52% of boys surveyed claimed to be sexually abused. So, when addressing safety issues, make sure to keep students from all sexual and gender orientation safe.
  2. The hardest thing for a child to do is communicate the violation and abuse they experienced because often they lack the awareness and vocabulary to do so. The next time you choose to address your students on safety mandates, begin by assuring them that you will be an adult who will believe their broken words and incoherent stories. Assure them that the violation of their bodies was not their fault.
  3. Do not let socio-economic status or caste lead you to believe in the existence of an automatic safety zone for the child. Please know that most children are sexually abused during the day in places where they feel safe: their home, their neighborhood, their community. So make sure to talk to all your students about safe resources available to them, like 1098 (the phone number for Childline), or a school counselor, or your classroom – because it’s time to maintain an open door policy and create safe classrooms.
  4. Also, if anyone tells you that ignoring the abuse will allow the child to get over it sooner, please do not believe them. Trauma manifests itself in different ways and at different times, often hindering the student from enjoying healthy lifestyles and relationships as they grow older.
  5. I have already presented data to dispute that clothes don’t make a victim, and this is especially true in the case of child sexual abuse. But if clothes are something that distracts you from associating with a student who has been sexually abused, look for common ground as a fellow human being. Always exercise your power to empathize.

I am glad you want to address safety issues with your students. For a student to succeed academically, socially or emotionally, safety has to be a priority. Make sure the school administration supports you in this effort to keep your students safe.

There are several organizations that can help your school implement safety protocols in order to promote the best interest of the student. If you unable to find one in your area, write to wow@womenofworth.in and we’ll help you with your efforts.

Let’s build each other up instead of shaming those who have suffered much already.

Sincerely,

Lydia Durairaj, WOW Staff.

Committed to the Girl Child

In India, every year, January 24th is observed as the ‘National day of the girl child’, to celebrate the girl child and to raise awareness on the issues facing girls in our nation which includes gendercide, child marriage, lack of protection, education and other inequalities.

While we laud the benefits of a world that is increasingly becoming digital, the micro impact of digitisation is affecting the choices that children and youth are faced with.

In our blog this month, we want to share the story of 14 year old Laxmi*. Like many girls of her age, Laxmi gave in to the romantic advances of a 23 year old man. Before she realised what she was getting into, pictures of her were being circulated in her neighbourhood in an attempt to tarnish her reputation if she refused to marrying this man.

Fortunately for Laxmi, her mother got wind of the situation and with the help of WOW filed a police complaint forcing the man to vacate the neighbourhood. It was also disheartening to learn from Laxmi, who is in the 10th standard, that she was actually considering leaving school, giving up her dreams and other future prospects to marry someone she barely knew. Currently she is under WOW’s counseling and rehabilitation program and is housed at a secure home where she will learn life skills and pursue her higher education as well.

Laxmi’s mother, like crores of mothers across our nation, struggle to provide for their families while living with abusive alcoholic husbands .

WOW intervenes in the lives of adolescent girls whose right to safety and well-being are threatened by uninformed choices and by society’s blind norms and tirelessly works towards empowering adolescent girls rescued from abuse, neglect and abandonment – one girl at a time. If you would like to support children like Laxmi live up to their full-potential, partner with us in our Girl Arise empowerment program and our Media Literacy workshops that help children make informed choices for their lives. Write to girlarise@womenofworth.in for more info or log on to www.womenofworth.in/give to donate.

Our dream is to make every day, the day of the girl child!

*name changed to protect identity

The Road to Change

Seema (name changed) is a runaway teen. Her story gives her more than one reason to run away from home. As a Sri Lankan refugee who lost both parents and was abandoned by siblings, she moved in with a caring grandmother in Tamilnadu, only to fall prey to a supposed boyfriend who swindled money from her.
All these traumatic childhood experiences have caused Seema to suffer from a mental illness. She wishes to someday go back to her home country and begin afresh, but that seems lofty while battling a world stacked against her.

To keep Seema from running from her past and to gain confidence before being repatriated, our rehab staff are providing individual counselling and life skills based group therapy. She has currently been enrolled in tailoring classes held at the home which she enjoys and has shown great aptitude towards. These are the first steps towards her complete rehabilitation.

The most common reason for rescuing girls between the ages of 14 – 18 is because they run away from home. Once they are rescued they are brought to a centre in Chennai where WOW provides counselling and conducts rehabilitation programs.

The reason for running away might vary but revolves around the age old rationale of escaping the clutches of something unpleasant. However, when they run, these teen girls put themselves in more danger.

WOW would also like to start programs to equip girls like Seema with the right resources and tools that would empower them after repatriation. If you want to support our work with girls like Seema, please write to info@womenofworth.in

An Accidental Celebration

I have a room! 

The house we recently moved into was previously colonized by a furry feline and the master bedroom was its throne room. We discovered its existence without ever having the trouble of meeting it. The allergic reactions suffered by my husband and my daughter immediately informed us of this room’s previous tenant. 

The only other room available was being used as a home office which now had to accommodate our master bed as well, rendering the actual master bedroom into a storage space. Most of the office furniture including some bookshelves and a couch were moved into the master bedroom. Slowly, other items that needed to be stored away clumsily made this room their abode. This was now the forbidden room which had an invisible sign: “No Trespassing. High Risk of Itchiness and Sneezing.” 

Wait! What? Recap: There now exists a room that nobody wanted. More like, a room that nobody could have even if they wanted it without risking lung infections or asphyxiation…except for yours truly! 

I knew what I had to do; Rearrange, reorganize, stack all the shelves, create floor space, use the couch, add some curtains, maybe some pictures, some things I’ve collected from my travels, and a floor rug for the dog (yes, the dog is always welcome. Besides, the room intrigues her senses). And before I knew it, I had a room. 

I have since heard that other women have created rooms for themselves; they are called she sheds. But this was no fantastical, whimsical, Pinterest-worthy she shed. It really was a glorified storage closet. But to me, it was what the DeLorean was to Marty McFly – a time machine – transporting me to explore interests I’ve ignored or discarded. It was what the Fortress of Solitude was to Superman – a hideout – giving me space and time to actually experience silence and meditation. It was what the pages of Mein Kampf were to Max as he hid in Liesel’s basement – a scabrous canvas – to paint my story about how I reconnected with myself.

Out of unplanned, unintended, and unexpected circumstances, I discovered how to celebrate me. 

Dear DISB campaigners,

We’ve been selfishly and gloriously focusing on YOU all through the month of November. You are valued and worthy! What you celebrate expands you. So tell us how you Celebrate You – flaws and all! Send in your stories. #DISBcelebratesYOU

Will I Raise a Son Like Harvey Weinstein

#MeToo – a hashtag determined to prove that tens of thousands of women across the world have a Harvey Weinstein in their lives; a power mongering predator who uses coercion, deception, manipulation, or force for their own sexual gratification.

#MeToo – a hashtag that united the victims from all walks of life, validated their pain and endorsed their right to safety.

#MeToo – a hashtag that got men – perpetrators or not – to lend their support in ending violence against women.

Many people shared their stories, and others made proclamations to change the status quo. To this end, Mayim Bialik, a Hollywood actress, neuroscientist, and a mom, shared a video called Will I Raise a Son like Harvey Weinstein?

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFb0EDl-JS8″]

Bialik uses the video to reminisce about the lessons she learnt from her parents as a child actress in Hollywood. One lesson in particular was to be wary of men as they are always motivated by only one thing – sex. As she continues to navigate the importance of raising sons who will be the antithesis of Harvey Weinstein, she asks a very important question: Will the lack of trust in men, that my parents raised me with, serve me well as I raise my own sons?

This is an important question to grapple with as parents, and as a society. Most of the work that we as an organization do revolves mainly around empowering girls and women. This mom’s question forces us to consider training boys to view their world through a feminist lens.

Though Bialik’s views are socially conservative or lack cultural nuances, they are certainly a good place to start. Here is her list of 7 teachings that parents need to impart to their sons:

Equality:  Everyone is virtually the same. We all have the same hearts, same desire to be loved, respected and protected.
This is especially difficult in cultures where religion, class, and caste divides create systems of hierarchies that deify or dehumanize people based on where they belong in the spectrum. But the belief in humanity and the ability to consider equality as stated above is never beyond grasp even in archaic and patriarchal cultures.

Rights: Everyone has a right to feel safe. If you put someone in a situation where they don’t feel safe – It’s not okay.
Our children have the right to safety. Our women have the right to safety. Our men have the right to safety. Schools, colleges, workplaces, hospitals, public places are covered under several legislatures that call for safety protocols that are yet to be translated into actionable changes. Modeling this behavior becomes difficult when excuses are the norm and safety is only a buzzword.

Consent: You do not have the right to touch someone if they do not want to be touched – Even by your own mother.
This is a tough nugget to teach. Saying ‘no’ is seen as rejection, defiance, and rebellion – an act which undermines authority – making consent less important and obedience a virtue. This fallacy goes against the very nature of consent. Parents, as figures of authority, have a unique privilege to model consent by setting and respecting healthy boundaries with children – both boys and girls.

Common Sense: It’s never okay to be intimate or touch someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the point that they cannot give consent
Statements like, “Boys will be boys” or “Girls like ‘this’ are asking for it,” shred common sense and allow abuse to piggy back on the blame game. It’s easy to see alcohol, or a party, or articles of clothing as the culprit instead of common sense that informs us that people are equal, people have a right to safety, and people have to consent.

Location: You are responsible for where you are. If you are in a place where there are bad things going, leave and report it. Strip clubs and places where people pay to have sex, don’t go there. It is your responsibility to protect a man or woman that you see in a dangerous place. Get out. Get help. That’s on you
This might seem tricky as defining good and bad in respect to sexual preferences or reclaiming sexuality is always debated. If we teach our boys about equality, rights, consent, and common sense, there are greater chances that systems of abuse can be overcome as they self regulate where they should or should not be.

Ingesting: Scientifically speaking, the human brain doesn’t really behave with great judgment in the teens and even into the twenties. Things you would never think you would do, people do them when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Ingesting pornography…likely contributes to the degradation and abuse of men and women.
As a neuroscientist, Bialik naturally turns steers the conversation towards topics such as brain plasticity as something we need to teach our sons to be aware of as they navigate life and form their identity, theories on life, overcome peer pressure, be media literate, etc. Everything that is permissible is not necessarily beneficial, especially if it contributes to the objectification and abuse of people, women in particular.

Daily: Every single day respect people that you interact with but specifically, pay special attention to those who have not been appreciated or represented historically.
This is difficult when privilege is woven into the fabric of our existence, but let’s walk two moons in their moccasins to understand the position of privilege as it applies to each of us. Let’s make it a habit to be more than politically correct; not by being patronizing, but with the belief that everybody is created equally, that everybody has rights, that consent and common sense are essential in intimate relationships, and that learning can lead to better understanding.

In faith, we echo Bialik’s closing comment: We have inherited a broken world and it is our job to fix it.

Share with us how parents could model this behavior within families.

Flawesome Jaya

  1. What was it about the flawesome series that got you interested in sharing your story with us ?
    News is that none of us are flawless and it was my desire to share my common place story so that it would make a difference to atleast one person.
  2. Give us a bit of your background for starters.
    Unexpectedly arrived as the seventh child after a gap of seven years and weighed 10 pounds. Not much has changed in the physical realm – even now I look really healthy. Grew up in a simple home where academics were high priority as well as exposure to multiple activities while community engagement was also a priority. I put my hand in various activities in school and did relatively well in most of them. School and college were well invested years.
  3. What event/incident turned your life around or was pivotal to you?
    I have had many a challenge that I have faced all through the years of my life though one of them could be a fairness cream and whitening cream concept defeating piece. It was in my mid-thirties that I suddenly began a journey of an auto-immune condition called “vitiligo”- the loss of melanin and of course your skin tone takes on a new shade- undefined by color schemes of cosmetic companies. Though I turned white quite quickly – it was interesting as my husband’s little boy day dreams of marrying a fair girl came true as he got a fair wife after 7 years into mariage. Look and feel chemistry definitely did not decide our marriage as the proof of the pudding is that we have held on together through it all for many years thereafter.
  4. What were the challenges you faced because of your condition and how did you cope and overcome them?
    People and their questions were an unresolvable lot. Their curiosity was way beyond our comprehension. They were more bothered about my condition – both in good and odd ways. Personally, I could not look into the mirror for a year. And that’s the year my husband as an adult began to smoke cigarettes. The not-so right treatment that I received bloated me further. Use of any make-up and the like was hard as colours did not display the same on my skin. My hair turned 90% grey and it was strange to see a new – not so likeable you.
    That’s when I turned to my faith and got the strength and confidence I needed and believe me in 12 months time I had a break through where I could stand in front of the mirror and look at myself and say to myself that I am beautiful and wonderful.
  5. Have you struggled with feelings of inadequacy?
    I believe it was a struggle of accepting my physical condition and not one of comparison. So I used to just lie low and quiet without doing anything frontline except at work.
  6. If we asked you what some of your wildest dreams are, what would you say?
    I desire to collaborate in the area of academics and work as an influence. This has become a reality now. I am able to coach those who cannot afford it and that has really taken off. I make others grow tall on my shoulders as I can’t grow any shorter(did not grow tall from 8th grade). I love making others look their best at my cost. I love people and help them to walk in freedom and fullness of life here on earth.
  7. What has been the greatest achievement and joy of your life so far?
    My faith has been my greatest strength. My relationship with God has carried me through the greatest struggles of my life and has given me great joy.
  8. What is your advice to our readers today?
    Focus on another even when you are going through pain and believe me “People are important” will become your mantra.

[su_box title=”About the author” style=”soft” box_color=”#f3f3f3″ title_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Jaya is a trainer and motivational speaker.
She resides in Mumbai with her husband Abraham. [/su_box]