Summary of Learning Community Survey




The Mumbai Adolescent Girls Learning Community………………………………………………………………………………… 3


Why is this topic important?…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 3


Survey Purpose, Methodology and Implementation…………………………………………………………………………………. 4


Why is This Survey Design Different?…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 5


Limitations of the Study and Challenges faced…………………………………………………………………………………………… 5


Characteristics of the Population Surveyed…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 6


Survey Findings……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 7


Geographic Location of Restrictions on girls………………………………………………………………………………………….. 7


Why are Girls Restricted?…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 8


What Can Boys do that girls cannot?………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 9


WHO IMPOSES RESTRICTIONS ON GIRLS?………………………………………………………………………………………………. 9


Autonomy and Control over Choices………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 10


How restrictions affect girls personally…………………………………………………………………………………………………. 11


What Can be Done to Reduce Restrictions?………………………………………………………………………………………………. 11


Discussion and Conclusions…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 13


Main Conclusions………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 14


  1. Conclusions on Methodology……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 14


  1. Conclusions on Restrictions……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 14


  1. Suggested Actions to Reduce Restrictions…………………………………………………………………………….. 14


Next Steps for Strategic Planning…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 15


  1. Drill down analysis by the girls………………………………………………………………………………………………… 15


  1. Focus Groups………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 15


  1. Other Analyses………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 16



This report was authored by EMpower – The Emerging Markets Foundation, for more


information please contact or











EMpower formed the Learning Community in 2012 to empower adolescent girls to lead change in their local communities. It provides training and support to adolescent girls and young female staff (mentors) of its eight member organizations for them to lead interventions and seek solutions to problems that affect girls, with 2 major objectives: to build the leadership capacities of adolescent girls to effectuate change within their own communities and to build the professional capacity of junior staff within the member organizations. In 2012, four member organizations – Vacha, Akshara, Aangan and Vidhayak Sansad worked together to form this community, which was then coordinated by Vacha Trust. In 2013, three more organizations joined to scale up the impact: CORO, Dosti and Stree Mukti Sanghatana. In 2015, Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) of Bombay joined the Learning Community. Five of the eight organizations, Vacha, Aangan, Akshara, Vidhayak Sansad and CORO are EMpower grantee partners.1 The Learning Community has now completed its 4th year and thus far has trained over 250 girls and 30 mentors.


The program runs on a one-year cycle, and completed its fourth year in January 2017. Each NGO recruits a cohort of adolescent girls and mentors, who are trained in leadership and project planning skills. The girls choose the priority issues that they wish to tackle and develop a work plan. For the past several years they have focused on different restrictions on, and mobility and public safety of adolescent girls. For the rest of the year, the girls implement their plans, with monitoring and guidance by the mentors through frequent meetings. At the end of the year, the learning community holds two joint events: one for all member organizations to come together and plan a collaborative initiative; and another public meeting where they invite external stakeholders such as senior staff from their organizations, elected officials, individuals from civil society and the media so that they can showcase their achievements.




There are several insights from the academic literature on women’s safety and the necessity on the part of women to reclaim the city from their male counterparts. Shilpa Ranade states that “the control of women’s movement has been central to the maintenance of a gender regime informed by patriarchy” (Ranade, 2007: 1525). Girls must maintain the boundaries that have been created for them or else run the risk of being called into question for their behavior. “The phenomenon of boundary maintenance is a crucial element in … the vulnerability of young girls and the emphasis on their purity and restraint in behavior. This is expressed in the construction of legitimate’ and ‘proper’ modes of speech, demeanor and behavior for young girls and in the organization of their space and time” (Dube 1988:15). A girl, when accessing space, must do so only to fulfil a particular function, such as going to school, buying groceries or visiting a family member. “Women can access public space legitimately only when she can manufacture a sense of purpose for being there” (Ranade: 2007: 1521). This construct limits the ability for a girl to access space as and when she wants to, and maintains “social order” through the fear of her potential unsafety and the risk of ruining her reputation if she was to enter or “be caught” in the public space without a purpose. Shilpa Phadke argues that “what women need in order to access public space as citizens is not so much the provision of safety as the right to take risks” (Phadke 2007:1510). She argues that rather than actual safety concerns that keep girls out of public space, it is the implications for perceptions of their character that deters girls from entering the public sphere.


The “exclusion of women from public places…manifests itself in unequal status, loss of access to empowering information, incompetence in making informed decisions and choices. Expansion of space, therefore, emerges as a key issue in women’s empowerment” (Paul: 2001: 249). Without equitable access to space and the ability to engage freely with others in public, girls are unable to be active agents in the world in which they live.



  • Vidhayak Sansad left the Learning Community in 2016.







The Adolescent Girls Learning Community is an example of a strategy deployed to contest and challenge women’s access to public space. Girls transcend numerous barriers – physical, linguistic, religious, and even socioeconomic – to come together with a greater sense of purpose, which Appadurai (2001) argues leads to the deepening of democracy and citizenship. The methodology employed by the Learning Community is to enable these girls to understand their rights so that they can challenge any infringements upon them with self-awareness and knowledge of their entitlements to citizenship and their relationship with their city. Phadke states that “a feminist demand for public space located in an understanding of rights would clearly distinguish it from a more paternalistic claim to safety (therefore protection) in public space.” (2007:1516)


“Safety… is linked directly to the level of claim that one feels to a space.” (Phadke 2007:1511). In many ways, the primary purpose of Learning Community activities was to ensure that these girls’ claim to their city increased, so that they would feel more confident when engaging with their city. Through these activities, the girls recognized “their legitimate right to public space as citizens [which] has the capacity to transform women’s relationship to public space.” (Phadke 2007:1511). These activities were all undertaken in the public sphere, so through their participation, girls were challenging the very structures that would keep them within the home. Moreover, not only did they dance, act and play in the streets, they also accessed several services for the first time. Girls visited police stations and got relevant permissions for all their activities (flash mobs, street rallies), they also organized health camps so that girls in the community were aware of their rights to healthcare, finally they engaged with elected officials about the observations that they made while they were conducting safety maps of their community. The Learning Community activities were sites of social transformation, which momentarily altered the meaning of space in the city as an inclusive, welcoming and safe space for the girls in the group. In many ways, these transgressions are declarations for a right to the city and “a transformed and renewed right to urban life.” (Lefebvre 1996:158)


However, the available literature, both in academia as well as in civil society, points to safety and unsafety of the city as opposed to looking at restrictions, which is how most girls experience adolescence. Therefore, the girls recognized that they needed to collect data in order to illustrate their experience in the city and how they experience restrictions as a consequence of becoming an adolescent girl. The focus of this survey is innovative, and is vital to understand this under-theorized issue that affects girls living in the urban metropolis.




In the third year of the Learning Community, the girls collectively decided that they needed data to supplement their experiences and on the ground interventions within their communities. They too realized that the discourse usually is about women’s safety in the city and not about ‘restrictions’ that adolescent girls face, such as not being able to travel alone, play outdoors or go to school freely, which are the first tangible experiences of becoming an adolescent girl in an urban environment. The girls believed that if they had data about the extent of the restrictions placed upon them, they would be able to do something about them; and for that reason, they decided to conceive, design and collect data focused on the topic of restrictions as opposed to safety, which has been done before. Their ultimate goal is to foster a community environment that lessens harmful restrictions on them and increases their safety, thus expanding their choices and mobility.


Accordingly, in 2015, the Learning Community (LC) girls from all eight NGO members undertook a community survey in each of the communities where they live on restrictions faced or perceived by girls, to use in community advocacy. The survey questions focused on issues of restrictions, mobility, and safety in their communities. With the help of Helen Joseph, a local researcher,2 and their NGO mentors, the 80 LC girls took leadership in designing the survey questions, thus putting into practice a basic principle of the Learning Community -that supporting girls to take on a leadership role and make decisions to design their own community interventions is an effective path to girls’



  • Field work coordinator, College of Social Work Nirmal Niketan







empowerment. The girls also took leadership in planning the survey outreach, and were the first respondents of the survey themselves — an important step in training them on how to administer the surveys.


The survey used convenience sampling, with the LC girls planning how to reach out to other adolescent girls between the ages of 12-19 involved in the same NGO, and in their schools and communities. The final survey had ten multiple choice questions and, if all questions were answered, took approximately 30 minutes to apply, including initial introductions and rapport building conversation. The girls applied the survey from September through December 2015, using oral interviews, making notes and writing responses on paper copies, and turning in surveys to EMpower. A local researcher, Dakshu Jindal, input the data on an excel spreadsheet, analyzed the data, and wrote a basic quantitative report with some quotes of the main findings on all survey questions.




This research follows an approach known as Participatory Action Research (PAR). Rather than more traditional constructs of research, which typically rely on investigation undertaken by ‘objective’ outside parties, PAR is focused on participation and action. And it usually directly involves those who understand and are most affected by the topic under inquiry, who shape the research and act upon the findings.


In the case of this survey, the girls in the Adolescent Girl Learning Community had the idea for the survey, they designed the questions, and they carried out the survey (the data synthesis and analysis was done by an outside expert). That girls generated and led the study is uncommon in any context but particularly in their communities, where their ability to act independently and to lead – as the survey results show! – is hobbled continuously.


The action part of Participatory Action Research is the next phase (see pages 12-14 below) when the girls and mentors in the Learning Community digest the aggregate results as well as those that are particular to their communities, with an eye to finding the most consequential yet feasible changes.




The LC adolescent girl leaders turned in a total of 1,300 surveys out of 1,500 distributed. Although the girls have secondary level of education, they are not trained data collectors, and many surveys were blank or unusable. Every girl was given 50 forms, and given four months to get them done. Out of the 1,300 surveys returned, around 350 were mainly blank and could not be used, suggesting that for some girls, the task of completing 50 surveys was a bit overwhelming. The total final sample was 942 girls and young women.


Limitations of the study include:


  • The convenience samples are mainly based on the LC Girl leaders’ social networks; in some cases, these networks do include the most vulnerable girls (e.g. wastepickers), but in other cases included girls who live in slum environments but are from more affluent backgrounds (i.e., their parents are salaried and they have a relatively stable income). The sample included schoolmates or other girls involved with the same NGO, but not involved in the LC. Each NGO should keep in mind who the sample represents as they interpret the findings.


  • The quality of the notes taken by some of the girl leaders makes some responses difficult to interpret.


  • It is not possible to analyze how the blank surveys might have biased the sample, resulting in under- or over-representation of a particular neighborhood or sub-set of girls.













The girls who are part of the Adolescent Girls Learning Community are all subject to the pressures of the social structures that confine them physically and mentally in adolescence. Additionally, they are part of the ‘invisible’ population of the city. They come from a diversity of backgrounds, including:


  • Marathi-speaking girls from the Katkari tribe who live in semi-urban areas on the fringes of Mumbai;


  • Marathi-speaking migrants whose families have travelled to Mumbai;


  • Hindi-speaking girls who are born in Mumbai but whose families are from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. (This group is made up of both Hindus and Muslims (both Shi’a and Sunni);


  • Buddhist/Dalits; and


  • the girls’ first language is Urdu, Marathi or Hindi.


All survey respondents were girls and young women from slum communities in Mumbai and Thane. 56% of respondents were Hindu, 31% Muslim, and 11% Buddhist. 50% of the group was Marathi-speaking, 40% Hindi-speaking, and 10% other. Their socio-economic status also varies; some are children of daily laborers who work in construction, others are the children of domestic workers, and the wealthier girls are children of auto wallahs (rickshaws) and taxi drivers.


What binds these girls together is that they all live in bastis (urban slum neighborhoods) or, in the case of girls from Vidhyak Sansad, from peri-urban localities around Mumbai; are in school; and, are part of “the other citizen,” (Kapur 2010: 139). That is, they are not part of the normative (middle class, Hindu, upper caste, male) mold of citizenship. In addition, their right to the city, their access to public space and their freedom to ‘loiter’ is called into question by their gender. Therefore, their citizenship within the city is lesser than their male counterparts. In many ways, these girls are also “citizens without a city” (Appadurai 2001:27), that is, they are invisible to policy makers and city planners. Nonetheless, their families are vital to the economy of the city. The girls are using the learning community to challenge the normative perceptions of citizenship to claim their rightful place within the city.


Many girls and young women responding to the survey were in secondary school or had completed secondary school.

The median highest level of education completed was 10th grade.


The mean and median age of the girls surveyed was 16 years, with some respondents outside the designated age range. Around half of Akshara respondents were 19 or over, with a sizeable proportion outside of the adolescent age range. Yet around one-third of the Dosti respondents were ages 7-10, pulling down the average range to the lowest of all the NGOs. However, they have been included in the survey results.


  TOTAL Average Median
Akshara 73 20.6 19.5
Coro 48 14.8 15.5
Dosti (1) 98 14.1 15
Aangan LC 144 15 15
SMS 97 16.3 17
Vacha 126 14.6 16
Vidhayak Sansad 137 15.3 15
YWCA 150 16.4 16


(1) 33 7-10 year olds pulled down average in Dosti












This section presents and discusses the most relevant findings on the ten survey questions, with the first nine questions exploring the nature of restrictions on girls, who imposes them, and their perceptions of the reasons for imposing them. The final question explores girls’ opinions on what could be done to reduce their restrictions.




The first multiple choice question on the survey asks girls to identify the places where they have easy access, restricted (partial or conditional) access, or are not allowed to go at all. This question also highlights places girls have never been, which is harder to interpret, since reasons other than restrictions could explain their answers.


The following table is sorted by the number of “easy” responses indicating lack of restrictions, and shows that 70 – 91% of girls pointed to relatively easy access to school, shops, toilet, market, road, and temple.


  Easy % easy Restricted Not allowed Never been Total
School 847 91% 25 39 23 935
Shops 750 84% 37 31 72 890
Public Toilet 749 86% 41 37 47 874
Market 701 75% 62 120 52 935
Road 673 73% 96 110 37 916
Temple 594 70% 59 78 120 851
Festivals 518 59% 150 114 100 882
Playground 480 55% 116 148 127 871
Health Clinics 462 56% 49 82 234 827
Newspaper stand 430 53% 43 76 269 818
Bank 416 49% 56 110 269 851
Main Road 431 48% 122 216 131 900
Mall 393 47% 87 104 245 829
Railway / metro Station 365 40% 86 179 272 902
Crowded Place 356 40% 129 270 145 900
Police Station 252 30% 59 96 436 843
Cinema 233 26% 100 162 403 898



In some cases, the findings on places that girls have “never been” are harder to interpret, because the reasons are not necessarily gender-related restrictions. The lack of access could be influenced by distances in their neighborhood, cost, or social exclusion due to caste/class (e.g. for malls or cinema). There are many possible reasons why some girls have never been to a police station or bank, including the fact that they might not know what services they could avail, not have the need or have misconceptions about accessing services. Between a quarter to half of the girls had never been to the following:


  Never been % of total responses  
Police Station 436 52%  






Cinema 403 45%  
Station 272 30%  
Bank 269 32%  
Newspaper stand 269 33%  
Mall 245 30%  
Health Clinics 234 28%  



15-30% of respondents reported that they are not allowed to go to the following places:


  Not allowed % of total responses  
Crowded Place 270 30%  
Main Road 216 24%  
Railroad/Metro Station 179 20%  
Cinema 162 18%  
Playground 148 17%  



The ease of access to education for more than 90% in this sample is remarkable, revealing excellent community support for girls’ education. As suggested by the literature cited earlier, another broader pattern is that restrictions tend to be relaxed for areas related to necessities (toilet), domestic responsibilities (shops & market) and religious activities, and more restricted for all activities related to recreation and cultural life. For example, 45% of the respondents have some or total restrictions on use of playgrounds, and the majority had little access to the cinema or the mall. “Crowded places” signify a judgment of lack of safety, and probably is related to the restrictions on going to the railroad/metro station.




The multiple-choice questions designed by the LC girl leaders reveal their experiences of both gender and caste/religious discrimination, as well as their recognition of legitimate concerns for their safety in their neighborhoods. Gender-related responses include “to control us,” “tradition,” and “because people don’t like girls.” The phrasing is remarkably different from surveys designed by professional adults, and reveals the benefits of having young people participate actively in survey design, because the survey also serves to amplify their thought processes. In addition, it is worth noting that the girls who designed the surveys, through their exposure to issues of gender, were more conscious of concepts such as being controlled by men or adults.


794 responses3 with some accompanying comments reveal how girls chafe at the restrictions imposed on them due to gender discrimination.


Why are girls restricted? Frequency Example of comments girls made





  • Respondents could respond affirmatively to as many of the multiple-choice items as they chose.







Why are girls restricted?

(लड़कियों पर पाबन्दी क्यों है?)



     Example of comments girls made

(लडकियों के बयानों के कुछ उदाहरण)

To control us


( हम पर नियंत्रण रखने के लिए )









“ताकि हम बुरी आदतों में न पड़े”, “लडको से बात न करना”, “ताकि हम बिरादरी का नाम ख़राब न कर्रे”


“So that we don’t develop bad habits”;  “don’t talk to boys”; “so that we don’t ruin their name”

( हमारी सुरक्षा के लिए )


For our safety

396 “ बलात्कार “, “परिवार का डर” , “हमारे साथ कुछ बुरा न होजाए उसकी चिंता “


“Rape”; “family is scared”; “they don’t want anything bad to happen to us”




275  “माता पिता का समाज में सम्मान रखने के लिए”


“So that parents can maintain their respect in society”

  (क्युकी लोगो को लड़कियां पसंद नहीं है)


  “लडकियों को बोझ समझा जाता है” , “ लडकियों का जन्म बुरा

माना जाता है”, “लडकियों की शादी के लिए बहुत पैसा लगता है

“They are considered a burden”; “being born a girl is wrong”;

Because people don’t like girls 121 “have to pay for a girls wedding”  


(क्युकी हम अलग है)


Because we are different

51 “ हम मुस्लिम है इसलिए हममे घर के अन्दर ढककर रहना होता है”


“Because we are Muslims and we have to stay inside home –

(illness/caste/dress) covered”  

(क्युकी हम कम है)


Because we are lesser

























Most responses to this open-ended question capture girls’ perceptions of boys’ lack of restrictions and freedom as compared to theirs. The most frequent observation is that boys “can go out at night” or “stay out until late.” Other frequent themes include boys’ ability to go anywhere, to bicycle, to wear what they want (especially jeans), and to get a job. Many interpreted the question to refer to capabilities rather than restrictions, and in all these cases asserted that girls are equal in capabilities to boys. “Girls can do everything but they are restricted.” Although there were scattered references to gender issues such as sexual violence or harassment, freedom to decide whom to marry, these observations are minor in comparison to the more general focus on restrictions on girls’ mobility and activities in public vs. boys’ relative freedom.




The survey asked about family members, peers, influential people in the community, and local authorities. The responses make it clear that peers and local authorities play a fairly insignificant role. More than 1,000 responses pointed to various family members, 4 while to a lesser extent (729) teachers, neighbors, and elders imposed restrictions on girls.























  • “Paternal grandparents” is a separate category because girls’ families are most likely to live with them.






    Who Puts Restrictions On You?        
Paternal Grandparents       137                
Friends       163              
Relatives           248            
Neighbors           263            
Teachers             328          
Parents                     560  
0 100 200 300 400 500 600  




When reviewing the table below, the tendencies are clear. Most of this sample of girls are able to exercise their choices regarding education, food, clothing, and hospital care. However, almost 70% have no or little control over whom they marry, and more than 60% have no or little control over access to social media, or any transportation, limiting their range of mobility to their immediate neighborhood.


When asked how much control do girls have on decisions related to:


  Number of responses % None or Little % Yes, have control
Marriage 873 69% 31%
Social Media 919 63% 37%
Cycle/transport 913 62% 38%
Hospital 873 37% 63%
Clothes 923 30% 70%
Education 919 18% 82%
Food 916 15% 85%


















% Girls with No or Little Control over Decisions Related to….



70% 69%      
63% 62%    
  18% 15%  










Although 18% said that they had no control over decisions about school, this finding is difficult to interpret. It could either mean that they are unable to control their choice of schools, or that their very access to education is restricted. The 15% with no control over their food, judging from the comments, might include some girls remarking that they are not allowed to eat junk food.




The comments on restrictions reveal broader patterns of isolation and limitation on girls’ interactions with others, and especially on how they are silenced. Most girls are not allowed to talk to boys at all, many cannot talk to community members, and some girls speak of not being able to have friends. Within the home, many remarked that they must talk softly, not talk loudly or laugh. It is not surprising, therefore, that one of the striking findings from the survey is that more than half of the girls (479) said that the restrictions affect their “personality.” Around 25% mentioned that their skills and knowledge are compromised. These findings underscore the importance of Learning Community goals to raise girls’ voices – encouraging them to speak out in a group and in public – as a key element in girls’ empowerment.




The final part of the survey focused on the domains where girls suggest how and where to address the restrictions they experience. Although the survey results show that it is mainly family members and relatives who impose restrictions on the girls, the girls do not focus mainly on interventions with family members when suggesting solutions. The overwhelming majority of responses focused on the major themes promoted in Learning Community projects: public safety and mobility, with the main emphasis in responses on increased policing and other security measures such as CCTV. The solutions proposed by the girls would improve their safety in public places and in school, which could lead to family members being willing to relax some of their restrictions.



The following table describes the areas for intervention that were most mentioned in the survey. Almost half of the girls focused on improvements in policing and/or in street safety.








Percent of Respondents Naming Each Possible Area of Intervention (N=874)    
Street Police Toilet Family Self Rail School/ Playground Festival
  Station       station College    
47% 45% 34% 27% 24% 16% 16% 9% 7%




Areas for Intervention

50%           47%             45%





30% 27%      
20% 16% 16%    
  9% 7%  









Forty-five percent of the girls pointed to police protection and enforcement specifically. Of these 389 responses, 107 (28%) suggested a variety of measures related to police work in enforcing the law (investigation, “speedy action” etc.), 99 (25%) suggested “increased police protection,” and 72 (19%) suggested “lady police.”


Focus of suggestions on policing


POLICE STATION Increased police Gender-related (lady police, Enforcement-related: Strict laws,  
  protection talk to women properly) punishment, investigation, action  
TOTAL RESPONSES 389 99 72 107  























Focus of suggestions on policing







80                                                                        72










Increased police protection             Gender-related                  Enforcement-related





A slighter higher number (411) focused on the “street” as an area of intervention, with the majority of suggestions on CCTV electronic surveillance (272) and increased police protection (82).


However, in the comments under other categories, both policing and CCTV were the most common themes. CCTV was mentioned 773 times in the surveys, with the top priorities for its placement as the street and toilets (201).


Some of the restrictions are not related to family and community concerns about girls’ safety, but rather focus on the enforcement of traditional gender roles and the safeguarding of family honor. These restrictions require a different order of solution, as suggested by the girls to focus more on interventions within the home and most importantly within themselves as individuals.


Around 25% of girls focused more on family (235) and individual (206) suggestions, which might indicate a greater focus on gender discrimination. Reflecting their program orientations, 42-59% of respondents from the localities where Vacha, Vidhayak Sansad, and Akshara work focused on working with families as the solution.




The process of reaching out to apply the surveys, analyzing the findings, and the possibility of disseminating the findings to community stakeholders gave the girls unprecedented access to key adults in their local communities – parents, teachers, local leaders, police – with messages that carried the legitimacy of opinions and experiences of a wide range of young people and adults. The surveys jump-started the girls’ potential for community leadership, had favorable impact on community opinions, and started a process of dialogue that is planned to continue, now that they have tangible data from several wards in Mumbai. The girls and the Learning Community organizations believe that this data is a springboard for future, strategic interventions on the part of the Learning Community and they will be using the results for this survey as they go into strategic planning in the summer of 2017.


This section summarizes the main findings from this survey, which underscore how girls are disadvantaged by gender-related restrictions, and how other restrictions related to safety could be addressed. This report, and any additional summaries or analyses of the raw data can serve three main purposes:










  1. To facilitate girls’ advocacy with local community officials, leaders, and parents to improve public safety and girls’ mobility. These findings help legitimize girl leader demands in dialogue and negotiations.


  1. To identify girls’ needs in their communities as LC members develop their future strategies.


  1. To improve methods for future surveys conducted by LC members.




  1. Conclusions on Methodology


  1. There are significant advantages to having girls design community surveys for their peers; the survey questions reflect girls’ perspectives, priorities, and language.


  1. It is suggested that the Learning Community review the experience of conducting this survey (strengths, weaknesses, challenges) to develop guidance for future surveys, especially on how training and mentoring might improve the number and quality of surveys returned and compliance with age guidelines for the sample.


  1. Conclusions on Restrictions


  1. Purpose of restrictions: Girls’ perceptions on the reasons for restrictions clustered around two


major issues: gender discrimination and safety. Discrimination due to caste or religion was mentioned by a significant minority.


  1. Who imposes the restrictions: Various categories of family members were mentioned most, but also some categories of community members, especially teachers and neighbors.


  1. Geographic/place restrictions: The ease of access to school was noted, as well as other places viewed as necessities for personal hygiene and domestic responsibilities. There were more restrictions for all activities related to recreation and cultural life, and for areas viewed as unsafe, such as “crowded places” and the railroad/metro stations.


  1. Autonomy: Most girls report exercising autonomy regarding education, food, clothing, and hospital care. However, almost 70% have no or little control over whom they marry, and more than 60% have no or little control over access to social media, or any transportation, limiting their range of mobility to their immediate neighborhood. The lack of control over marriage decisions is a key issue related to girls’ empowerment and development, and the restriction on transportation limits girls’ access to some educational institutions as well as to employment.


  1. Gender differences in restrictions: Girls focused mainly on boys’ relative freedom to go out at night and move freely around the community in public places.


  1. Effect of restrictions on girls: Girls’ comments reveal patterns of isolation and silencing both within the family and in the community, with limitation on their interactions with others. As a result, more than half of the girls said that the restrictions affect their “personality.” Another 25% reported that their skills and knowledge are compromised.


  1. Suggested Actions to Reduce Restrictions


  1. Increased policing and security measures: Most responses focused on increased policing and other security measures such as CCTV. The solutions proposed by the girls would improve their safety in public places and in school, which could lead to family members increased willingness to relax some of their restrictions.


  1. Changes in the family and oneself: Around 25% of girls focused more on family (235) and individual (206) interventions to address restrictions, with significant differences in giving priority to these spheres among the NGO communities surveyed.













  1. Drill down analysis by the girls


The first step for the next phase of the Learning Community is to empower girls to evaluate what their next steps will be in light of the survey results prioritize interests of and actions for the upcoming years.


  1. The independent evaluator will share the survey results with the LC girls on which places girls are most restricted to go to (according to responses from those from their organization as well as the overall results).


  1. Each NGO would then ask the LC girls the following questions:


  1. Of the top 3-4 results, which restrictions would the girls would most want to see lessened?


  1. Of these top 3-4 results, which restrictions would be harder and which would be easier to overcome?


  • Based on the table results, which 3-4 places would you like to focus on for the next phase of the learning community


  1. After all the groups have completed this exercise, the final results will be shared with the girls and they will come to a final consensus about the 3-4 places that they would like to remove restrictions fro girls.


The results can be presented in the following table.


Places Difficult to remove restrictions Easier to remove restrictions
Where I would most like to go   Campaign should focus on the
    areas in this box.
Where I would least like to go    


Those in the yellow shaded box suggest the areas that the Learning community should focus on (i.e., the places that they would like to go to the most, where they believe that they will be able to lift the restrictions most easily.) This exercise will enable the girls to focus their efforts – and see commonalities across their efforts as a direct result of the survey. Once this exercise has been completed for all groups, the most common suggestion(s) can be the topic for future interventions such as campaigns


  1. Focus Groups


After the girls have completed the exercise above, the independent consultant will conduct focus groups with:


  • Learning community girl leaders from all 4 years


  • Mentors of the learning community from all 4 years


  • 1:1 meetings with each Executive Director from the Learning Community partner organizations


  1. Girls (the focus groups will take place with girls from each organization, and should be comprised of Learning Community girls from all 4 years).


  1. According to you did the Make My Space campaign succeed/not so much?


  1. What should be the focus of Make My Space Campaign in the future?


  • How do you envision your role?


  1. What should be a mentor’s role?


  1. What should be an ED’s role?






  1. Scope and nature of partnership – Do we want to include new members?


  • What is the role of girl leaders from previous years?


  • How many groups?


  1. Mentors (the focus groups should bring together all the mentors, including, if possible, mentors from previous years).


  1. What are your thoughts about the drill down exercise that the girls have completed?


  1. Successes and limitations of the campaign according to you?


  • Should every cycle have new mentors, or should old mentors continue in some capacity?


  1. What should be the role of mentors, EDs & girls in the campaign


  1. How can we increase girls’ mobility in places where girls have more restrictions, as per the survey results and the exercises that girls have completed?


  1. What kind of support is expected from elective candidates?


  • What should be our advocacy strategy to reach out to policy makers?


  • What additional skills are required for mentors to facilitate the campaign by girls?


  1. According to you, what are the skill set required by girls to run the campaign further?


  1. EDs ( the independent evaluator will reach out to each organization’s ED for a 1:1 meeting)


  1. What are your thoughts about the drill down exercise that the girls have completed?


  1. Will you continue in the LC for the next 3 years?


  • What is your vision for the LC for the next 3 years?


  1. How would you like to be involved in the LC?


  1. What does the organizational partnership look like in the next phase according to you?


  1. Introspecting the last four years and survey results what should be the focus of the campaign in future? Which stakeholders should it focus on?


  • What has worked well for you and what hasn’t?


  • How can the LC support the mentors better?


  1. How can the LC support girls better?


  1. Other Analyses


In the case where the LC or individual organizations would like to see the survey results sliced in a different manner, there is the potential to examine the dataset in different ways (though this is not mandatory). Some ideas include:


  • Results by age range (10-14, 15-19, 20-24)


  • Results by basti


  • Results by caste/religion


If this is of interest to the LC organisations and girls, EMpower can provide the full dataset.






















When asked what can be done about         1st         2nd         3rd   Note: when responses are in a virtual tie, they are                
restrictions in different places or         men-         men         men                  
                          given the same ranking.                                  
areas (multiple choice)               tion         tion         tion                                    
      Police Station   Street   Toilet       Changes in   Changes in Self   Railway               Playground            
                Family     Station   School/College     Festivals  
Organizatio of %     N %     N %     N %     N %     N %     N %     N %     N %     N  
n response                                      
Akshara 73   27%     20     25%     18                 42%     31     42%     31                           25%     18            
Coro 48   60%     29     40%     19                                         44%     21                                  
Dosti (1) 99 56%   55     67%     66     59%     58                             61%     60 57%   56                        
Aangan LC 144   64%     92     63%     91     56%     80                             44%     63               44%     64            
SMS 97   79%     77     91%     88     91%     88                                       65%     63               66%     64  
Vacha 126   35%     44     36%     45                 56%     71     49%     62                                              
Vidhayak 137   53%     72     49%     67     49%     67     57%     78     57%     78                                              
YWCA (2) 150                                       37%     55     23%     35               18%     24                        
TOTALS (3) 874 45%   389   45%   394   34%     293   27%   235   24%   206   16%   144 16%   143   9%   82 7%   64  


  • Dosti: more responses listed for Dosti because two areas were so close in numbers of responses to the 3rd place mention


  • YWCA: Seems that responses to many of these questions were missing in the YWCA questionnaires.


  • Number does not match the 947 that summary says were





Flying- A Gratifying Experience

sonali-for blog

Sonali, one of our Team members, recounts the joy of her first ever flying experience in her post…

ये….. विमान विमान विमान असं म्हणत आकाशातल्या विमानामागे धावताना कितीतरी मळ्या सहज पार करायचे आणि मग ते दिसे नास झालं की अरे गेलं😟असं तोंड पाडून पुन्हा घराकडे फिरायच, एवढ्याश्या विमानात लोक बसतात कशी? त्याच्यात म्हणे जेवण वैग्ररे पण मिळत आणि छान छान मुली पण असतात त्याच्यात आपली काळजी घ्यायला हे सगळं ऐकून होते मी आईला आपण कधी बुवा बसायचं या विमानात आणि त्यात बसायला खूप पैसे लागतात म्हणे ते कोण देणार पण काय पण होऊ दे आपण जायचं म्हणजे जायचं हे तेव्हा इ. ६ वीत असताना ठरवलं होतं मी😊
त्यानंतर जस जशी मोठे होत गेले कळलं की त्या छान छान पोरी म्हणजे हवाई सुंदरी तो एक प्रकारचा जॉब आहे आणि जर विमानात जायचं असेल तर आपल्याकडे हा एक पर्याय आहे पण मुंबईला आल्यावर कळलं की त्या साठी खूप खर्च होतो मग काय घरातून काही परवानगी नाही त्यासाठी मग अक्षरा मध्ये असताना सुनीता बागल मॅडम बोलल्या मी एका मीटिंग साठी जाणार आहे विमानातून उद्या तेव्हा त्यांना खूप उत्सुकतेने विचारल होत मला पण जायचं आहे ओ मी काय करू म्हणजे मला ही विमानात बसता येईल त्यांनी मला जवळ घेऊन समजावलं बाळा तू अजून लहान आहेस आता शिक्षण पूर्ण कर आणि स्वतः कमवायला लाग आणि मग जा कि तुझ्या हिमतीवर विमानात बसून जगाची सैर करायला, हाच प्रश्न मी यशो दिदि ला पण विचारला कि मी कधी जाणार मला कधी चान्स भेटणार तेव्हा दीदी बोलली बाळा चान्स भेटत नाही तो मिळवावा लागतो आणि तेव्हा पासून ठरवलं की विमानात बसण्यायोग्य बनवायचं राव स्वतःला आणि शेवटी वाचा ट्रस्ट आणि मेधा दीदी नी तोच चान्स मला दिलाच सहा महिन्यांन आधी कळलं की मी जाणार आहे बेंगलोर ला मीटिंग साठी मी म्हटलं वा नवीन शहर बघायला मिळेल काही दिवसांनी कळलं की मी विमानाने जाणार आहे आणि मग काय माझ्या आनंदाला पारावार उरला न्हवता.
Santacruz ला ट्रेन मधून जाताना लांबून उडणारी विमान इतक्या जवळून बघताना खूप छान वाटत होत कुतूहल प्रत्येक पावलावर होत कदाचित मला झालेल्या आनंदामुळे असेल कि मला विमान उडताना कोणत्याही प्रकारची भीती वाटलीच नाही.
काही वेळा सहज मिळालेल्या गोष्टीचा आनंद काय असतो ते आपल्या लक्षात येत नाही पण जेव्हा खूप प्रयत्नांनी यशस्वी होतो ना माणूस त्या वेळी प्रत्येक छोटी गोष्ट, छोटी स्वप्न पूर्ण झाल्याचा आनंद ना एखाद्या उत्सवा पेक्षा कमी नसतो तसच काहिसा आहे हा प्रवास माझ्या साठी 😊
आज पुन्हा एकदा माझी मीटिंग यशस्वी रित्या पूर्ण करून, निघालेय विमानाच्या स्वारीला. हा जो आनंद आहे ना तो शब्दात सांगण कठीणच पण स्वप्न पूर्ण करण्याचा ध्यास घेतला आणि आपल काम मनापासून करत राहिलो कि सर्व सोपं असत.
आता कुठे ही सुरवात आहे अजून जग फिरायचं आहे …!

Girls march to success!

Story based on Poonam Yadav, LS Raheja College, Mumbai

Story by Mahima Dev

When you meet Poonam, she comes across as the quintessential girl-next-door. From her warm smile, it’s hard to gauge the kind of unfathomable feats she has achieved at a very young age. She was one of the chosen few to march at the Prime Minister’s Rally Parade on the 28th of January 2017. Yes, you read that correctly! One of Vacha‘s early associates, Poonam has had an enthralling journey and come incredibly far, keeping her values intact. She shares with us her story…

Poonam is a second year BA student at LS Raheja College Santacruz and a proud National Cadet Corps (NCC) member. NCC is the Indian military cadet corps with its Headquarters at New Delhi. 

Poonam represents the naval unit in the NCC. 

When the selections for the PM’s Rally began back in August, Poonam was determined to get selected and started practicing religiously for the same. She exceeded everybody’s expectations and made the shortlist from Mumbai. The shortlisted few were then taken to Nashik for the state finals where she qualified as well. The State Finalists were finally taken to Aurangabad where they practiced for 2 months.

The 2 months spent in Aurangabad were grueling and disciplined. Everybody would wake up at 4 AM for warm up and training would start at 6 AM. Post a quick breakfast break, practice would continue again between 8-10 AM. After a half-day break and lunch, march practice would resume at 3 pm until late evening.

During these sessions more and more candidates were sent back home. But the best, including Poonam remained. Finally only 37 girls from Maharashtra remained and 3 representing the naval unit.

They had become best friends by now and proceeded on to take the capital, New Delhi by storm!

The brave girls from Maharashtra stepped foot in NCR in January and met the top qualifiers from all the different states. It was an immersive cultural experience for them and responsibility as well. Poonam met girls from Karnataka, Uttarakhand, even her own state Jharkhand and many more. In totality 300 girls would perform the march. In Poonam’s words, “At first I was representing my college, then city, now state! I felt pride but at the same time responsibility as many wanted to be in my position and I had to uphold my country’s flag.”

During the last month in Delhi, the atmosphere was tense with bursts of fun and laughter. Anecdotes from back home and contact numbers were exchanged. And of course the inevitable selfies were taken too! All midst strict practice and healthy competition.

Finally the day arrived after 4.5 months of intense preparation. It was a sunny 28th January, a huge crowd, press and VIPs collected to watch the spectacle. The chief of Naval Staff, Defense Minister and Prime Minister took front row. The parade began on time and Poonam was overcome with immense happiness because she was doing something she loved- and everything was falling right into place! She donned a speckless white uniform and held her head up with pride. The girls worked like a well- oiled machine and received standing ovations from the dignitaries.

Having fulfilled their “mission,” it was now time to bid farewell to the other girls. There were some tears as well since they had really lived a once in a lifetime journey together. Although everyone knew they would remain in touch.

 Poonam, reflects upon her enriching experience fondly and recalls how at first it felt odd to greet her seniors with a “Jai Hind” but now she embraces it with pride. She talks about how the youth is losing interest in cultural events like parades and thinks more encouragement is required. “All girls must join NCC, women are really respected there. It’s a place for true patriots,” she says.

Poonam hopes to join the army and fight at the borders to inspire other girls to do the same.

We at Vacha wish Poonam all the strength in the world and vow to support her every step of the way!

Make My Space- Ab Nahi Toh Kab?

By Mahima Dev

Hoshiyaar banoongi, sabse main ladoongi,

Arey mujhe kya rokegi yeh duniya,

Kal logo ke bandhan ko sehme main chali thi,

Aaj bandhan ko tode main aage chaloongi,

Duniya tere samaaj ka hoon ek hissa main,

Apna adhikaar lekar rahoongi!”

A pleasant poem with a strong message, recited by Vacha girls during their street plays and performances.

Every now and then the brave girls at Vacha shed light on important social issues and bring public awareness through street plays. But brazenness is not always welcome, especially in the Bastis they call home.

When the girls and Vacha mentors first started presenting these street plays in Bastis and public areas, they were greeted with dismay. Most girls’ own families and neighbors discouraged them. There was an unnerving incident wherein a brother pulled his elder sister by the arm, screamed, “How can you do all this” and dragged her home. After much pleading and persistence on the part of the girls, their parents reluctantly permitted them to perform but with the caveat that they would do so in Bastis far away from home, “Do whatever you want but we will not be party to this nonsense!”

The girls felt dejected but jumped at the opportunity of being able to enlighten the people of other Bastis. And they did. Overtime, people started speaking and praising the girls’ enjoyable and hard-hitting street plays. The girls were motivated to work harder. Eventually, there came a time when the Basti leaders, who had once shunned the girls’ plays, invited them to perform at events and occasions. They have really come a long way and we are very proud of our girls!

One of the most impactful plays by the Vacha girls is called Make My Space- Ab Nahi Toh Kab. It deals with a topic which is usually taken for granted: access to public places. Due to the obsolete social outlook towards girls freely accessing public places, amplified by the lack of security thereof, an important aspect of a girl’s developmental process gets obstructed. The girls have put it in a rather clear manner – “What is a public place? Is it a religious place…? But people of all religions are present here today. So, it cannot be. Is it an educational place? But people from all walks of life- uneducated and scholarly- are present here today. So, a public place is all these things and much much more. Public places such as libraries, sports grounds, hospitals etc. are the most essential contributors to our growth. It’s the valuable social setting where we get to interact freely with people of diverse religions, cultures, languages, ages and sexes. Yet this right is sometimes taken away from us.”

In a survey of 1000 Mumbai girls/women conducted by Vacha in 2015, it was discovered that-

1) 60% of those surveyed were scared to use public toilets.

2) 40% found libraries unsafe.

3) 40% found roads and sports grounds unsafe after sunset.

These figures are appalling.

We tried unearthing the causes of these findings and found case-specific reasons.

Public Toilets-

Public toilets, a basic necessity, are not accessible to women mainly due to the fact that places around such bathrooms have transformed into frequent meeting spots for drunkards and substance-abusers. The ladies bathrooms neither have lights nor proper doors. In some cases, no water or dustbins are available in the toilets. Women are charged more than men at such toilets because apparently women make more of a mess. All these factors mean that parents often times do not allow their young girls to use public toilets. Parents believe public toilets contribute to more sickness than open defecation.

Sports Grounds (Maidans) and Public Libraries-

These areas are often desolate and have therefore turned into hubs of eve-teasing and sexual harassment. Instances of serious sexual crimes perpetrated in desolate areas or abandoned locations, are abundant. These areas are mostly frequented by men, with little or no women in sight. This makes not just the girl but her parents very uncomfortable as well. In addition to this, girls coming out of home at night is a taboo and their parents have to hear taunts by neighbours. For these reasons, girls are not allowed to freely access parks, maidans and public libraries.

These issues need the attention of the government and local authorities, but above all awareness of the general public is imperative. We must realise that these are problems of our own and need our initiative and cooperation to be solved. If around 40% girls feel unsafe in ‘public places’ then can we truly call them free and independent. Can we call ourselves and our nation free?

Vacha has initiated the first step to help all girls reclaim public places. We have been actively involved in renovating toilets in certain wards, by putting in petitions and following up with local authorities. In addition to this, gender sensitization classes have been held with young and adolescent boys for an all-rounded understanding of girls’ issues. Awareness sessions in bastis in the form of Sports Days in public maidans on Republic Day and Independence Day have been a huge success.  The Learning Community of which Vacha is a coordinator, holds Seminars by the name ‘Reclaim the Public Place- “Ab Nahi Toh Kab”’. The next seminar will be held on the 10th and 11th of February 2017. You are welcome to attend, find details here-

We hope you will join us in this bold endeavour.

Gold to Gold hota hai….Chora lawe ya Chori…..

by Sabah and Saima

                        A Dialogue from Movie “Dangal”

       शायद हम सभी ने “दंगल “ फिल्म देखा होगा |इस फिल्म के बाद बोहोत सारे लोग इस से प्रेरित हुए होंगे …..पर ऐसी लड्कियौं की कहानिया बोहोत सालो से चल रही है | यह कहानी इस लिए सबके सामने आई क्युओंकी उन्होंने अपने देश का नाम रोशन किया …पर ऐसी कितनी लडकियों की कहानी है जो “चार दिवारी “ में  बंद रह जाती है|  शायद यह लडकियों की कहानी भी इसी तरह बंद रह जाती ,जब तक वोह अपने आप को किसी के काबिल नहीं समझती | इनके पिता ने उनको अपना सपना पूरा करने के लिए देश का नाम रोशन करने के लिए अपनी बेटियों को उस अखाड़े में धकेला जिसमे सिर्फ आदमी ही जा सकते है ऐसी सोच है समाज की…उनके दंगल लड़ने पर ,लड़के जैसे कपडे पेहेन्ने पर कई सवालों का सामना करना पढ़ा पर वोह लग रुके  नहीं और न ही उनके पिता रुके …वोह उनकी ढाल बन कर खड़े रहे  …पर असल ज़िन्दगी में ऐसी बोहोत सी लडकिया  है जो समाज के दबाव से ही अपने सपनो को कुचल देती है और समाज के साथ समझोता कर लेती है |

     पर दंगल फिल्म में जब दोनों लडकियां देश का नाम रोशन करती है तब समज उनको उनके लड़की होने का एहसास नहीं दिलाता…………..क्या ज़रूरी है के हमें हमारे देश का नाम रोशन करने पर ही समाज हमें हमारे हिसाब से चलने दे ? इसी तरह समाज हमारे देश के साथ साथ हमारे ज़िन्दगी में एक पहचान बन्ने दे ..तो शायद हमें अपने सपनो को कुचलने की ज़रूरत ना  पड़े |हमने तो यह ठान लिया है के हम लडकिया  भी अपनी पहचान बनाकर रहेंगे ,फिर चाहे उसमे वक़्त ही क्यों ना  लगे|

by Sayali Ghotikar

आता तू मोठी झालीस
ऐक नीट
जोरात बोलायचं नाही
जोरात हसायचं नाही
नीट बस गं. 
नीट कपडे घालायचे
फार कुठे बोलायचं नाही
तरीही काही झालंच “तसं”
कोणाला सांगायचं नाही
अगदी स्वत:लाही नाही’
delete करून टाकायचं एकदम

शेवटी तुझं चांगलं तर हवय ना आम्हाला

(“ती” एकच विचारते)
चांगलं म्हणजे नक्की काय ……?

I Can Do It- Sabah’s Story

Story by Mahima Dev

Story based on Sabah Wajid Ali Siddiqui, 19 years old, First Year BAF at MVM College

While interning at Vacha Resource Centre for Women and Girls, I came across a girl named Sabah. I was impressed by her confidence and gumption, she was never hesitant to put forth her view. I was surprised to learn that she was the same age as I am. She has been with Vacha for 9 years now. Just goes to show how a girl’s strong will and a little external push can create great outcomes. Here is Sabah’s story-

Sabah’s younger days… she has come a long way

A timid smile and resolute voice, Sabah’s personality intrigues you instantaneously. She speaks with striking confidence about her journey. Her ambition acts as the source of her morale, never mind that resources and odds are not exactly in her favour. She soldiers on. Her latest achievement is a research paper on “The Role and Contribution of Small and Medium Enterprises in the Indian Economy” which was published by her college.

At first Sabah found it hard to cope in a college environment. If being a girl of newfound adulthood wasn’t already complex enough, she was suddenly amidst fluent English speakers. Up until the tenth grade Sabah had studied in an Urdu medium school. She was usually the outspoken girl at her old school, but found herself terribly quiet here. She was perplexed as this was all she ever wanted- going to college, pursuing a Bachelors in Accounting and Finance degree. In fact she was already the most qualified person in her nine-member family. What’s more, she’d even received the Shadhika scholarship. What she hadn’t accounted for though, was the language barrier.
After a few days and many awkward attempts at spoken English, she realised that although she was weak at English, no one, not even the teachers could speak Hindi as fluently as herself. Her grasp over economic theory and accounting too, was good. She cinched the opportunity with a speech and dazzled her teachers and classmates alike. That day she knew that she was in no way inferior, all she had to do was muster her courage and play to her strengths.

With her nascent confidence, she was determined to keep her winning streak going. She had heard, in the passing, about a study that her college was about to publish on “SMEs.” She wondered what they were. Abbreviations have always confused her, she turned to her most credible source- Google. This too, was only accessible to her at her college laboratory and at the Vacha resource centre. When she hit ‘search’ she was introduced to a new world that seemed both intriguing and elusive in parts. She delved deeper into the realm of Small and Medium industries in India. She walked through definition, marched through advantages, darted through importance and danced through economic impact. Her mind was aflame- she wanted to know more.

Technology can be a girl’s best friend

Sabah pulled out all stops, she elicited every source possible- teachers, mentors, family, and the ever helpful internet. Many weeks went into it. She even sacrificed a few of her beloved accounts lectures in college to gain practical knowledge outside. She says, “Research and application gave me a much deeper insight into economics and clarified many concepts on GDP. I have learned new words in English also. I think everyone should learn from books first and then apply in real life to fully understand subjects.” Many a time she found her near and dear ones concerned about her. ”Are you mad spending so much time in all this and missing classes too? The teacher said this was co-curricular, that means no marks for all this. Better forget it”, said a classmate. But Sabah knew better. She told her classmate that although the teacher would not award extra marks for her research, she would surely do better on her exams because of it. She toiled on, asking her teachers more and more questions each day. Crunching numbers and data was what she looked forward to the most every day. Because “at the end of the hard work when I get a clear conclusion, it makes me very happy.”

Finally, Sabah turned in her research to her teacher. It was a file that read “Role and Contribution of SMEs in Indian Economy.” Sabah beamed with contentment and pride as she handed it over. A few days later, her teacher asked her to wait back after class. “Sabah, the principal loved your thesis. It has been selected for the college publication. In the interest of the college students, we would love for you to present your thesis at the conference next month,” the teacher said. These words seemed like the sweetest song to Sabah. Her committed effort had finally borne fruit. In the next moment, it dawned on Sabah that she would have now to present her research to an auditorium full of students, teachers, dignitaries and international experts- in English! But she had never let anxiety and nervousness hold her back in life, and she was not going to start now. So she smiled and said, “Sure, madam.”


Sabah hones her speaking skills

The conference day arrived quickly. Sabah had practised relentlessly, yet some nervousness remained, it was her first big address. The event started with the keynote speech by Mr. Vincent Wahrenburg, Head of Environmental Engineering, IRIANS, Berlin and a wonderful address by Mr. Chandrakant Salunkhe, Founder and President, SME Chambers of India. Next up was Sabah. She explained her thesis from beginning to end, about the importance of government support to SMEs, micro scale innovation, women entrepreneurs, and challenges in employment growth with proposed solutions. She ended on a beautiful note, “We must encourage girls to study and run their own small businesses, just like they run their households.” The content made up for any shortcomings in her linguistics. Everyone appreciated her presentation and signature confidence. Mr. Wahrenburg, congratulated her personally.

This experience has been unforgettable for Sabah, she cannot wait to start research for her next presentation. She says, “I love presenting to people because I want my voice to be heard by many. I want to become a lecturer in accounting and economics someday.”


Dreams…….who doesn’t love talking about them! While most of us vividly express our desires, aspirations and ambitions through our dreams, this little girl from Mumbai has only one simple wish to make. But would it always remain a distant dream?

मैं नहीं चाहती

मैं नहीं चाहती, कि कोई बच्चा

रेलगाड़ी का फ़र्श साफ़ करे

नट की रस्सी पर झूलता नज़र आये

जिस्म को गोदने का फ़न सिखाये

शेर के मुंह में हाथ डाले

तपते पट्टों की ईंटों को ढोये,

होटलों और शराबखानों में

अपने दामन से मेज़ साफ़ करे.

सांप को रखकर एक पिटारे में

रास्तों पर भीख भी मांगे,

नाच-गाने सुनकर सबको खुश करे

बूट-पॉलिश में खूब माहिर हो,

माँ के आँचल से दूर हो जाए

बाप के साथ काम पर जाए.

मैं तो सिर्फ़ इतना चाहती हूँ

कि हर बच्चा

बचपन में सिर्फ़ बच्चा हो

ना कोई काम करे, बस आगे बढ़े

मैं सिर्फ़ ये चाहती हूँ कि

सब बच्चे बहुत ज़्यादा पढ़ें

और खूब आगे बढें….

                                                                                                 —फ़िरदौस बानो रफ़ीक शाह  

Young girls in Literature

I love to dance. And sing. And jump. And speak.

These are the things most young girls enjoy doing. The last activity—speaking—which changes its nature from hushed whisperings to boisterous chattering with changing company of people, goes beyond its role of being a communication medium and weaves together our emotions, dreams, desires and even frustrations. Speaking up allows us to create a collective consciousness of ourselves, to tell others about our experiences. Speaking up – whether by talking or by other mediums of expression – allows us to share ourselves with others and thus validate ourselves.

But what if we are stripped of this basic human right of speaking up? What if we are taught not to speak up?

Maya Angelou, the famous American poet and feminist had once said—

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

She had indeed experienced this incisive pain of keeping silent. Raped at the age of seven by an uncle, she went into trauma and did not speak for a long time. But, she wrote. She wrote about the pain the girls undergo at the hands of their acquaintances but never speak about. Nobody speaks about it, in fact. The girls are initiated into the tradition of silence, they are asked to ignore and move on. Most of the women writers have talked about the instances of pain, suffering and deep humiliation they went through during their girlhood and adolescence, many years later.

It is ironical that the experiences of innumerable young girls never see the light of day owing to social shame, hesitation and the trauma of “shutting up”. However, many girls have chosen to break this silence and give words to their emotions—without waiting for years to pass, or the pain to heal.

Writing down the experiences also has a deep significance; it documents the tone of awareness (and eventually resentment) against a subordinating, humiliating or heart wrenching instance/practice. As the saying goes, “watch your words, they become your actions”, the words of resent boost the strength to question and then to protest.

Expression as the form of emancipation has been recorded in the pages of history even before the coming of modern ideas of feminism. The bhakti movement of ancient and medieval periods in the Indian subcontinent saw significant participation of women, for whom moksha (salvation) was metaphorical to freedom from the patriarchal social norms as well. Andal, an Alwara (worshippers of Vishnu) saint from Tamil Nadu, expressed her passionate devotion and longing for Shiva by openly flouting prescribed norms of conduct for women. Right from her adolescent years she meditated in the forests, roamed around in ‘disheveled’ state, sunken eyes and emaciated body to defy the norms of feminine beauty. Her poems not only express her longing for Vishnu as her husband, but also express her love for God without any social apprehension. Mirabai was another bhakti saint of the medieval period who embraced Krishna as her husband from a very young age, and continued her devotion even after getting married, much to the resentment of her husband and of family members. While many argue that these women bhaktas’ devotion was guided by patriarchal subordinating principles, it should not be forgotten that their expression of love in practice was an act of rebellion against practices which fettered the women of contemporary period. Mirabai’s famous verse, “मेरे तो प्रभु गिरधर नागर, दूसरो न कोय/ जाके सर है मोर-मुकुट, मेरो पति सोय” is a strong assertion of disassociation of her identity from that of her husband, the male figurehead who represented and ‘owned’ (and still does) the identity of woman in society.

Anne Frank, a young 14 year old Jew living in Germany at the time of Hitler led Nazi regime has penned down her experiences in form of a diary, The Diary of A Young Girl (published in 1947, posthumous) , which has been widely read across the globe. The Nazi government was carrying out mass killings of Jews and non-Aryan/Germans and Frank had to stay in exile with her family for around 2 years before they were caught by the Gestapo (German police). Although it has the gory narration of the German holocaust as its backdrop, the book is full of interesting anecdotes about the everyday life of a bubbly teenager—her aspirations, her love for the family’s pet cat, her love-hate relationship with the boy of the same age whose family shared the room with the Franks during the hiding. The positivity expressed in each of the diary entries brings us face to face with the irreversible hatred and repercussions caused by war and genocide. But alongside, it also pleasantly reflects how severities and adversity are not powerful enough to take away the zeal and dreams from the eyes of young, cheerful people.

Closer home, Sufia Kamal from Bangladesh had been a leading feminist and poet who interwove literary aesthetics with the cause of raising the voice of the marginalized women. She wrote her first poem, Boshanti (The Spring) published at the age of thirteen in 1924 which talked about happiness and joys that natural beauty entails. She often made use of motifs and metaphors from nature to express the desires and aspirations of women.

The rise of the Dalit and anti-caste movement in Maharashtra in the 1970s and 80s led to the emergence of rich literature by women writers. The inspiration interestingly was drawn from an essay by Mukta, a 14 year old student of Savitri Bai Phule who in 1868 wrote a critique of the monopoly of Brahmins and upper castes over determining the access to education. Many of the Dalit women writers, like Hira Bansode, Kumud Pawade and Urmila Pawar have written vivid accounts of their adolescent years and the struggles they and their families went through in the caste ridden, patriarchal society. The rebellious attitude and resentment to submission showed by them in their youth gave them the power to raise their voices against injustice later in their lives. It is these women’s writings that enrich and make possible sharp criticisms of Brahmanical patriarchy by connecting gender-based discriminations with caste violence. Bansode’s poem, Bosom Friend, talks about a young Dalit girl who sarcastically condemns the attitude of her childhood friend who could not free herself of the shackles of caste prejudices.

Such voices, however, are few and far between. It is important to question the reason for the dearth of young women writers in the literary corpus around the world. Denial to education and social barriers to expression are two of the many reasons behind the absence of documentation of works by young girls. Also, voices of which women and girls get recognition and respect as ‘authentic’ voices has historically been dictated by caste in India. The women’s movement in India after the 1980s has tried to deal with this issue by starting initiatives to record oral histories, where spoken experiences are documented into biographies and life histories to give words to the priceless expressions of women who could never get a chance to dress them up with eloquent words.  For example, the Black Women Oral History Project is a project to document oral histories of young women survivors of the 1947 Partition. The mainstream women’s movement, however, continues to fall short in documenting and presenting voices and analyses of women and girls from historically marginalized groups – especially Dalit women and girls in India, and women and girls of colour worldwide.

VACHA too makes a small effort in bringing out the voices of young enthusiastic girls who have never been given a chance to speak their minds or hearts out within the four walls of the family and the societal periphery. Here’s a poem written by a young girl which gives an insight into how silence and compromise is sadly glorified for women in our society.

मैं जब स्कूल से आई

माँ के साथ खाना खायी,

बासी रोटी में मेरा हिस्सा

माँ बोली ये तो परंपरागत किस्सा

ससुराल में जाएगी तो भाग्य अपने से खाएगी

आदत होनी चाहिए, नहीं तो सह नहीं पायेगी…”

(Source: Hum Sabla: Jagori Newsletter; Jan-June 2015)

However, it is not only pessimism which speaks out in the works of young girls. Amidst all the socio-cultural and economic problems, they still talk about hope and happiness. Here’s one such poem written by a fourteen year old girl from Mumbai—

Therefore, we must acknowledge and appreciate the power of the written word.  We must appreciate the power of expression as a political right, as an act of subversion, as rebellion and as a way of creation of own histories.

Excerpts from a book on menstruation experiences by girls

Myths about menstruation are a part of the larger patriarchal structure of control over girls and women. While restrictions on girls during menstruation cut across class and culture around the world, the custom of untouchability practiced against menstruating girls and women is unique to India. Girls and women between the ages of 10-50 years, face untouchability from their own family members during menstruation.
In this book, we have documented girls’ stories of menstruation in their own voices.Puberty, Poverty and Gender

“ This is my cousin sister’s story, of when she got her periods…That day, she had felt a strong pain in her stomach, and when she started bleeding, she didn’t know what it was. She got very scared and told her teacher about it. Her teacher asked her to go home and sent a friend along with her to reach her home.
Once she got home, a difficult time began for her. Instead of placating her fear or showing her any love or even explaining to her about what had happened, her mother kept my sister alone in one room. She had to stay there, alone, for the next six days. On the following day, a pooja was arranged for her and she was given sarees by all the married women in the family. It is true that she was given a lot of good food and other things during those days…but anyone passing by her room would taunt her and harass her…she felt terrible during those days, that is what she told me…”

Source: ‘Puberty, Poverty and Gender- Girls speak about menstruation’ (2014)., A Vacha Publication