We strongly believe the best solutions are created when they are sourced locally – by and from the community whom they will serve.
From the Field: February 2020
By Upasana Saha, Program Officer
February 18, 2021
7 min read
Shadhika’s work to empower young women to reach their full potential begins with the Supports for Success (S4S) program. Since its inception, Supports for Success has become the foundational program through which Shadhika and our partners aim to advance Indian young women’s rights and ultimately support empowered young women leaders. As of 2021, Shadhika works in partnership with 5 women-led, community-based organizations in India. Shadhika strongly believes the best solutions are created when they are sourced locally – by and from the community whom they will serve. At present our local partners in India run after-school leadership training with more than 650 girls ages 13 to 17 across fives states of India in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, West Bengal, Gujarat and Maharashtra every year. All aspects of the program are grounded in Shadhika’s theory of change reaching out to maximum number of girls through community based actors who invest and empower youth through their programs to become agents of change and organize other young women in their communities.
Under the broad umbrella of young women’s empowerment, each and every Shadhika partner offers a unique program based on their specific location and community demographic. The program interventions range from working with first generation students in communities of sex workers to girls in remote villages of Uttar Pradesh with limited access to roads and toilets. Vacha, one of Shadhika’s first and longtime partners located in Maharashtra, runs an after-school program in two peri urban slums* of Mumbai, with more than 70% of girls whose families are either daily wage laborers or migrant workers. Most of these families do not prioritize their daughters’ education and in many cases also normalize early, forced marriage. With their Supports for Success programmatic grant, Vacha was able to strengthen its presence in two communities and begin to work with young women and their families. This resulted in an after-school program focused on rights-based education and keeping girls at schools. Vacha’s focus is building young women’s leadership capacity so that they can identify issues, create solutions and execute them in the community. Vacha encourages young women to gain ownership of their lives and make critical life decisions for themselves in relation to their education, career, finance and marriage. Girls emerge as problem solvers, negotiating for their rights and standing up against rights violations in their communities.
Milaan, Shadhika’s partner in Uttar Pradesh, takes a similar approach. Working in remote districts, they run an after-school leadership and young women organizing program. Young women mentors are trained to reach out to 20 girls to sensitize them on gender equity issues and together they take up a collective social action project. Milaan works to invest in girls’ education as a way to mobilize community activism, develop leadership skills, and build the largest movement of girl leaders as a thriving network of change makers in India who dare to create, dream and live in a just and equitable world.
The continuation of COVID-19 globally has created undue burden on women and girls, what the United Nations now describes as a “shadow pandemic.” In India, strict lockdowns and pandemic fear throughout communities have and continue to impede direct fieldwork. This has created extensive challenges, particularly for women and girls and everyone working in the gender equity field. For young women and Shadhika’s program participants in India, the pandemic disrupted education and simultaneously fractured familial and communal support networks. Disruption of this magnitude has consequences: the increased chance a girl will drop out and never return to school, and in turn, be pushed into an early marriage or face another form of gender-based violence. While online learning was the best replacement, little thought was given to the realities of access for young women – many of whom would have to rely on their fathers or brothers’ phone to attend online classes and partner sessions, which was difficult negotiation for most girls. Making the transition from community-based, in-person programming to virtual programming was a huge pivot, however, Shadhika’s partners persisted and came through with creative and innovative strategies for engaging their young women participants. They remained focused on young women’s wellbeing, conducting mental and physical welfare checks by phone calls, material support through care packages, and an abundance of virtual programming.
Based on 2020’s COVID-19 learnings our partners will continue to offer Supports for Success after school programming in a combination of virtual and in-person sessions according to local safety guidelines. In order to implement their curriculum successfully, each partner continues to adapt and recognizes the need to leverage technology in order to do so. Many partners are actively breaking down the technology gender divide by providing smart phones to young women participants who don’t own or otherwise have access to one so they can easily attend online sessions. Additionally, partners found peer leadership and mentorship to be a powerful strategy in 2020 to both increase their own organizational capacity and provide continued skills building opportunities to the program participants, and have plans to expand this into their 2021 program and community intervention models.
But our partners’ response to the challenges ahead goes beyond bridging the technology gap. For instance, our partner Baale Mane in Bangalore is maximizing their network of community and corporate partners to expand the quality and diversity of their programs (e.g. English tutoring, self-confidence, personal financial management, job readiness, etc.) without impacting their budget. Sahiyar in Vadodara will organize field visits to local police stations and various government offices to increase civic engagement and encourage young women to report incidents of rights violations in their own schools and communities. Jabala in Kolkata is growing its outreach to add 30 new young women in 2 new communities of sex workers that were negatively impacted by local lockdown orders, and using existing young women leaders from their program in Bowbazar as role models to facilitate meetings and mobilize community action in these new communities.
As we move forward into 2021, Shadhika continues to believe and invest in grassroot leadership as the catalyst for innovation and effective change in India. To that end, we are maintaining consistent levels of grant making with increased financial flexibility, allowing our partners to mitigate real time challenges in the best interest of their program participants.
* The term “peri urban” denotes a location immediately adjacent to a city or urban area.Read more