Interview With Medhavinee Namjoshi, A Leader in Women’s Rights
March 9, 2016
Medhavinee Namjoshi (Medha) is the Chief Project Coordinator at Vacha, Shadhika’s partner in Mumbai. I sat down with Medha in October to learn how Vacha is making huge strides in changing cultural norms of a girl’s status in India.
Vacha works with at-risk girls age 10-18 who live in the ‘bastis’ (slums) in and around greater Mumbai. They run over fifteen after-school centers that teach the girls about women’s rights, support them to stay in school, provide them with nutrition information and sex education, and expose them to the world outside of the slums.
Q: How does Vacha’s work make an impact on the girls’ lives and their families’ lives?
A: We see a huge change happening within a girl usually right away, primarily in the way she perceives herself and her confidence level. Generally, in our society, girls are not taught to raise their voice or say they feel discriminated against – an ideal girl does not question how she is treated. Once they come to us, they start seeing the different treatment they are getting at home and they start to raise questions about fairness. At times we feel our initial success is when the first complaint from parents comes asking what happened to their quiet daughter. This opens a dialogue with the family about why their daughter is asking questions and about how some aspects in her home life are indeed unfair. We are in constant contact with the girls’ families educating them about their daughters’ rights, why they should value their daughters and why it is so important for their daughters to continue education through Class 12.
Q:How do you engage boys and young men in your efforts?
A: At Vacha, we believe that no matter how strong you make a girl you have to make her strong among boys as well. To do this, on one level you have to empower the girls and at another level you have to teach the boys to accept the girls who are equally vocal in their group, as well as teach them to feel comfortable being under woman leadership at times. Here’s how it starts: we mix the groups in their general curriculums (English, Computers, etc.) and questions about gender naturally come up. For example, if a girl is not in class that day, we ask the students why. Someone may answer “because she has a lot of work to do at home.” Then a discussion arises about why she has to miss class to do work at home, about who pitches in and about who doesn’t. Often times this is the first time the boys are encouraged to think about gender inequities at home and they start to question the fairness within their own families and within the community at large.
Q: When asked at our Denver event why you chose to get involved in women’s rights issues in India, you responded, “As a woman, how can I NOT get involved?” How do you instill this mindset into the girls and young women at Vacha?
A: At Vacha, our entire agenda is to empower each girl, not only for her personal gain, but also to make her socially active. We teach young women and men that now that they are empowered, they must use their power and voices to help those who need it. Around the globe I feel like the women’s movement is lagging behind because many women today are benefiting from the fight of past generations of women in rights such as voting, working benefits and so much more. But not every girl and woman in the world has those rights, so there has to be that realization and sensitivity to those women without rights. The forms of gender parameters are different around the world, but they still exist today in every country. I want to encourage women questioning gender equality around the world to not remain silent – only then can the movement move forward.