"While the game is a fun way to do some site-seeing, it has much broader implications.”
By Kim Burnett, Shadhika’s President & CEO
June 17, 2019
“Team Panj!!” we all shout, giving each other a high five. We’ve just divided into our groups for Shadhika’s “Mobile & Mighty Challenge”, a treasure hunt to reach nine landmarks in Mumbai over the course of four days. The first team to take a group “selfie” in front of each landmark and upload it to a private Facebook group, wins. I am a member of Team 5, “Panj” in Hindi.
The game is part of Shadhika’s Leaders for Change Summit, a four-day conference that has brought together over forty Shadhika college scholarship recipients from across India to learn the skills they need to design and develop projects to advance girls’ rights in their communities.
While the game is a fun way to do some site-seeing, it has much broader implications. A girl’s mobility in India is severely restricted by her parents. Girls are often told they must remain inside the four walls of their home and are only allowed outside to come and go to school – if they are allowed to go to school at all. In a country where a woman is raped every 15 minutes , controlling her mobility is done in the name of her safety, but ultimately serves to blame the victim by both limiting her ability to complete her schooling and also to experience the world equally as men do.
Our Challenge is a small step to address this injustice. As teams fan out across Mumbai in search of their various monuments, including the Gateway of India, the Haji Ali Dargah, and even Mumbai street foods, the girls come into their own, a blur of blue in their team tee-shirts. One girl, who is studying IT, quickly plots our route using Google Maps while two others bargain with a taxi driver over the fare. Once we get to our spot, another takes the group selfie and quickly uploads it to WhatsApp for group approval. In an afternoon, it’s a revelation to see how quickly the girls move from a group of strangers to a high functioning team.
The next morning we get up early to set out and find our remaining landmarks. “Where’s Pooja*?” I ask. “Her father made her go home,” I am told. The girls explain that even though the conference is only an hour’s commute from her home, to her parents it is a world away and they are anxious for her safety. I frown.
Over the course of the day, I learn that Pooja has conspired with her friends to convince her father to allow her to attend the conference with the compromise that she will return home each day rather than stay in the hostel with the other girls. By day three I hear that her chaperone has gone to her home and confronted her father about not allowing her to stay in the hostel. Holding up the Shadhika permission slip that he signed agreeing to let her attend the conference and stay in the hostel, the chaperone pressures her parents. Faced with his consent in writing and the wrath of the chaperone, he relents.
When Pooja arrives back at the hostel that evening with her bag, the girls all cheer. “Team Panj!,” they cry. They quickly form a circle around her and usher her to her room. As they walk down the hallway holding hands, her chaperone and I exchange glances. Whether it is reclaiming monuments or their freedom, this team is in it together, making sure no one gets left behind.
*name changed for safety
 Government of India, National Crime Records Bureau data, 2016Read more