Girls’ empowerment — silver lining… and dark clouds

How conscious and receptive the entire world has become of the urgent need to improve the lot of girls and women is amply evident from two different, and yet related, issues. As can be seen from his social media posts, and interview to Rotary News, RI President Shekhar Mehta is absolutely delighted at the kind of traction one of his focus areas for his year as president — empowering girls — is getting across the world. On a 7-nation 20-day tour in the African continent, he was delighted to find the kind of passionate support this cause is getting among the African Rotarians. “Wherever I went, I saw great passion and enthusiasm in doing projects to empower girls,” he said. While the Pad-a-Girl project is training girls to make reusable sanitary pads, covering three crucial service areas such as health and sanitation, environment and empowerment of girls/women, another project that moved him was scholarship for girls within the internally displaced population.

We know that a plethora of Rotary clubs across the world are executing projects focused on the education of girls and skilling women. In Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, Rotary Club of Bilaspur Queens, an all-women’s club, is helping women weavers who make the beautiful kosa silk sarees, which occupy the pride of place in women’s wardrobes. The club has launched the Sapno ke dhaage project to help support these women in myriad ways, including marketing their ware, giving them additional skills in tailoring and embroidery, loans for small enterprises, and in the future, some help to cope with the expenses involved in the marriage of daughters.

The other gender issue is of course the continuing concern with the worsening plight of Afghanistan’s girls and women, whose rights are being crushed under the Taliban rule. But what is heartening is that this time around, the Afghan women — within the country and outside — are putting up a spirited fight, in whichever way they can. One brave social media campaign that Afghan women took up in September on Twitter had the hashtag #DoNotTouchMyClothes. Through this campaign Afghan women posted pictures of themselves, teenagers, their mothers, aunts, sisters, all dressed in colourful, traditional Afghan costume, which neither covers the face nor hair. This is a desperate attempt by the women to reverse their diminishing rights under the Taliban, which has allowed education for boys to resume but put all kinds of restrictions on girls’ education. Through this campaign, the Afghan women are clearly telling their rulers that in their tradition, “niqab and burqa were never a part of the Afghan dress code for women.”

To get a taste of how draconian and restrictive girls’ education, when it begins, as has been promised by the Taliban, will be, let’s look at The New York Times quoting Aqilla, the director of a girls’ school in Kabul, who “desperately wants to learn details of the Taliban’s plan for girls’ education. But she can’t attend the weekly Taliban committee meetings on education. They are for men only. “They say, ‘You should send a male representative,’” she told NYT!

She and others engaged in education for girls don’t need to attend meetings to realise that both girls’ education and women’s rights will be severely curtailed by the Taliban regime.

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Rasheeda Bhagat

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