Being a trailblazer

Being a trailblazer

Vishaka Kashyap, 28, was 22 years old when she was married and went to go live in her husband’s village, Bucchabasti in Uttar Pradesh. She has a 4-year-old son. Unlike many of the women in her community, Vishaka has completed secondary school and a Bachelor of Education. Vishaka is a strong advocate for women and girl’s education; she offers to tutor girls for free so they can get keep up with their schooling without an added cost to the family. But her efforts to educate the girls in her community are met with great resistance from men and women alike. Her dream is to work as a government teacher in her village and ensure that girls are kept in school. Vishaka was recently sexually assaulted in a field, where her and the other women in the village went to relieve themselves, but fought back against her aggressor. After the incident, she worked with Creating Spaces partners to help catch the perpetrator, and used her experience to get toilets built in her village.  

This is her story:
When the Creating Spaces community group starting meeting, I joined the group. I made sure to take time away from my work and household chores to join the other women. It is important to me.

From the community group, I learned that there were different types of violence against women and girls. The group talks about all types of violence.

“From the group, I have also learned how to react to violence in my household. Earlier, when my husband used to get angry, I would become afraid. The group encourages us not to be afraid and to confront and stand up to our husbands when they are trying to dominate.  Without the community group, I would never have stood up to my husband.

Some men in our village let their wives go to school. But that is based on their own education levels. If a man is educated, he will believe that his wife and girls can also be educated. The less education there is in a family, the more destructive it is for the women and girls. Other men do not believe in education at all. They will just drink alcohol and create chaos. 

My husband is very supportive. With his support, I was able to continue my studies after I got married. I completed my Bachelor of Education after we were married. My husband understands that education will help us in the future. 

When I got pregnant, I had to stop looking for work as a teacher and had to focus on taking care of my son. Now, my son is four-years-old and I am finally able to look for work. My husband supports my dream to work as a teacher.

My situation is very rare in this village. There are no other cases of women who can continue their education and look for employment after marriage. It is unusual for a husband to support his wife’s ambition. 

I offer local girls to come to me and be tutored for free. But their parents do not allow it. The parents have a regressive mindset. They would rather take their small children with them to the fields all day, then have them get an education. I do not understand this at all.  I have spoken to many girls in the village who want to come and learn from me. But still, their parents will not allow it.  The parents want the girls to focus only on the household. Household chores are the girls’ responsibility, not the mans. The parents think that if the girls go to school, who will take care of the household? You cannot do both. This is backwards thinking. 

The people in this village, they are scared of change. They want everything to stay the same. We need to change this.

If you look at Dolly, she is only going to school because Amit is supporting her. If Amit did not stand up and say, “Dolly should go to school”, it would be impossible for Dolly to continue her education. 

If you take 10 people, 7 out of 10 people will always blame the girl for anything that happens to her. If she harassed, they will say ‘it is the duty of the girl to protect herself from harassment.’ They will say it is the girls’ fault and she is the only one who can prevent it. People will also say that it is the girls fault if she gets beaten by her husband. Only 3 out of 10 people in this village will stand up for girls and say that men are to blame for the way that she is treated

I am from a nearby village and I moved to this village when I was married. I am still amazed by how much learning is needed in this village. 

In our village, we do not have any toilets, so we have to go to the field to relieve ourselves. One day, when I went to the field, a man came up behind, covered my eyes and my mouth, and tried to drag me deep into the sugar cane fields. My sister-in-law, who was with me, screamed for help. I told her to run and get help. My sister-in-law ran and found my brother-in-law close by and brought him to the field where I was facing this threat. When I realized that help was coming, I fought back against this man. I am strong and could fight back – if it was a smaller woman, she would have really been in trouble. Since I was strong, I was not raped. But I could easily have been. The roads are very confusing here. By the time help came, the perpetrator had already fled. The man was caught on a nearby farm. I recognized his face. Through the Creating Spaces partners, we were able to apprehend him and take him to the police station and register the case. Because of this incident, my brother-in-law constructed a toilet in the house. 

After this incident, we decided that the whole group would go to the toilet together. You are in danger if you are alone, but we are safer if we stick together.  

Since I have good-conduct, it was a rare case that people actually believed me when I told them what happened. I also had two other women who were witness to this attack. Normally, when a girl is assaulted, no one believes her. Everyone thinks that she has lied about what has happened to her. 

After this incident, we decided that the whole group would go to the toilet together. You are in danger if you are alone, but we are safer if we stick together.  

I told my story to the Creating Spaces women’s group to help build awareness around sexual violence. My story is an example of how we can fight back against the men who attack us, and also get justice. The attacker did not get away with what he did. And now others in the village understand the dangers that women face by having to go to the bathroom in the fields. Now, there are many more toilets in the village too.  

In our village, the women are united. We all believe each other. Because of the oppression that we face, we are united. We all face violence and we know we need to help each other. 

The two biggest barriers to gender equality are education and the anti-woman mindset. In our community, the men decide everything. They control the money. They decide if girls go to school. They decide what women do with their time. They decide what food women have to cook for dinner. Men say, ‘it is my right to hit my wife’. It is this attitude that prevents equality. We have to change the anti-woman mindset in our homes and in our community.”

What is Creating Spaces?
Creating Spaces is an Oxfam Canada flagship project that takes action to reduce violence against women and girls (VAWG), including child, early and forced marriage in 6 countries - Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, and Nepal.

By helping change the attitudes, behaviours, and systems that perpetuate violence against women and girls through-

  1. Creating spaces for support: Women who experience violence often lack access to support services. Creating Spaces improves access to social services, medical assistance, counselling, job training, and legal aid. Support provides women with tools to take control of their lives and to build a better future.
  2. Creating spaces for justice: Laws often exist, but go unenforced or unchallenged. Creating Spaces works with legal professionals and community leaders to uphold the rights of women and girls. We educate women to better understand  - and fight for - their right to a life free of violence.
  3. Creating spaces for change: Creating Spaces facilitates knowledge-sharing between local partners and countries to generate widespread change. We help individuals and institutions connect, share, learn and adapt approaches to ending violence against women and girls.

Over 5 years, Creating Spaces will: 

  • Change how communities think about violence and the acceptance of violence.
  • Provide support to women and girls who have experienced violence.
  • Strengthen women & girls' rights, leadership, and engagement.
  • Help institutions and networks get the tools they need to influence change.

You can help Oxfam empower more girls like Vishaka by donating today!

Photos by Atul Loke. Text compiled by Caroline Leal, Oxfam Canada for Creating Spaces project.

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