Broken but not defeated

Broken but not defeated

Julie,18, is a community mobilizer working with the Creating Spaces project. She is a strong advocate for women’s rights and gender equality and works to get the girls in her village, Bhainsliwala Village, Uttar Pradesh involved in the Creating Spaces community group. When Julie’s brother found out that she was working for gender equality and women’s rights, he hit her in the face with a brick. Julie sets an important example for the girls in her village that women can do exactly what men can do – from riding a motorcycle to getting an education and living free of fear and violence. 

This is her story:

My name is Julie and I am a community mobilizer. I am in grade eleven. The women’s group that I work in has 9 members. The village that I come from is very poor. Children are not allowed to go to school because the parents cannot pay for the education. Astitwa (the Creating Spaces partner organization) has been working with the community for quite some time. I am actively engaged with all the girls in my village. I try to get them to go to school. 

In my village, there are a lot of child marriages that are happening. After joining this project, I learned that girls should not be married as a child, but only when she has reached puberty and after she is 18 years of age. Whenever I learn of a child being married off, or any child marriage, I go to the family and I counsel them. I talk to them and tell them the ill effects of child marriage. My information comes from all the workshops, trainings, and meetings, that I have attended through Astitwa. 

I am the oldest in the family. I am lucky that I was not married yet. But I had to quit school because my family was too poor to pay for my education. They also did not want to invest in my education because I am a girl. 

I was treated differently than my brother my whole life. My older brother hit me with a brick in the face when he learned that I was attending community group meetings. My mother tried to stop my brother, but he also hit her back. My brother was influenced by others in the community who told him “our girls are not going to these meetings, why is your sister roaming around freely? You should control her.” So, my brother hit me with a brick to control me. I have a scar across my eye from this incident. 

I tell the other girls in my village that if you attend the community meetings, a lot of changes will happen in your mindset. I tell them that they should encourage their sisters to go out and attend these meetings because they give very good information. I tell girls that the meetings will teach them about their rights and the basics of gender rights, and that it is very important that they attend these meetings for their own benefit.

My brother has changed, he is not like he used to be before. My brother felt guilty for hitting me. After he hit me, he did not come home for three days. After he came home, I served him food and we made up. Now, my brother drives me to the community group meetings and also picks me up after the meeting is over. 

I am bringing a lot of changes to my family. Now, my parents and my family listen to my voice. Earlier, my parents and brother never used to let me go out at all. Now, my family trusts me because I have asked them to. They have given me more space and freedom. Now, when I go out, my parents are OK with it. My family has really accepted my work on women’s rights and child marriage. 

After starting the Creating Spaces project, the community has begun to let the girls have more freedom in the village. Before the project, there were many restrictions on what the girls could do, say, and where they could be. Now the families in the village are letting girls have more space. 

The village trusts the men who work with Astitwa.  Earlier, the villagers used to prevent their women and girls from going to the community meetings because there were outsider men involved. Now, they have built up trust with the Astitwa team. The women and girls are allowed to attend meetings without having to worry about impacts. Astitwa has built a good reputation in our village.

I am most proud of my work to end child marriage and ending violence against women and girls. I am also proud that I can help convince parents and girls that the girls need to stay in school. It is my dream to create safer spaces for girls in my village.

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 Julie by donating today!

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

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