From Survivor to Champion of Women’s Rights

From Survivor to Champion of Women’s Rights

Though married as a child and facing domestic violence, 33 year old Hira Devi of Jharkhand’s Silda village never thought it was a problem. She grew up believing that this was normal, until two years ago when Oxfam India and Lok Swar met with the women in her village and spoke about the different kinds of violence against women and girls. This was her first step towards realising and putting an end to the violence she had been facing over the years. In the last two years, Hira has grasped the different aspects of women’s rights and has become well versed with the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA). 

Violence against women and girls is the most widespread and least recognised human rights violations in the world. In the latest National Family and Health Survey (NFHS 2015-16) 31.1% of total women in India, in the age group 15-49 years reported spousal violence, in 2015-16. In Jharkhand, 34% women reported spousal violence. 

Oxfam India works with a wide network of grassroots organisations, women’s rights groups, and communities towards ending violence against women and girls. Through one of its projects, Creating Spaces, Oxfam India reaches out to men and women and raises awareness on gender discrimination, social norms and domestic violence. One of the key aspects of the project is that it works with the community to identify their perception of gender norms and take steps to address them.The participation of both men and women is essential to identify women’s rights violations and tackle the issue.

READ ABOUT OXFAM INDIA'S YOUTH CHAMPIONS FOR GENDER JUSTICE

In Jharkhand, Oxfam India partnered with Lok Swar in 2016. As part of the project, women’s collectives were formed in the village. At first, there were few members, the numbers increased after regular meeting were held. Oxfam India and Lok Swar counselled the groups about their rights and legal actions they could take if their rights are being violated, and about early and forced marriages, child marriages, and domestic violence, among other issues. 

The women support each other to bring out the issues any member may be facing at home and if they need to take legal action. In addition to women’s groups, adolescents and men are also counselled about gender discrimination and how to identify and tackle the issues. Participation of all sections of the community ensures a wider reach in overcoming gender discrimination.

READ: COLLECTIVE ACTION TO TACKLE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS

Hira Devi wasn’t one of the first people to join the group. A few of her friends had joined; they explained gender-based violence to her and eventually convinced her to join the group. Hira Devi attended a few meetings despite her husband’s resistance at first. When she was confident enough she explained to her husband the discussions that took place at these meetings. In fact she managed to convince him and his family to attend these meetings in the village. 

The project not only ensures that women like Hira Devi understand domestic violence and stand up against it, but also that their families know that violence against women and girls is inhuman and punishable. 

Hira Devi now engages with other women in her community who are facing domestic violence. She is also very active at the Gram Sabha and the Panchayat meetings where she explains domestic violence and the measures that need to be taken to end it.
Hira Devi has come a long way from being a survivor of child marriage and domestic violence to becoming a community champion. She often says, that, “After being equipped with knowledge, all women want to live fearless life, we don’t want to be dependent on men, we want respectful life.” She raises her voice and says, “Agar tum maroge, tho hum bhi marenge”.
 
Domestic violence is the result of the deep-set patriarchal norms in our society, which considers women and girls as inferior. Low sex ratio, low literacy rate, and lack of economic independence further make women and girls vulnerable to violence. These norms are so strongly rooted that women themselves do not view violence as a violation of their rights and hence do not demand justice.

Oxfam India campaigns to change social norms which discriminate against women and girls. We have implemented the Creating Spaces project in five states – Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh. We work with groups of women, youth, and adolescent boys and girls in each state.


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