At ActionAid, we are a network of people across 6 continents and more than 50 countries who are working to build an equitable and sustainable world. Every person deserves the right to dignity, freedom from poverty and all forms of oppression, and we believe the best way to get there is to invest in people on the ground who understand their own reality better than anyone else. They know what is needed to strengthen their communities and inspire others to do the same.
The Young Urban Women Project is a landmark program we run to support young women to claim their rights. While activities differ from country to country, this groundbreaking program is promoting gender equality and aiming to end all forms of discrimination and violence against girls everywhere, a key goal of SDG 5.
In India, we are working with local partners to equip more than 3,000 young women with skills that they can use to gain economic independence, understand their sexual and reproductive health rights, and share the unpaid care work burden with other members of their households. Many of these women take home what they learn and share it with their parents or husbands, spreading awareness and slowly changing the power structures in their communities.
A few years ago, a young woman named Pooja who lived in the city of Hyderabad started attending trainings at the Shaheen Center, one of our local partners. There she and the other girls were broken up into groups and asked to draw a map of their localities, with an emphasis on areas where they faced a higher risk of sexual harassment. It worked like this: Pooja would draw the streets around her house, a friend would draw the streets around her house, and so on until they created a cohesive map. They marked the areas with poor lighting and those where groups of boys would harass girls walking by.
As an added precaution, the girls took their maps to the police station and pointed out the high-risk areas. The police were rarely seen there before, but now they are patrolling those areas more frequently.
Pooja said that even approaching the police was a new experience for the girls. Because girls who go to the police for any reason are stigmatized as “bad”, many do not report harassment or seek help from the police. Through the Young Urban Women Project, Pooja and her peers saw that they could speak out against street harassment, received the tools to create maps of problem areas, and got the police involved to help make their streets safer. Ultimately, they were given a seat at the table to solve their problems.
“It is necessary for a girl to understand who she is, the qualities inside her, what her rights are, what is necessary for her and how to attain it. The change I want to see is for a girl to be made aware of all of these things and be able to attain them by herself.” – Pooja, Field Officer, Young Urban Women Project, Hyderabad, India
Fast forward a few years, and now Pooja is a Field Officer at the Shaheen Center. She teaches computer lessons and conducts sexual and reproductive rights workshops. She also leads Shaheen’s outreach efforts, going into the communities with other members of the center to invite more girls to join.
Certainly, making space for young women to lead change brings us all closer to achieving gender equality.