As part of the Foundation for Social Transformation: Enabling Northeast India (FST) thematic area of “Gender Equality and Justice”, my project, a life skills program with adolescent girls in an urban slum of Guwahati, operates under this objective. As mentioned in my last post, a survey was conducted on the socio-economic, health status of female youth living in a slum community. Through entering data and analyzing the responses, one section of the survey, which addresses community issues and focuses on safety and security, caught my attention. One question asked the respondents if they take any precautions for their safety, and the result was that of a total of 97 respondents, 48 of them (49%) reported that they do. When asked about what types of precautions they take, all the respondents said that they do not go out alone, nor go out after the sun goes down. In another question of the survey, the girls were asked if they have experienced any type of domestic violence, and 25 respondents said yes.
Despite having a perceived notion that the status of women in the Northeast is slightly higher than the rest of the country (Das, 2013), the issue of gender-based violence is still prevalent. Assam has the highest rate of recorded crimes against women, out of the entire Northeast region (“Crime against women”, 2014). Furthermore, according to the National Family Health Survey-4 of 2015-2016 (Government of India Ministry of Health and Family Welfare), in Assam 24.5 % of ever-married women surveyed, had experienced spousal violence.
This year, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was on November 25 and this day begins what is known as the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence (UN Women, 2017). It culminated on December 10, designated as Human Rights Day, and FST planned to sponsor a “flash mob”-type of performance at a public mall in Guwahati, on that same day.
The idea of this dance performance originated from script conceived by a former FST intern Priya Kumar , who had produced a series of short street plays that depict situations related to domestic violence, street harassment or eve teasing, and sexual harassment. From these plays, an initiative entitled “Shakti- An Awareness Building Campaign” was born. The street plays were done in October of 2017, with collaboration from social work students from a local university.
Two months later, a dance performance came into fruition, choreographed by a local Assamese dance teacher and performed by students of NPS International School Guwahati along with other students from different educational institutes of Guwahati, Assam. The songs that were chosen relate in some way to female empowerment. FST supports these type of performances, in the hopes that it can create a platform to not only bring awareness to important social issues, but also to engage the community, mainly the youth, in finding different mediums of expression.
About The Author – Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawai’i, Janelle is a licensed social worker with a specialty of developing children and families. After receiving her Masters in Social Work from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, she joined the United States Peace Corps as a Youth in Development Volunteer, and was placed in the rural Phayao province of Thailand. Her proudest accomplishment during her service, was running a girls empowerment program that included participants from all over the Northern region of Thailand. Previous work experience include working for the Hawaii State Legislature as a Legislative Aide, Special Activities Coordinator for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), and an Education Paraprofessional in Hawai’i public schools. Janelle has a breadth of experiences abroad, including a semester in London and completing an intensive practicum in Baguio, Philippines. She has a strong interest in empowering the youth and hopes to apply her skills to help the youth of India.