Sunday 10 December is Human Rights Day, the culmination of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. Violence against women and girls is a human rights issue, not a women’s issue. We must say “no” to violence against women and girls on Human Rights Day…and every day. The global community must recommit to a pathway of action, a pathway that involves policies, programs and resources to achieve progress as a society.
At My Choices Foundation in India we want women, children and families to have choices to live lives free from violence, abuse and exploitation. We aim to stop domestic violence and sex trafficking by empowering women and girls to become change agents in their own families and communities. We educate ‘at risk’ women and girls, families and communities and provide free, grassroots support to women and girls who experience domestic violence. We’ve come a long way in our five years, helping over 4,000 women and girls and their families, but there’s much more to do.
Every day, I learn something new from the women we work with. One woman, Archana (name changed), stands out for me. Archana married when she was very young and has two daughters aged 9 and 12. She endured years of unimaginable abuse from her husband and in despair, decided to end her life. Then she thought: “Who will take care of my daughters when I’m gone?” This prompted her to seek help from My Choices. She rang one of our counsellors that day, but it took her a year to work up the courage to visit us to commence her journey to a life free from domestic violence.
What I find most inspiring from Archana’s story is that despite all she’s been through, she’s always smiling, she never complains about her situation. She says: “I have a future, I want to raise my daughters to be strong so they can take anything that comes their way.” She’s courageous, and we helped her raise funds for her daughter to go to school. Every time I meet her, I say “Wow!” because she’s so inspiring. No matter what, you have to keep going on for women like Archana.
Another extraordinarily courageous woman, Shabana (name changed), was so abused by her husband, she could barely walk, rarely talked. Her counsellor helped her for many months, she slowly improved. She started to gain hope and eventually said to us: “I know my worth, no one can diminish me.” Shabana finished college when she was young, so we encouraged her to get a job once her health improved. Now she says: “No one can harm me, I’ve transformed my life, I want to transform the lives of other women.” Shabana encourages other women experiencing abuse and violence to seek help from My Choices. She’s a role model for other women.
On Human Rights Day, let’s honour courageous women like Archana and Shabana. They are beacons of hope that we can stop domestic violence and bring about beneficial social change in our lifetime.
This article was first published in Opportunity International Blog.