Paradigms Of Empowerment

In an age when we expect equal treatment of men and women, the #MeToo movement has torn the façade to reveal that we are not there yet.

By Shyama Parui

We go about our daily routines, carry out our mundane activities and as we are checking off items on our to-do list, we probably don’t give enough thought to the empowerment of women, the protection of children, and the well-being of human kind in general. It seems like every other day, we are jolted out of our illusory existence, when we hear about assaults on women around the world. Even in the 21st century, the Devadasi practice allows young women and children to be exploited in the guise of religion.

A Times of India news report (April 10, 2007) threw light on the results of a government commissioned survey. I was stunned when I read that the survey had found that 53% of children in India were subjected to sexual abuse.

 The safety of young children too is frightfully low. We may think our fears are exaggerated but, disturbing statistics indicate that the incidence of sexual abuse is fairly high. According to information in www.victimsofcrime.org, one in five girls and one in twenty boys are victims of this terrible crime. Shockingly, the abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows. A Times of India news report (April 10, 2007) threw light on the results of a government commissioned survey. I was stunned when I read that the survey had found that 53% of children in India were subjected to sexual abuse. One out of two! I hope that in the past 10 years, things have improved. It takes not just a village, but an entire society to recognize this danger and take steps to prevent abuse. Supporting or ignoring practices that exploit young women and children or put them in danger, is tantamount to rupturing the foundation of society which will lead to its eventual collapse.

We are racing ahead in the field of technology yet, we don’t seem to have made much progress in the area of protecting and respecting the rights of women. In an age when we expect equal treatment of men and women, the #MeToo movement has torn the façade to reveal that we are not there yet. The problem seems to cut across socio-economic groups, professions and cultures. As a woman, that fills me with anger and sadness. What gives me hope however, is that there are individuals and organizations that are working tirelessly to increase awareness, help the victims overcome the past and move forward.

I was curious about what would help a person heal, after they have been through the trauma of sexual abuse or have been in caught in an abusive situation for a long time. Do they aspire to break free or do they start believing that they are helpless? I had the privilege of speaking to Allison Green, who has a Master’s degree in Social Work and has extensive experience in helping individuals with a history of sexual abuse and she explained that the experience of abuse affects every aspect of the victim’s life. It is important to give them the right support. Victims often blame themselves and managing feelings of shame and guilt is a huge piece. The key factor in moving forward is having their feelings and experiences validated. In the absence of an alternate, safe space, outside the abusive environment, they could turn towards gambling, alcoholism etc. Seeking professional therapy to deal with related issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and relationship difficulties is essential.

Her small hut stood along the roadside

Often, victims do not share the torment they are going through out of fear and the gnawing thought that they will not be believed. Breaking the secret, according to Allison, is extremely important as it strips the abuser of the power to control the abused. Similarly, keeping the Devadasi practice under wraps stigmatizes the women trapped in it as it denies their plight. It also gives power to those exploiting the situation. There is an urgent and critical reason to give the Devadasis hope and an alternative. An opportunity to educate them and earn a living independently will be a step towards breaking free from the economic reasons that hold them back. Yes She Rises has a planned effort to help Devadasi mothers to unite and to empower themselves by providing language skills and vocational training. It stems from the belief that regardless of caste or class, a girl has a right to a safe and a happy life. The right to education and a safe future applies to everyone.

Shyama Parui is an ardent writer who enjoys writing about a variety of topics. In 2015, Shyama started writing her popular column “Namaskar Y’all” featured in Saathee magazine.  She has previously been a writer and editor for “Arani,” a magazine reaching out to the Charlotte area Bengali community. Shyama’s former career was in Human Resources and she has worked in major corporations as an Industrial and Organizational Development consultant. She holds a Master’s degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology as well as a Master’s in Counseling. 

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