Saturday, 16 July 2016

Women of Gajner

The first thing that strikes you when you come to a rural village in India is the people. People that look so different, that dress so different and whose habits are so far from yours. But then, you get to meet these people, to talk with these people in your broken Hindi and share moments with them. And you understand just how similar you actually are. And it is beautiful. 

As fervent believers of cross-cultural exchange and mutual learning, we wanted to know more about the stories of the people who constitute Gajner. Its people, its traditions, its soul. We wanted to give them a platform to share their stories and inspire each other the way they inspired us. So, we decided to create a project named Humans of Gajner. Similarlyto the famous Facebook page “Humans of New York”, we wanted to capture the soul of Gajner through pictures and stories of its people. 

We started to think about the stories we would like to showcase and really define the aim of this project. There, we realized that, from our personal point of view, the stories who needed to be told the most were the women’s. In Gajner, men are everywhere outside, they can talk, they can decide and they can share. The women, who are often kept in their houses, can be undermined and forgotten when you walk through the streets of Gajner. But, as you are welcomed inside their homes and their intimacy, you realize just how big a role they play in their household and therefore in the community. All the women and girls we met here, whatever their religion or age, have taught us something and have a unique role in making Gajner what it is. 

So there, Humans of Gajner became Women of Gajner (at least for now). We decided to start with the women of the community we know. The stories and pictures will be showcased in a safe, women-only space that we want them to make their own: our Vikas Center ECRC. As our center’s Girls Club is held there, these stories can inspire young girls and women to be proud of who they are and find their path to happiness and accomplishment in a society dominated by men. Also, as more women come into the ECRC, this will hopefully create links between them as it is a platform for them to share and discuss. 

We planned very carefully our schedule and stories/pictures to take. But, as everything as India, it did not go according to our plan. The first obstacle was how to explain these notions, very common in our Western world, in simple and down-to-earth words so that the women can understand. For this, we were lucky to have in our team Meera, our favorite Indian brilliant doctor intern. She perfectly understood where we wanted to go with this project and adapted it to words and notions that the women here will respond to. Also, she is our translator for our encounters with the women and our project greatly benefits from the relationship she easily establishes with the women.

We chose women that Educare has established relationships with. Obviously, we wanted every single woman and girl to tell us their story as there is so much to learn from them, but we needed to choose. We wanted women that are emancipated and have found a way to be powerful in the community, to be role models for younger girls. But, we also wanted to showcase women who may seem like regular “underpowered” housewives. Indeed, many girls will unavoidably get married and have to stay in their houses, and many will be restricted in their lives by their in-laws, so we wanted to give them examples for hope. To show them, at a very young age, that society will not get to decide how strong and powerful they are. That, even from home, they are central to their family life and that they are not weaker than men. That, whatever society tells them, they matter, deserve respect and can achieve great things. 

The second obstacle we faced is the paternalist family rules. Many women/girls needed the authorization from the men in their family. This was really tough because 2 key women we wanted to interview and photograph were not able to participate in this project. The most frustrating for us was to see how enthusiastic they were when we presented the project. And then, just because their husband/father did not want to have their picture in the ECRC, we could not showcase the great role they play in their family and community. And still, there is nothing you can do as you have to respect their authority. However, we expect that in the future, when the men will see that the picture will be seen by women only and how careful we will be with it, they will be less skeptical and hopefully there will be less restrictions from this. Also, a part from their authorization, we also needed to handle their presence during our interviews with the women. For one of our stories for example, the man was the one speaking the whole time, even if we were directing our questions to the woman. So again, you cannot say anything, smile and think how you can still make the woman the center of the story. 

This project has been full of ups and downs; coping with people’s personal schedules, running after women to take their picture when they are available, having men telling us that we cannot tell their wife or daughter’s stories even if the woman seemed very enthusiastic, the cultural and language barrier… But we can definitely say that every single step, obstacle, encounter has been worth it. The road to the 4 final stories we have has been bumpy and tough but it has given us so much more than we expected. These 4 stories, written solely from what they told us, give a glimpse of these women’s pride and individuality. 

In the future, we wish to continue with this project as it is a great platform for exchanging but also deeply understanding these women, their vision and their role. We don’t know the whole of Gajner, and are actually very far from it, so this project aims to discover even more these beautiful and strong women. And for us, this project represents exactly our role within the community: build platforms for the community to express their potential and take leadership on their own and village’s path.

Women of Gajner Making of

Costanza Burstin - Women's Empowerment Project Manager and CC in Gajner
Debora Cortez-Miranda - SWASH Project Coordinator, P. Manager and CC in Gajner
Meera Suresh - Rural Health Care Project Manager in Gajner

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