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06 Mar 2020

Community Hero - Ganga's Inspirational Dedication to Empowering Women

Ganga was only sixteen when she was married to a man from a neighbouring village. As with many girls in rural and tribal areas of southern Rajasthan, this is not an uncommon scenario - in the area that Seva Mandir operates in, 44% of women are married before the legal age of 18. For Ganga, the sudden transition from being a child to being a wife was hard to take. Her husband came from a very poor family and every day for them was a struggle just to survive.

Ganga never let her situation get on top of her. She worked hard to make the best life possible for her and her husband with the little they had available. Her strength and tenacity were, however, almost unique to her. She could see that other women in the village were facing physical and mental abuse every day, from their husbands and other people and groups in the community. Nearly 40% of all married women in rural southern Rajasthan face spousal violence. Patriarchal gender attitudes are strong here, and women often lack the knowledge or ability to speak up against injustice, let alone seek legal aid. To Ganga, this was unacceptable. She knew that women and men are equal, regardless of what people might think.

When she heard of Seva Mandir, she saw a way that she could help women empower themselves. She connected with the organisation and joined a local women's group that had been created and was being facilitated by Seva Mandir. Her ability and passion soon led her to become the leader of her local group. Women who are victims of physical or mental abuse, property disputes and more, would come to Ganga to seek her help. She would refer these cases to the authorities, when necessary, though when she was able, she would resolve the case herself.

Even though Ganga was working for the betterment of women in her community, she faced huge levels of abuse from people in her village who were trying to stop her. These people believed that she was corrupting the community with her ideals. Ganga remained unafraid - she was determined to continue uplifting and empowering women.

‘Only if all the wheels work together does a cart move forward,' Ganga asserts wisely.

Now over 30 years into her journey as a community leader, Ganga works across multiple villages. By travelling long distances to access various platforms and widely share her knowledge of the different government schemes and provisions, she successfully connected over 250 women and numerous community members, including widowed women, orphaned children and families living in poverty with Aadhaar (social security) cards as well as financial benefits. Ganga was also a key person in combatting witch accusations, previously common in rural areas, and changing beliefs around this violent and discriminatory ideologies. She has been instrumental in setting up another ration shop in the community, something she attributes to her knowledge of the relevant laws, and she has reduced the distance women have to travel to access vital supplies and food. Ganga's efforts in creating understanding and spreading awareness of maternal and child healthcare have led to a decline in misinformation and false beliefs, with a number of families now opting for institutional births, proper immunisation and correct child nutrition practices.

Ganga

Kamal Lal, a prominent community representative of Madri village highlighted this aspect of her work:

‘Ganga has had a large impact on the community. Because of her efforts, child marriage, alcoholism and stigma around widow's remarriage have all reduced.'

He attributes this to her successful mobilisation of various stakeholders.

Being unafraid of coming between violent situations has earned Ganga the praise and respect of men and women alike. The police and caste panchayat have asked Ganga to assist them with mediation and counselling. Emboldened both by the presence of Ganga as well as her continued efforts to achieve equity in the community, women are making themselves more visible, setting aside their ghoongats (traditional headscarves which symbolically remove women from any conversation) and are sitting on the same platform as men.


She is a #communityhero.

 

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