Girls Voices 2020

Celebration of Girls Voices

Thoughtshop Foundation, Kolkata January 2020

40 girls from our community-based Youth Resource Cells in the 14-17-year age group from 10 different geographical locations- urban, rural and peri urban, as well as from different religious backgrounds participated in this event. These girls are active members of their YRCs and they volunteered to come and speak before an audience on issues that concern them.

The expected outcome of this event was to enable adolescent girls (14-17) to become more aware of their issues; develop a voice, raise their issues with clarity and confidence.

Pre -Convening Preparation: Girls 14-17 age group from across 10 YRCs were given a few themes (shared below). They were to choose any a topic and based on their personal experiences prepare a 2 to 5-minute sharing. They were encouraged to spend some time thinking about it, clarifying their points with peers or Mentors.
(videos with Bengali voices in this page have closed captions in English)

  • I feel girls need…
  • The most important thing that has happened to me over the last year…
  • I feel girls can…
  • One thing I am not afraid of anymore
  • I strongly believe…
  • One thing I will not give up on
  • The biggest challenge girls face…
  • The support that I need the most…
  • I am proud that I have…
  • My message to all girls like me... 

Girls Can…

At the Convening girls individually shared their views before the rest of the group. It was a lively, vibrant event with most girls sharing confidently and speaking from the heart. Girls sharing explored themes of hope – what girls can do, and the need to believe in themselves and challenge social norms.

I have six siblings. I do zari embroidery on saris and economically support my family. I participate in all decision making for my family. I know I can. I know all girls can.

Nurnessa Khatun, 16 years, YRC KYP, Rural Muslim Community

Girls are equally able to do all kind of things like boys. There are so many examples of girls contributing for social changes like Rani Laxmi bai, Kalpana Chawla, Neerja Bhanot, Rajiya Sultana, Kiran Bedi. When girls want to do something society’s norms restrict girls. When girls can overcome these challenges society starts to respect them. “Bandhano ko todh kar, Aage chalte jana hai, Duniye bhale hi ruke kamyabi haasil karne se, Par hum kyu ruke akhir hamara zamana hai”

Shaista Parween, age 14 years, YRC Roshni, Urban Slum

Girls can dream, Take decisions for her life, Freely have fun, Wear all kind of dresses, Buy things, Play all kind of games, Go wherever they want, Drive all kinds of transport, Protect themselves

Ananya Sardar, age 14 years, YRC Alor Sandhan, Peri Urban tribal group

All girls need to get established first and only then think of marriage. Girls and Boys are equal. They can participate in each and every thing equally. Women can travel out alone; They are able to lift heavy weights, able to manage economic matters, and also can handle any kind of challenges.

Pinky Poddar, age 16 years, YRC Drishtikon, Urban Slum group

My parents have often told me: “You can’t do anything if, If you had been a boy then he would have supported us”. But I believe as a girl I can do anything and also that ALL girls can do everything which they want to do. I can take responsibility for myself and my parents.

Sujata Malakar, age 15 years, YRC Ujaan, Urban Slum Community

Girls Need…

Girls shared what they needed and what was most important for them. Recurring themes were the need for freedom, the need for safe spaces, support from family and communities and the need to believe in themselves. One girl poignantly spoke of the need for second chances.

What girls need the most is self-confidence. If we do anything that is different from traditional social norms then everyone stops us, but we should not accept that. Self-confidence is the biggest support for girls.

Tanuja Khatun, age 15 years, YRC KYP, Rural Muslim Community

As girls we should have faith in ourselves. Our biggest issue is a “gender” issue. In the words of our community, the identity of a ‘girl’ is always added whether I want it or not, whether it is relevant or not.

Murshida Khatun, age 16 years, YRC KYP, Rural Muslim Community

Girls need people who will believe in them and give them a second chance.

When I was 11 years old, I was in a relationship with a boy. After a year I decided to marry him. And I did. The next day my family and group members brought me back home. When I came back to my community my neighbours use to say bad things about me. They gave upon me and told me I can’t do anything in my life. But they are wrong. I needed and got another chance from the YRC. I started to study again and am continuing my education. There are still some community members find it hard to accept me. But my YRC supports me and now I will achieve my dreams. I want to be a lawyer. I want to fight for all girls who are facing discrimination in society.

Rupsha Das, age 16 years, YRC Nabadisha, YRC Urban Slum Community

I want the freedom to be who I am and so do many other girls…

Society does not treat girls and boys equally. When a girl is raped people start to talking about the girl’s dress. If society had given girls sticks and footballs instead of pans and rolling pins, if society could have treated girls and boys equally then rape would not happen in our community. Girls need freedom. I want to share my story. Sometimes a girl may want to be different and not a so called “typical girl”. Like me.
I always wanted to dress like a boy, play outdoors, hang out with boys at the club. I felt more comfortable dressing like a boy. I faced a lot of discrimination because of this different behaviour. If a girl doesn’t conform, there’s trouble. If it hadn’t been for the group, I don’t know where I would be- locked up at home, perhaps. Thank you to my Group. I want the freedom to be who I am and so do many other girls.

Kakali Naskar, age 17 years, YRC Ujaan, Urban Slum Group

All Girls need freedom, we need family support, education, love and shelter. Every girl needs a YRC and an open sharing space.

Mousumi Munda, age 14 years, YRC Alor Sandhan, Peri Urban tribal group

Girls need to complete education. We need to set life goals. For our safety, we girls need to learn football, karate and boxing.

Gita Poddar, age 14 years, YRC Youth Voice, Urban Slum Group

Challenge girls face…

Girls shared what was holding them back. While some spoke of larger social norms and pressures/ gender discrimination at the family level, others spoke of specific events and family financial crisis that put a strain on their families and their education and futures was the first to be sacrificed.

I love to play football but my mother didn’t support me. One day I asked my mother that Why is being a girl such a problem? As a woman, we always face discrimination. We lose out on opportunities. The biggest challenge is the stereotypical norms for girls and women that make them believe they can’t do anything. I want each and every girl to access all kinds of opportunities.
My community club didn’t give permission for girls to enter. One day I saw boys playing carom in a community club in our neighbourhood. I entered inside and wanted to play but they refused to allow me. Instead they challenged me: Why have you come inside? I questioned them Why shouldn’t girls be allowed to enter and play? This club is in the community and it is for all community members. They had no proper answer. After that girls in our community can play in the club.

Tumpa Halder, Age 18 years, YRC Nabadisha, Urban Slum Community

I don’t want to get married soon. I have dreams. But society is a barrier in fulfilling the dreams of girls. Will I be able to fulfil my dreams or will I be forced to marry before I can figure things out?

Anuradha Maity, Age 14 years, YRC Swapno, Rural Community

I know I cannot give up and I have the power to go forward in my life

After my mother’s death it has become very challenging for me continue my education. There is a lot of household work I need to do. After my father’s re-marriage my struggle has increased. My education is not a priority in the family. But I know I cannot give up and I have the power to go forward in my life.

Reshma Khatun, Age 16 years, YRC KYP, Rural Community

I feel discriminated in my family. Most of the time my brother gets full freedom but I don’t. I miss out on residential camps organized by YRCs because I’m not allowed to stay overnight. I need to reach my dream. I want to be a teacher but if I continuously face discrimination then it will become tough for me to reach my goal. If I get opportunities to learn more then, I will also able to teach others.

Riya Halder, Age 14 years, YRC Nabadisha, Urban Slum Community

Marriage is the only future option considered for girls…

In my community, marriage is the only future option considered for girls. After a girl achieves puberty they don’ think about her age or the consent of the girl. Before joining the YRC I didn’t have the courage to explore my wishes. I was scared of everything and everyone, scared to speak up. But thanks to the group now I have courage and mobility. I am allowed to play football. I dream of become a Sub Inspector in the Police Force.

Krishna Kander, Age 15 years, YRC Swapno, Rural Community

Because of my father’s illness we had a financial crisis and I could not pay my coaching fees. I had to stop studying. But I was guided to restart and now I am continuing my studies again. When there is a family crisis it is hard for us but I think if we girls are confident then we can do anything and overcome all challenges.

Sumita Pramanik, Age 16 years, YRC HKHC, Rural Community

Girls are Proud of…

I am proud of my periods.

Because it gives me the power to reproduce and I can be a mother if I choose. After the training on Adolescent Sexuality Training I realised the myths around menstruation. Society tries to say that women are dirty and impure during their periods. Now, I know during my periods I am not impure. When teachers taught the Hormone and Reproduction chapter in school then all the students felt shy except me. I think it’s very necessary; boys need to know about periods. Then they will respect all girls.

Sujata Banik, Age 15 years, YRC Ujaan, Urban Slum Community

I feel proud that I am a girl…I am proud of who I am
I love myself, I love that I can be a bold and beautiful person from inside out…

Sana Riaz, age 14 years, YRC Roshni, YRC Urban Slum Community

Our message for girls…

After the individual sharing, Facilitators clubbed girls who raised similar concerns into groups. Each group discussed their points and collectively made a creative presentation – a poem, a song, a poster. These were shared before the larger group. Other groups can ask questions to better understand points of view.

Remember this…

I am a woman, I can do everything
Firmly believe that girls are no less important than boys
I can fulfil my own dreams

I can go ahead by breaking barriers,
stopping the world us.
I will move towards success
We are women,
who are stronger than everyone

My life, my rules
Nobody can abuse us
I have the power in my heart and mind
I have inner strength, so I am not afraid of anything

Where I see wrong, and injustice,
I will stand up
I will take my past and move on

Never think that I cannot move forward because I have made mistakes in the past
We are women of today, we need freedom
And freedom for all makes a community great.

Challenges for Girls

Society, you have excluded me
From so many different opportunities.
I am a girl, so you gave me less food
To become women of an independent country,

Society you stopped me
from dreaming.
You controlled me.

Society you told me
don’t touch anything when you menstruate
But we are women and we are able

We should be independent, because our country is independent
We will build a new society, when we win
We are not afraid.