Sisters in arms empower distressed women in UP

Sisters in arms empower distressed women in UP
Sarita Devi (name changed), a resident of Chinhat locality in Lucknow, had been a victim of sexual abuse and domestic violence and had no idea as to what to do. The bruises on her body not only bore testimony to the violence she had been subjected to but also caused great emotional shame and mental trauma. A fragile, confused and bullied Sarita was completely unaware of her legal rights.

But that was only until she found herself in the arms of the DiDi’s (sisters). Within a few months, 35-year-old Sarita learnt driving and became a professional driver, earning enough to look after herself and her family comprising four children and of course her husband, who is now paralytic.

“Sarita had dreamt of providing good education to her children and her dream came true once she started earning. She was able to put her daughter through school and the girl completed her vocational training course in computers. The girl also got herself trained as a beautician,” says DiDi’s founder Urvashi Sahni.

The story of Sanjana (name changed) is not much different from that of Sarita. Struggling to stay afloat and build an identity for herself, Sanjana, came from an very poor background. She had to take care of not only her husband but also his six brothers.

The constant harassment, discrimination, abuse and suffocating atmosphere at home were far more complex than what Sanjana had imagined life would be. Married at a young age of 17 she soon realised it was in fact a prison where she lost herself to serving an alcoholic, unemployed husband.

She suffered this life for seven years – a life of domestic violence, gender-based violence and abuse as she did not think that there was an alternative option. She had just resigned herself to destiny until the day she heard about DiDi’s from a neighbour, who was working with the NGO. The two women met while DiDi’s was conducting a community mobilisation campaign in Sanjana’s neighbourhood in Lucknow.

Sanjana, much against the wishes of her husband and the rest of family, came to work at DiDi’s. She is now a cook with DiDi’s and has learned to cook vegetables, rice, roti (bread) and many other Indian delicacies. Not only is she skilled in cooking, but also trained in customer relationship management, inventory management and is now aspiring to be a driver with DiDi’s Drivers!

Sanjana has found herself through her work and is living a life of satisfaction and appreciation. She is her happiest self while she is at work at DiDi’s, with her friends and the whole DiDi’s family! Her financial and emotional independence has emboldened her to move forward in life. She is a successful cook and is also educating her two children with the money she earns by cooking at DiDi’s.

“DiDi’s is an entity under the umbrella organisation of Sisters in Solidarity (SiS). It is run by women for women towards strengthening their collaborative efforts to fight poverty, poor quality of life and low self- esteem among women,” Urvashi said.

She said that DiDi’s focused on hands-on vocational training and empowerment of underserved, marginalised and destitute women from extremely low-income groups. “We started off with only three women but today we have around 65 women. The number is likely to increase in the years to come,” she added.

The women volunteers of DiDi’s provide women and young girls the skills, dexterity, determination and internal tools that are required to master a skill of their choice.

“So far, our areas of skilling are training in cooking, tailoring and driving. We work with women to improve their confidence levels, gumption and a strong sense of self in them, through ongoing interactive empowerment workshops. We believe and consider this to be an extremely important tool that enables positive and successful life outcomes, both in terms of their professional and personal life skills and learning,” Urvashi says.

“Our workshops help women develop an inner strength that take them a long way and then successfully deal with social and operational issues that crop up in their work place as well as their communities,” she said. The organisation pays more attention to “gender imbalance”. “It is a topic of great concern that cuts across many states in India and Uttar Pradesh is known to have one of the highest gender disparity rates. It’s most common manifestations being the widening sex ratio, poor maternal health, increasing incidents of female foeticide and female infanticide, low literacy levels of girls/women and insufficient women in the work force,’’ Urvashi said.

Co-founder of DiDi’s Veena Anand said that a large number of women from poor communities struggled to overcome obstacles like domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, social pressure of a patriarchal culture, and the likes. “We at SiS, aim to uplift and empower women burdened with the daily suppression. Our efforts to empower women help reduce the social gap in gender in equality,” she said.

“Our mission is to facilitate skills development and vocational training and to create sustainable livelihoods for women. Our activities are focused on practical programmes aimed to empower women, making them overcome the challenges of poverty,’’ Veena said.

Urvashi said that the volunteers of DiDi’s rescue under-privileged women from various forms of gender violence like–domestic abuse, sexual harassment, women trafficking etc., and equip them with skills.

The girls rescued and trained by DiDi’s are pursuing their bachelors degree besides being enrolled for MBA programme.

Urvashi, however, realises that the task is huge and that she has a long way to go. ‘’We need to do a lot in this field,’’ she says.
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