Feminism is a strong word, with actions that are exponentially more powerful. It is something believed to be constituted by parity and equal treatment between the sexes. Women and men from around the world are forming a united front to support feminism. To me, it constitutes the fight our society is undergoing for the basic human rights we believe are entitled to us. The way women are viewed currently is disparaging, and their abuse, lack of education and inabilities to find non-traditional jobs are projections of the underlying societal issue. I sat in my comfortable US home complaining about how the world views women, never actually experiencing discrimination in my own life. I also wanted to join the fight behind the feminist movement, and I came to know about an organization called “ANEW” (Association for Non-traditional Employment for Women), which provides training to underprivileged women and helps them find jobs. Eager to volunteer, I discovered that through its actions, it aims to “teach a woman to fish” rather than “giving a woman a fish to feed her for a day.”
When I walked into the compound of ANEW, there was a shiny yellow car and a blue auto with the“PRIVATE” sign painted across the back. These vehicles donated by businesses are used to teach car and auto driving to underprivileged women. As I had never seen female auto or car divers before, this was my first look into what“Non-traditional” employment really was.Inside the building, I saw several girls huddled around computers as the teacher explained the subject material. The excited chatter of the students added to the buzz of life that hummed through the organization. Upstairs, I peered into the doors of several meeting rooms and a large classroom where the home nursing students learn their material. The teacher was giving a lecture, and the look on the girls’ faces showed the pure enthusiasm they had for the subject. The courses offered at ANEW are: Home Nursing, Driving, Basic IT skills,Desktop Publishing Applications, Web designing, optometry, and TALLY. The students don’t hesitate to shed their worries and approach the subjects with a whole heart. ANEW’s success speaks for itself: 5,400 of deprived women have benefited from their time with the program.
I had the honor of interacting with four underprivileged girls and hearing about how ANEW touched their lives. Kavitha, Shobhana, Sandhya and Bhavani are four women currently enrolled in the home nursing program. The depth in which the program has helped their situations was highly visible. ANEW gives them ammunition to fight their battles against the status quo. It was heartening to see that the sessions not only provided them vocational training to get jobs, but gave them courage and emotional stability. Take for instance, Kavitha. She left school at a very young age, and got married.Filled with a false sense of security, she decided to not continue education or search for a stable job. Years later-after the birth of her two children- her husband left her for a prolonged period and returned with another wife. Shocked and defenseless, she had nothing to do and nowhere to go. She continues to live with her husband since she had no other recourse. Having heard about ANEW, she decided to join the home nursing class, and once it finishes, she will have the ability and courage to raise her children single-handedly.
The plight of women in the lower parts of the society glues them to traditional jobs, which do not allow opportunities for advancement. The money from these jobs is barely enough to sustain a household. Though families want to educate their children, the need for money for day-to-day living overpowers the necessity for schooling. ANEW helps women get out of the vicious spiral of menial labor. Bhavani was working in Saravana Stores after her 11th standard. Her parents did not have the funds to send her to 12th,and wanted her to help pay off the family debt. Bhavani got a basic education, but this was not good enough break out of the endless cycle. Even if a girl wants to study,the family usually can’t support a three-year college education course. ANEW’s compact, free, six-month platform is designed to help these girls to get jobs with better pay. Giving one woman a job helps them place an emphasis on proper occupational training or education. They will send their children to similar programs, creating a large, long-term impact on the community.
I was shocked to see the conditions that girls face on so many levels. The gap between those who have and those who don’t is like an ever-deepening chasm, which only proper job training can repair. Dealing with so many hindrances in the way of their success has made these women stronger and more resilient. I envy the qualities these women have developed in the face of tragedy instead of crumbling like so many before them. The struggle for things I consider “a given” like a job, a home, and food has made them into fighters, gladiators who strive for just these things. Their ability to rise above the obstacles that trip them up everyday make them admirable people. When asked what ANEW can do to make its courses more suitable for them, they all unanimously said, “ As long as it can give the same privilege I had to many more women, I will be happy.” The selflessness that runs through their core in spire of their situations make them truly the most inspiring people I have ever met.
Curious about the logistics of the program, I decided to talk to the staff at ANEW. The challenges of running such an organization are monumental. Project manager, Tanya, discusses how difficult monetary sponsorship is. Currently, the majority of the funding comes in through personal connections of the staff members. This poses a huge problem when there is a new committee; there is a whole different need for money. Most NGOs get money from corporate sponsors in India; however,the metric they use is the number of women that come to ANEW in a year. In 2013, 1,000 girls registered, but corporations consider this number low and want the number to be increased to 2,500. ANEW has had a challenge being a quantity-based program, when its goal is to delve deep and give a complete and wholesome training. Reaching out and finding girls to join the association also poses a problem. One of the staff members, Jamila, says, “In ten years I hope that ANEW becomes so well-known that it is an institution people will be attracted to automatically, like the appeal of IIT.”
The teachers have an immense responsibility at ANEW because they deal with girls coming from very difficult backgrounds. This takes patience and reasoning. The Basic IT instructor Dhanalakshmi says that she tries to establish a friendly relationship with the students so that they open up to her automatically when something is wrong. This helps the women get through problems at home and make the best use of the good at ANEW.
Through experiencing the feel for what ANEW has to offer, I have learned how difficult it is to help others. There will always be challenges in improving and furthering the impact on the community. For as many people who use the system properly, there will be just as many people who try to abuse the system. The experience was humbling tome, as I had believed it was easy to change a person’s life. What I see in both the students and the teachers who reach out and take an initiative to help the quandary of women in the Indian society is true feminism. Feminism is not about equality or something even close to that, it’s about trying. Trying to create a stable future for women in the community and trying to change the big picture one bit at a time.It’s time, to foster the embers of hope in women in the current generation and all to come.” – Swathi
P.S The author ‘SWATHI’ is a 10th grader from US who visited ANEW .