‘Youth has the power to bring about immense change in society.’ Strongly believing every word of this statement, Vikalp Sansthan, a Rajasthan-based organisation of young social workers, is doing some revolutionary work in fighting gender-based violence. They do this by educating and sensitising the youth about its grievousness. Founded in the year 2004, by a group of social workers, the organisation has since worked for issues like gender equality, girl child education, child marriage and violence against women. Vikalp means ‘an alternative.’ The organisation tries to find an alternate way of living for women, where prejudice, disparity and violence are put aside.
Vikalp Sansthan deals with these sensitive issues on various levels. “First and foremost, we conduct campaigns and meetings to create public awareness about women rights,” shares Yogesh Vaishnav, program manager at Vikalp Sansthan. “We visit villages and communities and talk to them as a group. We first listen to what they have to say and then we pick people who are receptive to the idea of women’s rights. These people are then educated and motivated so that they can bring about a positive change in their respective communities,” explains Yogesh, throwing light on how the organisation functions at the grassroots level. “That also helps us involve more and more local youth in our programs,” he adds.
Fighting gender inequality in Rajasthan
“Rajasthan has traditionally been a very patriarchal society. Customs and traditions passed down the ages are still being followed blindly, despite being irrelevant in today’s times. Thus, society has accepted discrimination against women as a way of living,” shares Yogesh. “Women too are party to the evil,” he adds.
Rajasthan reports a significant number of gender-biased evils like sex selection, child marriage, dowry, purdah, domestic violence, discrimination against widows etc. Vikalp is trying to create a society where both girls and boys have equal rights. A very effective method that Vikalp has adopted is to sensitise young men on these issues. “We involve young men in our programs and campaigns and try to inculcate a sense of understanding for women-related issues in them,” explains Yogesh. Vikalp Sansthan believes that change can begin in individual homes and in time seep into society.
Vikalp Sansthan is running very successful campaigns to fight gender inequality in the region. Our Daughters’ Rights, Send Our Daughters To School, Smiling Daughters and We Can End All Violence Against Women are a few of them.
Battling violence against women
Violence against women has taken many forms. It is present in our society in the form of rape, female infanticide and sex selection, dowry deaths and domestic violence. “Vikalp Sansthan aims at eliminating all forms of violence against women,” says Yogesh. “We have catered for centers where women receive counselling and protection. We educate them about their legal rights and provide resources so that they can take strong steps, if need be,” he explains.
“Here at Vikalp, we teach women to love and respect themselves,” says Yogesh smiling. “We teach them to stand up against all forms of abuse and our help is just a call away.”
Working for girl child education
“Families do not want girls to study, to avoid the expenditure involved in their education. They believe a girl has to stay at home, take care of the family etc. which expels the need for her education,” says Yogesh. “We are trying to explain to these households that an educated girl ensures financial security to the family in addition to bringing good health and general awareness within the household.”
“Our campaigns like Our Daughters’ Rights, Send Our Daughters To School and Smiling Daughters are gaining momentum and we are trying to involve local schools, communities and regular households in these initiatives,” says Yogesh. Vikalp Sansthan runs special enrolment programs to give girls who have dropped out of school an opportunity to continue their education. The organisation has reported 5,200 success stories till date.
Wiping the curse of child marriage
Child marriages are detrimental to girls and boys, girls more so. Child marriages curtail a girl’s education, prevent her psychological growth, force her into early childbirth that in turn leads to other health issues. Child marriages also increase her financial dependency, affect her judgemental skills and give rise to domestic violence.
“Our studies and social assessment have indicated that educating a girl child decreases her chances of becoming a victim of child marriage. Hence, our impetus lies in spreading the message of girl child education to as many people as possible,” says Yogesh. “We ensure via our meetings with the girls, their families and school authorities that she is regular at school and pursues secondary education,” he elaborates. Vikalp Sansthan, has so far saved 875 girls from child marriage.
An everlasting change
Vikalp Sansthan is trying to bring about a change. To ensure permanent results, the young workers are raising the issues amongst various strata of society, be it young men, temple priests, guardians of castes, elders of the household or bearers of social duties like policemen, government officials etc. They are trying to ring the bell as loud as they can. “We organise street plays, display posters, hold awareness camps, organise interaction sessions and workshops. We are putting our heart and soul into this campaign,” points out Yogesh, adding, “Hopefully, tomorrow will be the change.”
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