July discussion - The FAT dillemmas
After promising to share a post in July here in this group, I am doing so almost near the end of the month! Sorry about the delay, but such is our workload!
First I would like to give you a brief idea about our work. We, Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) based in New Delhi in India, are working towards bridging the gap between women and technology through many different strategies. One of our programs is to work with adolescent girls and young women (age group 15 to 25) from underprivileged families to provide them a space to learn technical skills and also build their awareness on social issues which effect them. We integrate lessons on IT skills (mostly computer, photography and videography) with workshops and group discussions on various topics like gender, education, violence, sexuality, communalism, health, law, etc.
Today I want to share with you 2 steps we took that we feel worked very well with our adolescent girls, and also 2 challenges we are facing.
Due to lack of enough team members, we were not able to reach out to many girls. So we decided to work with a small group for a period of 6 months and prepare them so that they could do some of our work. We selected a group of 12 girls, worked with them extensively, and after their course was over we asked them to help us run the next course. Even though we call it a course of six months, we actually want an ongoing long term involvement of the participants with our program. However, retaining girls for such a long term relationship is not so easy, unless they find the involvement beneficial for them. The idea of being volunteer computer trainers for the next batch of girls was attractive to many of the girls. And having trainers from within the community helped us attract more girls to join the program. It gave the new trainers visibility and respect within their community. Though they are not fully ready to train independently, they are assisting our staff member and enhancing their own skills. Presently we have 5 such volunteers.
Another step that really helped us was forming a girls collective. We organize discussions on various issues with the group as a part of our program. After each discussion, the girls are highly energized as they share their personal experiences and vent out their anger in front of their peers. We decided to direct this energy to do some activism within the community. We organized a celebration on International Women's Day within the community. The girls prepared for the event by writing slogans, making posters and preparing a street play. It was both fun and liberating for them to prepare for this event together. They invited every family in the community to the event. Finally mostly women turned up at the event. Though the girls did not perform the street play, they sang songs, shouted slogans and talked about International Women's Day at the event. At the event we proposed the girls start a collective of their own to bring change in young women's lives within their community, and the mother support the collective. The idea received a lot of support from both the girls and the women present in the event. There after, a collective called the "Nayi Soch Nayo Rah" (New Thinking New Ways) was started. The girls named this collective themselve. We only supported the collective with our guidance and left most of the functioning to them. This collective has helped us get many new girls into the program. During this summer vacations, we had as many as 30 girls coming to our small centre every day. The collective meets once every week and reaches out on its own to other girls. The reach has now extended beyond the community we started working.
However, we are facing challenges keeping the collective active as the schools and colleges reopened on 9th July. Most of the school/college going girls are not able to come regularly now, which means the weekly meetings have very few girls and hence are not really working well. We also recently shifted our office and the new space is slightly further away from the girls' houses. The heat in Delhi is unbearable. After a hot day in the school, it is not possible to come out in the heat to again. We are worried that such a discontinuity may result in dissolution of the collective.
On the other hand, the girls who have continued with us so far are a little upset that they have not really been able to use their new skills to get a job so far. When they joined the program we had made it very clear that we are not running the program to help them get jobs. The program's aim is to give them access to new technologies since they don't have the access, and raise awareness about women's rights within their community through the girls. We do not want them to discontinue their education by getting into jobs at a young age. (Most of the girls in our program are between the age of 15 to 19). However, their families expect them to earn rather than study. Each one of the girls feels it is her responsibility to earn and help her family. But given a choice, they would like to study. Job market has become very competitive today and even those who are old enough to apply for jobs cannot get jobs easily because they dont know to speak English which is a must to get jobs these days! We are a little confused about our position in this matter. We do not want to promote the idea that the girls should leave their education and start working now just because they have learnt basic computer skills. (It has taken a lot of efforts from us to get some girls stay at school and get some into colleges). Most families can support their education but do not do so for their girls. We would rather like to empower the girls to negotiate with their families to support their education. A few girls have tried to negotiate as well (while many are uncertain if they want to negotiate). Those who have tried to negotiate have faced violence within the family. 2 of them are being forced to get married.
We would like to know from you if you have faced such problems and how have you dealt with them. What do you suggest us, should we help the girls to get jobs or should we continue negotiating with the families. What are the best ways to work with tough parents? What can we do to keep the larger group engaged on a regular basis? The girls' collective (Nayi Soch Nayi Rah) needs a lot of motivation. What can we do to keep the collective alive? Please do keep in mind that we do not have much funds. We just have enough to pay for the rent of the centre space, salary of the main computer skills trainer and an assistant who is one of our old students. We have 3 volunteers who conduct the workshops and discussions / provide counseling to the girls / talk to parents when needed.
Lessons learnt from your experiences would be invaluable for us!