Updated: Aug 23
This is the story of Sangeeta, a young girl from Odisha, who gained confidence to take a stand for her rights and aspirations after attending sessions at the Youth Resource Centre – organised as part of the STEM For Girls programme in India.
"The power to bring a change in our lives lies within all of us. We only need to recognise it.”- Sangeeta
In India, conversations around gender equality and child rights have been doing rounds in communities for a long time now. Organisations run theme based campaigns on special days, new laws are formed and repealed every day, politicians address the public with speeches, debates and discussions are usual to observe in media.
But is any impact of these interventions taking place on ground? Is gender equality a reality in India? Do our children, especially girls, enjoy the freedom to choose a life of their own? Do women and girls really feel equal to their male counterparts, or do they have to fight odds to reach there? The story of Sangeeta, a student of 9th standard at a girls government school in Berhampur, Odisha, takes us closer to the what happens, and can change on-ground.
Sangeeta comes from a humble family background. She lives with her father, a Home Guard in the Odisha Police; her mother, a Homemaker, and two younger brothers. As narrated by Sangeeta, her father has a conservative mentality against women and girls. Earlier, he tried to forcefully drop Sangeeta out of school to fund her brothers’ education. He also wanted her to get married as soon as she attained puberty. While her father had all support from the extended family, including her paternal uncle and aunt, Sangeeta’s mother stood firmly with her to support her life choices and decisions.
“When there was no one to support me to fulfil my dream to become a doctor, there was my mother who gave me the courage.
However, this creating a discord between the couple, led to her father subjecting her mother to domestic violence. Sangeeta was a silent spectator of the abuse, and felt powerless to bring situations under control.
Sangeeta had a childhood aspiration of becoming a space scientist. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, that gradually shifted to become a Doctor when she observed the essential life saving duties performed by the Doctors. But with domestic conditions aggravating every day, she felt her dreams getting in doldrums.
Restless Development India has been working with Quest Alliance for a programme named STEM For Girls in Sangeeta’s school, wherein adolescent girls are educated on the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and encouraged to pursue STEM Careers. As part of the programme, a Youth Resource Center (YRC) is set up in the city to allow girls to come together, participate in skill building sessions and learn through the available technology devices.
When Laxmi, a Youth Facilitator from the programme allocated to Sangeeta’s classroom introduced her to the YRC, Sangeeta considered it ‘a ray of hope’ and began to visit it regularly. Moving away from the growing tensions back at home, she was able focus on her goals. Spending time at YRC helped her enhance her technical skills and problem solving abilities. Ideathon and Hackathon sessions, and special day observations gave route to fun and rejuvenation in her life.
During one such celebration, Sangeeta could confide in Laxmi to tell her about the patriarchal domination at home. Laxmi suggested her to believe in herself, begin to express openly, and start talking to her father about what she learns everyday at the YRC. Following her advice, Sangeeta gathered her courage to begin interactions with her father regarding her dreams, likes and dislikes, and her plans on becoming a Doctor to help people.
Today, the communication initiated by Sangeeta has started to transform her father’s thought process and conservative mentality. She has put her father’s mind at rest. Her father shows keen interest in listening to her daily YRC engagements and learnings, and how she wants to contribute to the progress, growth and stability of her family.
Sangeeta is now confident enough to start working and support her father in funding the family’s daily needs and her younger brother’s education. She has also negotiated for a part time engagement to begin to earn a living. She aims to stick to her dream of becoming a doctor.