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Chasing Hard-hitting Women’s Stories
Stephanie Raison

‘It’s a scorching Monday morning. About 10 minutes after we turn off the tarmac road my colleague and driver, Andrew, asks me if we are heading in the right direction. The GPS is blank and you can barely make out the bumpy path between huge boulders in this sculptured landscape. I’m sure we’ll meet someone soon &#— a human GPS. A goat-keeper points us on the way, telling us to turn right at the school. Some 30 minutes later, we arrive at a busy marketplace. A familiar splash of orange and pink comes rushing over. It’s Mamma Marietha Maige. Having served two terms as a councillor, Marietha is the first woman to run independently as a district councillor in her area. Together we leave the bustling marketplace. After 45 minutes, we arrive at our destination &#— a gathering of her supporters. It feels like someone has rolled out the red carpet as a swirl of red sand rises into the air to greet us, kicked up from under the feet of more than 300 women who sing welcoming notes and move towards our car. In a sea of hopeful energy, the women are thrilled to see one of their own standing up.’ … When Stephanie Raison, 34, a busy radio journalist, joined the UN Women as an Australian Volunteer for International Development in 2013, she “actually thought it would be a bit of a holiday”and that she would no longer have to “run everywhere, work late nights and weekends”. Whereas things didn’t quite happen as she had expected she’s glad that it’s “rewarding in ways I never imagined”. Read on to get a glimpse into a typical day in her life.

“Interviewing in Tanzania requires patience. Many women are not used to giving an opinion and some view questions with suspicion. I need to pull out my best journalism tactics to make people feel comfortable.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: TANP425 1050 words

Neila’s A True Dance Apsara
Surekha Kadapa-Bose

The soon-to be octogenarian, Neila Sathyalingam, founder-member of the Apsara Arts Dance Company of Singapore recalls dancing as soon as she began walking. And that was way back in late 1930s in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Officially, of course, she started training in Indian classical dances, such as Bharatnatyam, Kathakali and Manipuri, from the age of five. Laughingly, she recalls how her well-to-do family, more into academics than the arts, wasn’t really keen on her pursuing dance as a career – her dental surgeon father wanted his daughter to follow in his footsteps. But the talented and free-spirited Neila chose to stick to her passion and used her powers of persuasion to change everyone’s mind. It’s a good thing she decided to dedicate herself to dance because today her Apsara Arts Dance Company has become one of the leading arts schools in her country and an internationally established arts group known for its committed, creative troupe of performers.

“As a child in my Colombo home, I would wake up at around 4 am and start practicing dance steps much to the consternation of my father. Disturbed by the sound of the ‘ghoongaroos’, he ordered me to practice the ‘bhavas’ (expressions) in the early hours and the ‘thetalas’ (rhythmic dance) during the day. ”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: QQQP427 1250 words

Patriarchs and Politicians Weigh In On Women
Elayne Clift

In 1748, British Lord Chesterfield declared women to be “children of a larger growth,”while 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer stated that “one need only look at a woman’s shape to discover that she is not intended for either too much mental or too much physical work”. A bit later, Sigmund Freud saw women as innately hysterical and wondered “what women want”. Great male thinkers and writers like John Ruskin, the quintessential Victorian social critic, declared with Freudian aplomb that good writing required a “penetrative imagination,”clearly to be found exclusively in the masculine domain, and Victorian poet Gerald Manley Hopkins made it clear that “the artist’s essential quality [was] masterly execution, a kin of male gift.” Even Nathaniel Hawthorne, who got his heroine Hester Prynne’s strength so right in ‘The Scarlet Letter’, disparaged women writers, whom he judged to have no right to a literary life. History is rife with misogynistic precedent but it’s been a while since blatant misogyny on the scale that is seen today reared its ugly head so overtly, especially in political circles.

“What is a woman’s greatest duty? To have children, then more children, always to have children! A woman who refuses, who seeks to control or suppress her maternal destiny, no longer deserves any rights. That woman is nothing. ”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: OPIP426 880 words

‘My Daughter Will Not Be A Prostitute, She Will Study’
Abha Sharma

Radha, 45, is a former prostitute. She belongs to the Rajnat community that relies on commercial sex work done by mothers, sisters and daughters to make ends meet. It’s a given that a Rajnat daughter will take on her mother’s ‘profession’; conventional marriage and even an alternative line of work is simply out of the question. But if Radha has her way then her daughter will never enter the trade. This mother of three from Bhojpura village on the outskirts of Rajasthan’s state capital Jaipur, is hoping that her daughter’s dream of “becoming an air hostess and travelling the world” would become a reality, considering that she is doing all she can to ensure that they get an education. Sheena, who was also coerced into prostitution in the name of ‘tradition’ and economic necessity, fervently hopes that she, too, will be able to provide her two daughters with the schooling they deserve especially because “my older girl wants to be a doctor”. However, whereas one moment the women are full of hope, in the next, pessimism sets in because “only time will tell what’s in store for the future”. Yet, they are clear on one thing: their daughters will have the choice to build a life different from theirs.

“In my time, there was no way to ensure girls went to class simply because there were fewer schools, greater financial constraints and our families were afraid to send us by ourselves. But these days, we all send our girls to school without hesitation.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDP418W 1290 words

Craft, Commerce At The Click Of A Mouse
Anuradha Shukla

His eyes are firmly glued to the leather wallet in his hands, to which he is adding fine, artistic details. The one-room workshop where Venkatesh Rao, a young artisan, creates exquisite leather goods is pretty extraordinary especially considering it is situated in the labyrinthine lanes of Dharavi, one of the largest slums in Asia, in the heart of Mumbai. While Rao is busy making the wallet, on the other side of the room his wife is busy clicking photographs of the purses and wallets he has already made using her mobile phone. These pictures will soon be uploaded on dharavimarket.com, an e-commerce portal that sells products handcrafted by the residents of Dharavi. Like Rao, there are thousands of artisans and small businesses in the teeming urban slum, who are now being able to retail their products in over 100 countries through this website, the brainchild of Megha Gupta, 29, an urban planner, who set it up as a social project. Today, while most of the products are sold through their official site, they have also tied up with other online retailers such as Snapdeal, Flipkart and Amazon.

“Technology can be a big leveller. Even when people are not computer savvy, they can use their mobile phones to send the picture, interact on WhatsApp. When I discussed the idea with the artisans it clicked.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDP421 1200 words
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