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United States
Find Out What’s “Cool” About The Beijing Platform For Action

In September 1995, women from all around the world came to Beijing for the Fourth World Women’s Conference. Even though I wasn’t born until the next year, this conference certainly influences my life today as I approach womanhood. Not just because my grandmother was there and tells me many stories of the strong, incredible women of courage she met but because, while her stories are great, “Beijing” is not just about what happened in 1995. After all, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action did not just create a set of promises to achieve gender equality but it also put in place a roadmap for how we can make those promises real for women. In fact, they allow us, today, to have a central human rights-based agenda for women – that we can continue to add to – that I can add to. In 2015, we need to think critically about the role we can all play in continuing the work that was done but also how things have changed. While our girlhood, our womanhood, and the feminist cause unite many of us, we cannot assume that any two females face similar challenges or even have the same hopes and aspirations.

“Before Beijing, no one really talked about the differences between being a girl and being a woman – as if my mother, my grandmother, and I all want the same things!”

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 WFS Ref: USAO928 620 words

Girls Put Their Best Food Forward
Roshin Varghese

When the Mysore-based Zaiba Taj first asked Javeriya to come to the school ground to join in a game of football, the teenager was absolutely alarmed. How could she play with boys? Wouldn’t she make a fool of herself in front of the entire class? And how would her mother react if she found out? As a worried Javeriya told Zaiba that neither would she get the permission to play and nor was she really up for the “challenge”, the feisty community activist working with a local civil society organisation laid her fears to rest by telling her that she could give it a try for a couple of sessions and if she didn’t like it there was no compulsion to carry on. Javeriya turned out to be a natural on the field and has not looked back ever since. Today, thanks TO the game that has given a “purpose to my life and enabled me to lose my inhibitions”, the youngster is discovering her potential as a person and, of course, as a ball player. In fact, like her, at present there are around 20,263 children in Mysore, who are connected with a highly successful youth programme that imparts valuable life skills through a specially-designed curriculum comprising sports and other “fun activities”.

“I want Javeriya to make a name for herself and we are happy she got the opportunity to go to America!”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO630R 1200 words

Teen Clubs Oppose Early Marriages
Azera Parveen Rahman

While a wedding amidst the verdant, picturesque tea gardens of Assam may seem to be idyllic, even dreamy, the scenario can instantly turn frightful if the bride is a vulnerable, unsuspecting adolescent. Unfortunately, in the rolling hills of the northeastern state, which, incidentally is the largest producer of tea in India, it’s not uncommon for girls to get hitched by the time they hit their early teens. Yet, Seema, 15, from a Dibrugarh district tea garden, managed to escape this dreadful fate because she decided to share her story with her friend, Rumi, 13, and other members of their area Adolescent Girls Club, one of the many being run with the support of the Assam Branch of the Indian Tea Association (ABITA). The youngsters staged an intervention and successfully talked her parents out of it. According to government data, although the prevalence of child marriage in Assam, at 40 per cent, is lower than the national average there are pockets, such as the tea gardens, where the practice is widespread. These figures are just the reflection of ignorance, illiteracy, poor health and poverty that plagues the community. However, in youngsters like Seema, who is back to school now, lies the hope for some much needed change of mindset.

“I am in Class 12 and want to do a course in nursing. It is because girls remain illiterate that they agree to early marriages. Most girls in our labour line are studying today and you won’t find any cases of child marriage there!”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDN402R 1250 words

Gender Equality Is The Most Critical Of Global Goals
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

September 2015 marks the launch of the most ambitious universal effort since the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Moving forward from the Millennium Development Goals, a new agenda for a fairer, more sustainable world has been set, with the singular drive to achieve full equality between women and men. In this special op-ed, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director-UN Women, emphasises that “no other issue on the sustainable development agenda will receive this level of special attention; no other issue is as critical to the success of the new agenda as a whole” because “we now know that without gender equality and a full role for women in society, in the economy, in governance, we will not be able to achieve the world we hoped for”.

“There has been a critical gap between those who draw up the commitments and those who carry them out. Gender ministries tend to be underfunded and lack the influence and weight of larger and stronger ministries…. This is where we intend to learn from history – and change it.”

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 WFS Ref: OPIO921 650 words

Preparing To Be A Grassroots Leader
Rakhi Ghosh

Whereas there is no denying the fact that women leaders instinctively know and understand the issues of their community, be it the lack of healthcare, food security, schools or sanitation, those who do get elected to the panchayat as panches or sarpanches for the first time are not really equipped to instantly provide good governance. After all, there can be no denying the very real hurdles they have to contend with – be it the lack of education or lack of confidence due to a poor understanding of the Panchayati Raj system, or even the lack of awareness about how to go about the planning process and rolling out welfare schemes. So, what is it that facilitates them in performing their role in the local self governing bodies to the optimum, overcoming the barriers of literacy, ignorance and, most importantly, regressive patriarchy, which at times forces them to play second fiddle to the men? According to grassroots leaders like Ranjita Sethi, who is a much-respected sarpanch despite being from a lower caste, or Rajani Hans, a deputy sarpanch who defied her male counterpart to make her village open defecation free, the capacity building training they receive after being elected is a real game changer for them. Of course, while they admit that the initial training is certainly beneficial it’s not enough to completely prepare them for the job at hand. Most women learn by trial and error, which they feel is a costly lesson.

“When it is difficult for an educated person to understand the Panchayati Raj system, know about the nitty-gritty’s of implementing government schemes how can a semi-literate person from remote village learn everything in a few sessions. Moreover, it would be of great help if both PRIs and government officials attend the training together.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO921F 1250 words
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