“I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
– Malala Yousafzai
The struggle for the recognition of women’s rights has a long history in India. Women have never given up and because they are fighters, they continue that struggle. Our patriarchal society affects both women and men, but women are more vulnerable because they are perceived to have less value than men. In most parts of India, terminating pregnancies of unborn girls is still practiced as girls are often seen as liabilities. Parents do not generally invest in girls’ education as they know once they are married, they will live with the husband’s family where their only work will be to look after the family and cook.
From childhood, women are told they are weaker than men and that they need men in their lives to protect them. They are also prevented from speaking up for their rights. To address these issues, Hayden Hall has been helping Indian women assert their basic rights for the last 50 years.
Hayden Hall handles many cases of domestic violence, child abuse, health issues and teen pregnancies. Here I share with you some stories of women who have come to Hayden Hall and whose lives were changed for the better.
Seema, a 29-year old woman, was married to Pratik. It was an arranged marriage. Seema was previously unemployed so she started working at her in-law’s computer school. The couple had their first child and were happy. However, when her child was 8 months old, Pratik had an extra-marital affair.
Pratik’s attitude towards Seema changed completely and he told her that he no longer wanted to live with her. Seema insisted on staying with her husband and child but this came at a price. She was subjected to physical, sexual, emotional and verbal violence. Eventually, Pratik left Seema and she lost her job at the computer school. When Seema came to Hayden Hall for help, we connected her with a women’s support group. Hayden Hall and the women’s support group helped her with her divorce settlement. She has since opened her own shop and is happy living with her child. She says if it had not been for Hayden Hall, she would still be struggling with facing challenges in her life.
The next story is of a former student at Hayden Hall. Zangmu comes from a poor family and was referred to us by one of our health workers to assist with tuition fees. Zangmu enjoyed coming to Hayden Hall which became a second home. After graduating from secondary school, Zangmu was uncertain about her future as her family could not afford to support further studies. One of the staff from Hayden Hall advised her to take a student loan and undergo Montessori teacher’s training. Payment for her student loan was deferred until she started earning. After completing her training, Zangmu commenced work at Hayden Hall as a Montessori teacher. She is happy and proud to be a part of this institution where she had spent most of her childhood.
A story that is currently unfolding is COVID-19 which has impacted so many people. In India, it has been a nightmare for many women who have been forced to stay indoors with their partners where they face abuse, not safety. Even before the pandemic, domestic violence was a prevalent social issue. Now, it is on the rise. In spite of the lockdown, crime has not diminished and in fact has risen, contributing to the feeling of helplessness among women. Hayden Hall has always come to their aid. During these extraordinary times, we connect, counsel and motivate women by phone.
These are just a few of the stories of the women we work with and the story of Hayden Hall. This institution has always been a leader in empowering women. It is true that Hayden Hall helps women. It is also true that women help Hayden Hall…when we learn from them and their experiences…when they give us hope. We know that they are resilient and that all we need to do is push them a little.