Posted by Anusha Bharadwaj

Blog: Power to girls!

Anusha Bharadwaj, VOICE 4 Girls CEO, talks about helping girls find their voices.

“When a girl finds her voice, the world around her begins to change.”

With this motto, VOICE 4 Girls began its work with marginalised adolescent girls in India in 2011. We have seen girls as young as 12 and 13 years old change society: they have stopped child marriage and fought against systematic inequalities.

VOICE 4 Girls conduct activity-based ‘camps’ for adolescent girls. We provide them with critical knowledge on health, safety, their rights and planning for their future. They learn about their bodies and how to keep themselves safe. We teach them life skills like negotiation, advocacy, and basic spoken English.

The girls are our evidence of change, emerging as strong and confident women and mentors to their peers, working in a system that gives birth to change-makers. They inspire VOICE 4 Girls to grow, expand and develop. With every story of bravery and valour, we learn so much.

I asked girls at the second ‘Her VOICE’ activity-based camp, how it had helped them. Poojitha, a shy girl, got up and said her biggest ‘takeaway’ was the power of ‘negotiation’. Although it was her brother’s wedding the same week as camp, she negotiated with her family to still attend, as she felt it was life-changing! This is the power that a girl can unleash when given the knowledge and tools to take charge of her life.

However, Poojitha’s story will be that of a very small minority in India. On the cusp of adulthood, adolescent girls in India are vulnerable to dropping out, getting married, having children before childbearing age and in some cases, completely disappearing from all institutional structures.

According to a 2018 study in the Lancet, 26.8% of Indian women still marry before the age of 18. Male violence against women is prevalent. At VOICE we talk about ‘the circle of denial’, where at every stage a girl is denied her right to stay in school, be healthy, participate economically, and has little or no agency to face challenges like early marriage, early pregnancy, violence and abuse.

Adolescent girls require a safe space to begin the conversation about their bodies and the multiple changes that are associated with growing up. VOICE 4 Girls aims to create that space for them.

While working with girls we realised that in order to achieve this vision, we need to work with boys too. VOICE started the BOYS 4 CHANGE program in 2018 to create ‘gender ambassadors’. We help them to imagine a society where all girls are able to take charge of their futures, with boys championing this change.

Support from like-minded organisations like Scottish Love in Action (SLA) is crucial, as it promotes and validates our work. It is through the support of funders like SLA that we have gained the opportunity of the BBC Radio 4 Appeal on International Women’s Day, meaning we can showcase our work in front of an international audience.

Poojitha, her friend Mansi and so many others like them empower themselves and ensure other girls benefit from the power of shared information. They spread their wings to take many others on the flight with them. VOICE and I commit to changing lives of thousands of girls in India – do you want to be part of this revolution? Please get in touch with Scottish Love in Action to find out more!