Guest post by Hayley Van Allen, CorStone Intern
Ritu is a courageous young girl in 8th grade in rural Bihar, India. She lives in a house with her extended family, counting 20 people in total, and has three sisters and two brothers. She recently participated in Girls First, a CorStone program that helps girls improve their emotional, social, physical, and educational well-being.
Ritu dreams of becoming a teacher one day, but unfortunately where she lives, it’s extremely common for girls to be married off by their parents before they even finish high school. She hopes not to get married before her dream comes true. And she’s determined: if her father doesn’t let her continue studying to become a teacher, she says she will “explain and make my papa understand that if I get educated and fulfill my dreams, then you will feel proud of your daughter being able to fulfill her dreams.”
A new advocate for women’s rights
Since starting the Girls First program, Ritu has become a true advocate for women’s rights in her community. One of her sisters was getting married in just 9th grade, against her will. Ritu knew that her sister didn’t want to get married, so she spoke to her father to buy her sister at least a little more time. “I told my papa that he should wait. Let her at least finish her matric exams (10th grade) and then he can get her married. He agreed.” She cared very much about her sister and did not believe it was right for her to be married so young.
Ritu truly dislikes that boys and girls are so often treated differently in her area. As she puts it, in her neighborhood, she does not like “anyone who speaks ill of girls, does not love girls, loves boys more than girls and does not want to give birth to girls. I don’t like those who discriminate between boys and girls.”
Standing up to harassment and violence
That wasn’t the only time she stood up for others and herself since her time in Girls First. Ritu has also confronted boys who harass her and her friends. Once, a boy was harassing her and three of her friends. She confidently told him that what he was doing was wrong. “I told him: doesn’t he have any sisters at home? Just go away or else! But he kept following us, so I called my brother on the phone. And then that boy ran away.” Her brother told her that she did the right thing.
Another time, a boy hit one of her friends during school hours, and Ritu took action by going to one of her teachers. “I said, Sir, he has done a very sinful thing. He has hit a girl, being a boy.” Her teacher listened to Ritu and punished the boy for this action. During this incident, she told us that she was aware that she was using her strength of self-confidence, which she had learned about during Girls First.
A force for peace in her community
Now, Ritu has become a brave advocate against fighting and violence and has become a true peacemaker in her village. “When someone fights, I explain to them that it’s a really bad thing. And that if you live in unity then you will like it a lot. There was a fight between two people in our village and I talked to them and made them understand. Later, they resolved and started talking to each other. I was really happy to see that.”
She also has new ideas about equality that have dissolved traditional hierarchies in her life, including hierarchies between generations, which are often nearly perceived as law in her society. As she said, “When I help my mother and father, I like it a lot. It feels like I am the teacher. And when papa helps us, that is when he becomes the teacher and I am the student, I like that a lot.”
Let’s offer this to everyone
The Girls First program has really made a difference in Ritu’s life. When we asked if she thought other girls should participate in the program as well, she immediately responded, “Yes. It should be offered to everyone. Even the ones who do not want to learn should also learn!” Thanks to Girls First, Ritu is now a stronger and more empowered young woman.
Want to help empower more children like Ritu?
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