Women’s empowerment in Northern India

To mark International Women’s Day we look at a women’s empowerment project in northern India supported by Jesuit Missions.

For many young women in India, their early life is spent inside the four walls of their own homes. Until three years ago this was the same for Punam Rai, from Darjeeling. She shares her story of standing up to gender equality in India:

Coming from an orthodox Hindu family, my younger days were mostly spent inside the four walls of my house,” says Puman. “Then two and half years ago I attended a Para Legal Training Centre near my house. For the first time I learnt about the rights of women in India, learning that women are equal to men in every way and that the Constitution of India also supports this view.
After the session I went to my father and said, I wanted to join this team leading the awareness programme. The Para Legal Programme (PLP) has totally changed my life. I’m no longer the same lady who became red and blue in front of a crowd of men. I’m one of the trainers of PLP now. I go around to different places where women need a voice and a hand to stand up for their rights. I see PLP as a catalyst agent which brings about change in both women and men. The change is slow but steady. Some women tell me that their husbands started treating them with respect in the family (after attending the programme).
I would like to thank PLP and the people who are supporting us from Jesuit Missions UK. We, the women in Darjeeling, want to thank you for the help that you are giving us.”

Punam Rai

International Women’s day 2018 calls us to #PressforProgress uniting all communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. PLP empowers women by ensuring they know their legal rights and encouraging them to stand together and have the confidence to stand up against domestic violence, which affects over 55% of women in India.

Fr Stanley Varghese SJ, leader of PLP, a Jesuit Missions partner says:

“One thing I have noticed amongst the women is the unity and solidarity that is formed between the participants. The improved confidence and interaction between the women has led to improved communications and attitudinal changes amongst other members of the community including the men.”
“The interest and enthusiasm demonstrated by the women indicate that the training has had a tremendous impact on the women. Many of the women only came to know about their rights for the first time during these legal empowerment trainings.”

The training centres are located across the tea growing region of Darjeeling where women have been particularly exploited and manipulated. They create a place where women can come together to exchange ideas, discuss their problems and learn about taking leadership roles within their communities. Many women such as Punam Rai go on to become leaders themselves after completing the training provided by PLP.

Read more about Jesuit Missions work in India here.