Girls recount positive stories - a public hearing of a different kind in Rajasthan
By Shikha Wadhwa and Lisa Heydlauff
And so it was, on 26th September, in the pale pink hall of Maharani’s College in Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, that 150 girls stepped forward to tell their stories that shared a similar theme: the struggle to stay in school.
The hearings, organized by the Rajasthan Women’s Commission and supported by UNICEF, provided a forum for the girls to tell their stories that would otherwise not be heard. Rajasthan Women’s Commission is an autonomous body set up by the Government of Rajasthan, and has the status of a civil court. Public Hearings have been held before, for other reasons, in Rajasthan. The forum is chaired by a distinguished group of advisors who take instant action in resolving the issues addressed to them.
This time the hearings were a little different in that the girls were not asked to voice their grievances, but to tell positive stories – to celebrate what was right. For several, the experience was one of emotion and tears; for others, it was a reaffirmation of the determination to continue their journey on their chosen path to become policewomen, civil servants, or to attain whatever their aim in life. More importantly, they wanted to be treated the same as boys.
As the girls spoke, educators and planners were able to identify the real gaps in the education system that prevented girls from enrolling or continuing in school. For example, some girls related their experience of being asked for money to enroll in school – such information seldom appears in baseline surveys. Other problems which came to surface were extreme poverty, alcoholism in the family, single unemployed parent, father not employed, child marriage, chronic illness of a parent etc. What was heartening was that despite the challenges, these girls had continued their education.
As a part of the Girl Child Week celebrations from 20-26 September, UNICEF Rajasthan supported such advocacy events in 30 out of 32 districts across the State, through 29 NGOs, Rajasthan Women’s Commission and the Government machinery.