As I participated in the Women’s March on Washington yesterday, images of the women and children of India were at the forefront of my mind.
There is still much work to do for women’s rights, not only in America, but around the globe.
I can only describe the importance of this matter by summary of our visit to a government funded juvenile center in Mumbai…
The complex was run down and concrete. Jailhouse doors separated front offices from the bare rooms that the children were in. Different complexes separated boys and girls.
Boys were visited first. They were there for an assortment of crimes. Two were sexual offenders, many were there for stealing, others were illegal immigrants, and one boy had Down syndrome. Given the wide array of their issues, it was a travesty that they were all housed in one location.
When I was a lifeguard at the Fleming County recreational pool in eastern Kentucky, I would often say that the kids we were watching over the summer were “disposable children.” Neglected by family members.
How naïve was I to think that there wasn’t something more extreme.
When we tried to get the boys to play a team building game, it was difficult for them to follow directions for more than a few minutes. They were loud, rambunctious, and often unable to follow directions as a group. Voices ricocheted violently across the walls.
When we rewarded them a few with chocolate prizes, the youngest boy’s was stolen and consumed before he could even reap the benefits.
At the end of the hour, I was exhausted. We quickly made our way to the girls’ complex, only to find difficulty in trying to visit. Girls were more protected, as they should be. The center was wary of any stranger.
The girls had committed no crime, other than the fact that they ran away from home.
Quiet, easy going, patient, and good listeners, they were enthralled to have company. During one game I carried a portable speaker that played Bollywood music. They danced freely with me and laughed.
I smiled at them and danced how I know best. Engaging with them in genuine smiles and eye contact. I saw joy in their faces, not at all knowing their plight, and making assumptions based on the few facts I knew about their lives.
Children carry their heaviest burdens of society because they are helpless to change their position.
These children bear the problems of India.
Government corruption. Patriarchy. Poverty. Oppression.
These factors lead young Indian boys to compete, act out, and commit such aforementioned crimes. It also leads families to dispose of boys with disabilities.
Growing girls become victims of sex trade. Often, they are at risk of being sold by elders, and run away to flee abuse. Education is their only out, which can be hard to come by if you grow up in a slum.
If there is a place in the world where women’s rights are paramount—it’s India. Girls are struggling to be valued and invested in.
In 1994, India banned parents from discovering the sex of their unborn child, because so many fathers demanded that female children be aborted.
I want a world that values women. I want a world that sees women equal to men and just as capable, without doubt. I want a world that values empathy, kindness, and connection, over ruthless competition, capitalism, and being a bully.
I want a world where women are not objectified, nor feel that they’re perceived as objects.
What else is the pursuit of happiness other than fully realizing the true power of our own agency?
We all as human beings deserve that.