Women

Guest Post: Open Letter to Hillary Clinton from Three Young Afghan Students – Sakina, Farangis, and Arezo

Dear Mrs. Clinton,

We hope you would be healthy, this letter is written by three Afghan girls (Sakina, Farangis, and Arezo). You may wonder about receiving this letter from Afghan girls. You may be happy receiving it, you may not. You might have the time to read or you might not, but we suggest you to it read once. We thought a lot about to whom to write this letter, like: Mr. Donald. J. Trump; the last president of US, Mr. Obama; the ex-President of the US’s wife, Mrs. Michelle Obama; and you Mrs. Hillary Clinton. Finally, you were the one we chose to write this letter for. As a woman you can understand us girls better.

 

Arezo, Farangis, and Sakina

 

Mrs. Clinton,

We three have lots of dreams to be heard, we have a lot in our hearts about our futures and goals to be shared with someone — someone who can understand us, get what we say and listen to our hearts talk. We need someone experienced, someone who has lived life longer than us, and knows how life is going on and why are humans living. We want to have someone who guides us and supports us in the path of having our dreams and reaching our goals. Here, in our country, it is too difficult to talk about our goals, and share them with others. Whenever we want to talk about our dreams, we get negative ideas. One says: ”your dreams will remain just dreams.” Another says: “your dreams are much bigger than what you are.” The next one says: “I do not think you are the one to achieve these goals.” The other person says: “the bomb explosions and suicide attacks will not give you the chance to have your dreams come true, you will probably die in suicide attacks somewhere on the street, in the educational societies, in the mosques or even at the schools like the youth who died.” The only positive thing that we hear is this,” you are still alive, this should be everything for you.”

The people around us have no hope for living a long time. When there is no hope in life, how can we talk about our dreams and future plans? We live in a country in which the people are killed in bomb explosions in every nook and cranny. This is life for us! Suicide attacks and burying the dead bodies of hundreds and hundreds of the people, and having the next hundreds injured, including men, women, the elders, the youth and the children. When we leave home for school in the morning, we are not sure of coming back safe. We are not safe even at the school where is the place of learning and getting knowledge. When we leave for anywhere until we are back at home, losing us in a bomb blast is the main and the biggest worry of our parent. They have the deep fear of losing us and not seeing us again. When our parents leave for somewhere, we are uneasy about a suicide attack happening somewhere in our country and losing our parents. Then it will be so hard living without a father and mother. When life is all worries about losing our beloveds, how can we think of our goals and planning to achieve them?

The harmful effects of bomb explosions and suicide attacks on the street, roads, or even in the classes at school and in the educational societies leave the students despondent the about the way life is going.  The recent bomb explosion has decreased the numbers of students entering education, most of them leave the school. The students are killed sitting on the school chairs with their pens in their hands and notebooks and books opened on their desks. The teachers are killed with the markers in their hands while solving the mathematical equations, explaining a biology lesson or chemical interactions. This is our life here. The insecurity and unsafety in our country have changed most family’s thoughts and decisions about sending their children to school for studying. The recent bomb explosions and suicide attacks have forced the families to prevent their children from going to school and taking classes in the educational centres.  They think it is best not to send their children school, otherwise, they will lose their children in suicide attacks. When families do not let their children to go to school because of the insecurity, the boys have no way, but to go to other countries, where they live many years of their life in refugee camps feeling lonely and insecure away from their families in very difficult situations of life.   And if they do not go to other countries, they have to work and save up for living.

Since the economy is weak in Afghanistan and the percentage of unemployment is high, they are forced to do illegal activities. The girls who are not let to go to school and study because of the bomb explosions and suicide attack, get married in a young age, even though they are not in their marrying ages. Then they stay uneducated the rest of their life.  After they get married, they start a common life with their husbands where they must obey their husbands. Most of the husbands here treat their wives like slaves.  The husband means to “to order” and the wife means “to obey.” If they are not obedient to their husbands, they are beaten to death by their husbands.  If the girls get married they will have to fight with marital problems then they can never go on with their studies, and cannot get a good education, because they will be mothers and they will be force to look after their children, and do the chores. We have friends who have gotten engaged in a very young ages and we see how life is hard for them and cruel to them. But we want to save our futures, we do not want to suffer the same fate.

 

Mrs. Clinton,

This is a dream for us to go to the US, and this is our goal to study college there. But when we talk about our dreams with others, they make fun of us ‘’you are girls and it’s not possible for you to go to other countries like the US. studying in a foreign country does not look good for girls  —  you might batter forget about studying in the US, if you girls go to the another country the people will talk behind you   —  you do not have the capacity to study there even — if you were boys there would be no problem studying in a foreign country, but you are girls and it is impossible for you.” Because we are girls, we cannot even think of studying in the US. We are girls that is why we are not capable of studying the college in one of the US universities, and we cannot dream what we desire from the deep of our hearts. Because we are girls, we even cannot have our own style and way of living. It’s impossible for us to live to our own style in our dream world even. As girls when we leave home for somewhere our families determine what time to come back but our brothers stay out for long times.

 

Mrs. Clinton,

We have had the dream of the studying in the Us, when we were young girls, and still we do dream from the bottom of our hearts. It has been one of our greatest and biggest dreams, and we are sure of having these dreams of our come true one day. But if you help us, it will come true sooner. If we study in the US, we can save our future, fates and live our dreams. You have never been us, and you have never lived the life’s we have. You have never been in a country like us. You have never been despised because of being a girl, you have never been made fun of while talking about your dreams, you have never seen and buried hundreds and hundreds of dead bodied together. That is why it may be a little hard to understand us. Despite of this, as a woman you can understand how another woman is feeling better than a man, that is why we chose you to write this letter for

We see our future in danger, we suffer from a great sense of insecurity. We do not want to die in a bomb explosion because we are too young to be killed. We have dreams, we love our selves. Please help us with our goals and dreams.

 

Sakina, Farangis, and Arezo

 

 

Sakina email: Sakinarezvani25@gmail.com

Arezo email: nazariarezo09@gmail.com

A Young Afghan Girl’s Reflections Upon Selena Gomez

What a young Afghan wants to know from Selena Gomez and what she would like Selena Gomez to know about her

I’m Muska Ehsan. I am a 14-year-old Afghan girl with big dreams. I live in a society where girls survive for their dreams, in a world surrounded by rich and big people (physically) with really small minds. But I don’t want to waste my time waiting for them to allow me to become broad minded.   I want to start this now, for myself.

I must admit, I am fully addicted to music. It empowers me, encourages me to focus on my goals, and it brings up a fire in my heart to not stop. I am a very big fan of Selena Gomez, she is the first person who affected my life this much. She gave me a hope to be what I am and to never lose hope during hard times, which are often in my country. She completely changed my life with her speeches, lyrics and life journey.

 

Selena 

I still remember the first time when I listened to her song, “Who Says.”  It touched my heart. I started crying.  I didn’t know why I cried, but the song had totally touched my heart. For some reason, I just started to search about her and slowly learned about her life journey and how she got to this stage of life. Watching her videos and speeches had totally changed my mind.

I had a new chapter to start with a new hope. So, I started to work with an Afghan kids’ television show. It was a new experience for me and I found many lovely and loyal fans. Actually, I had a kind of celebrity life in the small town of Kandahar. I was powerful and had the fire to do more, and give my best shows on television and encourage Afghan young girls to fight against the awareness of life which people have splashed in our minds. I wanted to give them the message that there is so much to do to help this country, and in several ways to change people’s minds.

After a year of television life, my father told me about a dormitory school which was the best school in Afghanistan for girls. I, hopefully, applied and got accepted. I was very happy, and couldn’t wait to encourage my friends, classmates and roommates to listen to music.  But, unfortunately, I didn’t know about dorms rules.   What I had thought about dorms wasn’t the same as I came to know about them. When I went there, the administration took my phone.  They started me on a busy study timetable.

Even so, I told everyone about Selena Gomez.  I could not hold my mouth to talk about her…

Quietly, it was getting harder for me because not having music was making my life complicated. Not receiving any news about Selena was like hell. I spent my nights crying but slowly it was getting normal and my focus on the future was increasing. My lovely advisor always kept encouraging me and told me “do not give up”. And the big dream of working in Disney channel as an actress was always burning. I know I will face many difficulties, but I will keep going because that is what my queen (Selena) is doing.

So, I imagined that I was asked to interview Selena on television and this is what I wish to ask Selena:

 QUESTIONS to my idol who may never see this…

  1. Whose biggest fan were you in childhood?
  2. What do you think about Afghan life? Or do you even think about Afghanistan?
  3. What is the most important thing which never stopped you from reaching your goals?
  4. What is your biggest fear in life which you fought for, to get to this level?
  5. Which kind of books do you like to read?
  6. Is there a quote which you have always followed the most?
  7. Which kind of people you like the most to talk to?
  8. If you could help Afghan girls, how would you want to help them?
  9. In what do you place no value in life?
  10. Did you ever imagine the life you are living now?
  11. Is there any hope that you have, that till now didn’t come true? If yes, is it impossible?

 

My dream is that someday I will have the chance to meet Selena and ask these questions of her in person.

 Muska

Muska Ehsan

What is inclusive education? A Guest Essay from Benafsha Yaqoobi*

Every human being was created free and with equal rights in every aspect of individual and social life. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (148), ensures these rights; rights, such as freedom in choosing or changing living place, freedom of speech, freedom of decision to believe or not to believe in spiritual affairs, education, etc.

On the other hand, since the very beginning of mankind’s creation, we have been seeing a variety of differences in this creation. The first one, is the difference in sex or gender, as mentioned in many places in The Quran and The Bible, that they were created males and females. Other types of differences include ethnicity, race, language, religion (or system of beliefs), and also health-related differences. We may call these differences, diversities.

RayhabBut attitudes towards these diversities have been different from time to time, depending on the status of intellectual and social evolution of mankind throughout history. There have been a considerable number of wars, due to religious, ethnic or racial differences. For instance, The Crusade, which was a war between Christians and Muslims to conquer Jerusalem, was a religious one. Also according to historians, people with health status differences, such as leprosy, would be called, unclean and therefore would be drawn out of cities, far from the public. People with epilepsy would be associated with demons and in Roman Church. Their heads were pierced, so, hopefully the demonic spirits might exit from them.

There has been a large amount of evidence and documents, from the beginning, even to nowadays, showing and proving that mankind has had problems with his/her fellows with differences all around the world.
Disability, which could be defined as, limitations in functionalities in some parts of the body, or impairments in sensation, physical or even mental system, that are permanent , may create challenges for a person with disabilities. These challenges mostly come out of a kind of attitude towards this diversity, as well as other diversities.

One of these challenges is education, since there were no positive or inclusion-based attitudes towards people with diversities throughout history.
There has always been a question in people’s minds, whether it is possible or feasible to give diversity and minority people their right to be educated, or, whether they must be excluded or even deprived from such right, due to their diversity status.

Our aim in this essay, is to discuss about an evolved and ever-evolving approach to the issue of education, specifically for those with diversities, which we call, “inclusive education”.

Inclusive education: Definition.

Shelley Moore, a Canadian education specialist, defines it as follows:
“Inclusive education means that all students attend and are welcomed by their neighborhood schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school”( Inclusion BC website).
Of course, even though the special needs of people with diversities, such those of people with disabilities, are not to be neglected at all, since all barriers are to be removed to pave the path for these types of people to receive a quality education, as equivalent as possible with the mainstreaming children.

Historical overview of approaches:

The importance and significance of such an ever-evolving attitude towards education of people with diversities may become clear, only if we have an overview of how mankind started the path and where we are nowadays.

Looking through history, we may face at least 4 approaches towards inclusion of people with diversities. They could be identified as, deprivation, segregation, integration and inclusion approaches.

Deprivation: this approach is derived from a totally negative attitude by majority or ruling people of a society towards people with diversities and their right to be educated. According to historians, in many of the ancient empires, people with low incomes were not allowed to send their children to school. In fact, education was merely the right of noble people.

Even nowadays, we may see in different parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, that females, as well as people with disabilities, and also some minorities, are either partially or totally deprived from their right to be educated. The fallen Taliban regime, during its governance, would not allow females to receive education. This and much more evidence is proof of a negative approach towards the education right for people with diversities, which, even nowadays, is followed by some under-development, at least in the level of traditions, if not to say by governments in a formal level.

Segregation: as mankind began to evolve himself scientifically, technically and intellectually, following the ages of renaissance, reforms and enlightenment, he began to think about how to involve people with diversities in the process of education, that led him to establish segregated places for diversity people. Louis Braille, the inventor of a system of reading and writing for persons with vision impairments, called, “Braille System”, was one of those people with disabilities who received education in a segregated, special school for the blind in France in 19th century.

Even nowadays, we see here and there, some segregated special schools for people with disabilities, such as people with visual, hearing and mental impairments. Such kind of places are criticized of segregating and isolating such people from the mainstreaming community.

Integration: in integrative approach towards education of people with diversities, we see the establishment of special classes within public, ordinary schools, for those with diversities, specifically those with disabilities. This approach, although evaluated by scholars as a much better approach comparing to segregation and deprivation, but findings have shown that people with diversities, even though, feel sort of segregated from the mainstreaming students. Even nowadays, we may face even in modern countries, both segregated and integrated places for education for people with diversities, including those with disabilities.

Inclusion: based on the laws and regulations on the elimination of all kinds of discriminations against people with all types of diversities, such as, Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, CRPD (2006), and Sustainable Development Goals SDG (2017) by The UN, and more, education specialists thought about how to fully include and involve people with diversities in the mainstreaming educational system. In the 21st century, this is the best and highly-appreciated approach, since it was evaluated as a helpful approach towards disappearance of discrimination.

The inclusive education advantages:

This approach is proved to be a good way of including people with differences in one place, in order to flourish the spirit of harmony and tolerance among students, who will be the future-makers, and on the other hand, to help people with diversities to feel comfortable with the mainstream.

Other advantages of this approach can be outlined as follows:

• improving individual strengths and talents, with high and suitable expectations for each student.
• Work on personal goals while taking part in the class procedure with other students with the same ages.
• Engaging the children’s parents in the process of education and in the school activities.
• Nourishing a culture of respect and correlation. Inclusive education may create an environment for understanding and accepting individual differences, decreasing the effects of irritation and bullying.
• Creating friendships with a wide range of other students, each with different needs and capabilities.
• Having positive effects, both on schools and on the society, so that they may welcome diversity and inclusion on a wider level.

Inclusive education requirements:

As mentioned above, to remove the barriers for those with special needs in a mainstreaming school, the following items may be required:

• Special stationeries: some categories of disabilities may not be able to use mainstreaming stationeries, such as notebooks, pens, pencils, etc. therefore, alternative stationeries may be provided for them. For instance, for children with vision impairments, if they are totally blind, special stationeries are required, such as, slates, styluses, tailors frames, Brailing machines, etc., and if partially sighted, they may require devices to make them able to read the normal books, such as books in large prints, or magnifying devices, etc.
• Resource center: this is specifically needed for persons with disabilities, since they need some rehabilitative services before joining public schools. Such center can also provide them with their special needs during being in public school.
• Resource person: this person could be a mediator between the children with special needs and their teachers. The resource person can train the teachers of the public school about inclusive education and its successful ways. The person can also be, for example, an interpreter between a child with hearing impairments and his/her teachers, using sign language, or, a reader for a child with vision impairments, who may have done assignment or exam paper sheets, using Braille system.
• Accessibility of school place: school environment should be accessible, specifically for those with physical impairments, with ramps and lifts to make it easier to ascend and descend from staircases, and for those with vision impairments, with tactile marks across the path that appears to be used by a child with vision impairments, using white cane.
• And also flexibility of teachers in using a variety methods of teaching, including work groups, peer mediations, etc., to make the class a place which is child-friendly.

Conclusion:

As discussed in the essay, mankind was created free, but with diversities. But as human knowledge began to develop, it was gradually realized that these diversities are not good excuses of persecution against one another.
Regarding education, which was considered one of the basic human rights, 4 approaches were discussed concerning people with diversities: deprivation, segregation, integration and inclusion.

Inclusion was considered as the best and ever-evolving approach, with advantages, such as, developing a spirit of harmony and correlation between different types of children in one environment, so that people with diversities may feel themselves harmonious with mainstreaming children.

Also, the special needs of children with disabilities, depending on their type of disability, are to be considered as inclusive education requirements.

Finally, it is worthy to be mentioned that, Afghanistan, as a war-torn country, is in need of tolerance, harmony and correlation between all types of people, including ethnicities, religions, etc., to build a sustainable peace and stability all around the country.
Therefore, by promoting inclusive education to all schools of this country, this spirit of harmony and correlation will be develop and flourished within our children, who will be our future-makers.

Citations:

1. The Quran.
2. The Bible.
3. Shelley Moore: Transforming Inclusive Education: Inclusion BC website:
http://www.inclusionbc.org/our-priority-areas/inclusive-education/what-inclusive-education

Benafsha 2

* Benafsha Yaqoobi , the director of an NGO for persons with disabilities, called, “Rahyab Organization (ORRSB)”, was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. She started her school in Kabul and continued until grade 7, right at the time when she and her family were obliged to immigrate due to civil wars of the 1990’s, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Persian literature.

She obtained a Master’s degree in 2 fields: political sciences from  “Payam’e’Noor” university, Kabul; and international relations from Afghanistan Institute for Higher Education, Kabul.

She hopes to continue her PH.D to raise her capacities and capabilities to become much more fruitful for her country.

During these years, she would do a large number of activities, such as, writing poems, writing in newspapers and magazines, directing and presenting programs in local media, etc.

 

Remarks on Women’s Empowerment delivered at FEMMES – A WOMEN TALK SHOW — India’s first ever live talk show to Promote Women Empowerment in India

Below are the remarks delivered by me on January 24th in Delhi at this one of a kind event.

I would like to extend my thanks to SNC Management, Advisors & Consultants and the many individuals who have tirelessly worked to organize this event celebrating National Girl Child Day. It is particularly exciting to see today’s Agenda, with its interesting speakers, discussions and events and to be given this opportunity to share the stage with so many brilliant people and to share my thoughts and ideas with all of you.

I am sure you are wondering, now, as I did, when the invitation was extended to me to address you – what can an aging white man from Chicago, USA possibly say that is relevant to the issue that is the focus of our day together – To Promote Women’s Empowerment.  I asked myself – Who Am I to speak to this issue, what experiences have I had that can possibly be relevant to the issue, to you? And Who am I to bring my voice to this struggle?

Let me tell you, at the outset, that in considering this question – I have thought that I must consider for myself and you what does “feminism” mean today?
In answering that question, Over the past years, I have drawn inspiration and knowledge from “We Should All Be Feminists, a personal essay – by award winning author  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – adapted from her much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name. Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century – one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviours that marginalise women around the world.

So, as we talk today, please understand that I subscribe to Chimimanda’s definition of a feminist, which is:

A feminist  is a man or a woman who says, “Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.”

As a conflict management and dispute resolution practitioner, I can tell you  about my several years of experience of coming to India, working with College and University students, many of them women. As I reflect back on these experiences, I can tell you that the young women that I have had the privilege to meet, teach and train have an innate, intuitive capacity to lead individuals, corporations and groups in conflict — out of their conflicts.

These young women have a keen understanding of intellectual, business,  interpersonal and geopolitical disputes that plague India and plague the world. Like a neurosurgeon’s knife – these women can carefully and precisely dissect complicated issues. Like a psychologist’s manner – these women are able to give disputants the space and comfort to share feelings. Like a chef trained in the finest restaurant or a cook trained in Mother’s and Auntie’s kitchen, these women can peel back the layers of an onion and get disputants to find the heart of their disputes. Like Jacques Costeau, the famous underwater explorer, these women can find the real needs and interests of the disputants that lie way beneath the surface level of the icebergs of conflict that they know so well.

These well trained and motivated young women will lead your justice system and India, itself, to a new and innovative way of resolving disputes where conflict resolution in all its forms –informal problem solving, group facilitation, negotiation, dialogue, and similar techniques, have shown, many times over, that there is a better outcome than winning and losing, a more successful process than accusing and blaming, and a deeper relationship than exercising power over and against others. These better outcomes can be achieved but will only be achieved if there is a collective decision to allow them to be achieved, to allow the highly qualified and motivated women of India to bring this movement forward.

How do I know that this can be accomplished? I know this because I have seen the will, strength and empowerment of some of your own. Before I share with you three stories of woman’s empowerment from amongst India’s own, I ask that you hear them with this prefatory story in your mind. This is a story, you may have already heard:

Two seeds lay side by side in the fertile soil.
The first seed said, “I want to grow! I want to send my roots deep into the soil beneath me, and thrust my sprouts through the earth’s crust above me. I want to unfurl my tender buds like banners to announce the arrival of spring. I want to feel the warmth of the sun on my face and the blessing of the morning dew on my petals!”
And so she grew…

The second seed said, “I am afraid. If I send my roots into the ground below, I don’t know what I will encounter in the dark. If I push my way through the hard soil above me, I may damage my delicate sprouts… What if I let my buds open and a snail tries to eat them? And if I were to open my blossoms, a small child may pull me from the ground. No, it is much better for me to wait until it is safe.”

And so she waited…

A yard hen scratching around in the early spring ground for food found the waiting seed and promptly ate it.
The Moral of the Story – Those of us who refuse to risk and grow get swallowed up by life.

Risk and progress are very much interlinked. When you make up your mind to undergo the hardships and pain, the results will be 100 times sweeter than the pain. It is easy to face the hardships when you are open to face them. So, today, let’s see how open we may be to risks and hardships, all in the name of progress.

Let me , first, share with you the story of Karthika Annamalai, who I met during her first year of College.Karthika-Annamalai--204x300 Her father was killed in a feud for money, when he sought money from his sister to perform a tubectomy on Karthika’s mother. This happened on the day Karthika’s younger brother, who is around four years younger than her, was born.
Her mother breaks granite stones at a quarry in Bangalore. She became a widow at the age of twenty-five and was subsequently evicted from Karthika’s father’s house.
Karthika spent much of her time as an infant in the house of her aunt and uncle. Like her aunt and uncle, Karthika’s mother, too, found work in a quarry. Their house had four granite slabs covered with mud for walls and stacks of neatly tied woven coconut leaves for a roof. After settling down there, Karthika would walk about the mud roads with her skirt lifted shamelessly over her head to avoid the merciless sun and the rising dust and smoke from the quarry. Otherwise, she would follow her mother down the steep quarry where she would sit a few meters away, watching her mother’s frail body shatter stones with a heavy hammer. Karthika recalls that it was during a time like this, though many years later, that a piece of stone hit her on her forehead. Karthika recalls: “I picked it up. It was crudely shaped like a heart and had tiny specks of gold on it. It is one among the three things I keep on my bed for good luck. It is a tangible reminder of where I came from.”

Karthika’s chance came when she was four years old. On the advice of nuns from a local nunnery, her mother, took Karthika to Shanti Bhavan, a boarding school started by Abraham George, a former army captain, author, and philanthropist.
“Shanti Bhavan is the best thing that happened to me,” says Karthika. “Otherwise I would be married like my (elder) sister or breaking stones like my mother.” Her mother can earn Rs 40 on a good day, working 6 am to 5 pm at the quarry. For two years, 1st standard to 3rd, Karthika was the only child at Shanti Bhavan who never went home. Her mother could not afford it. Later, they met twice every year.
“My mom and I, we don’t talk much,” says Karthika, who also has two brothers, the elder dropped out of school to help his mother at the quarry; the younger studies at a local school. “But I know she loves me.”

“Bringing my family out of poverty is a priority for me. When I used to go home from school during the vacations, I used to be homesick for school. I did not have comfortable and some basic facilities at home that I had at school. I realise that my family cannot afford it. Conditions in my village are bad, with murder and rape being commonplace. I want to bring my family out of all that suffering.

Karthika decided years ago that she wanted to be a human rights lawyer, fighting against the many social injustices that exist in India, more than a handful of which she has witnessed herself in her family and in her community. She says: “The values instilled in me at Shanti Bhavan – those of humility, honesty, and generosity – have all impressed upon me the necessity to always work to help those who are less fortunate than me in any way possible. This is where my desire to work as a human rights lawyer stems from. I also hope that working in the field of law in India will provide me the skills I need to one day alleviate poverty and injustice on a broader scale, hopefully in a political position in India.”

Karthika’s opportunity to advance this vision took a giant step forward by being introduced to IDIA, “Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access,” an NGO founded by Prof. Dr. Shamnad Basheer,  Visiting Professor of Law, National Law School of India University and its Managing Trustee. IDIA seeks to find ways to reach out to under-represented communities, with the objective of making them aware of the benefits of law as a viable, lucrative career option and help those interested to gain admission into these law schools. It is hoped that such access to legal education would go some way towards empowering the students and the communities that they belong to.
Following a meeting with IDIA volunteers who visited her high school, Karthika was on her way to a career in law. The assistance Karthika has received from IDIA extends from financial assistance to support with traversing the considerable social challenges that she has faced.

“IDIA has some brilliant student volunteers at NUJS and they made sure that I didn’t face any financial hurdles or discrimination,” she says.
Through all of her efforts and support, Karthika graduated from the West Bengal National University of Juridical Studies (NUJS), Kolkata, in 2017.
She now works as an Associate Attorney at AZB & Partners in New Delhi. The odds of someone like her – the daughter of a stone quarry worker – reaching this point are almost zero. She beat the odds thanks to the help she received.

“My mother was screaming with excitement when I told her I got a job offer,” says Karthika — “Suddenly it dawned on her that my education has paid off.”

She beat the odds thanks to her efforts, help from Shanti Bhavan, help from IDIA, and the support of those who have shared her friendship over the years. But none of this could have been possible without her determination, hope and spirit.

Now meet Vennela ( “Vensy” ) Krishna. As a girl raised in an Indian middle-class family, this meant that Vensy was brought up believing that there are things she could not aspire to. She was brought up being told that some dreams are just not for her – that you cannot dare to dream beyond your circumstances.Vensy
Vensy, however, never believed this. She knew that she had to push herself to her limits and find out for herself what she was capable of, and that she could not let herself believe that her destiny would be different.
One of her early rebellions was to choose to study law after school. Young people where she came from go on to study engineering or other more affordable fields. Law school was for those from affluent backgrounds, who spoke English at home, could afford to go to posh international schools, pay hefty fees for coaching for the law entrance exam. But she persisted, and managed to crack the national exam against 30,000 students and made it to India’s premier law school.

It was at this point that I met Vensy, a few years ago at NALSAR Law University in Hyderabad. Vensy started teaching at the age of 18, when she was in the first year of college, working 16 hours on weekends, traveling a hundred kilometers on crowded buses. After a year, she took the plunge and started her own company to educate students for law school. Vensy decided to do her bit to help students like her who were passionate about studying law, to help them lead better lives. She wanted law to change their lives, the way it changed hers.

Vensy worked as a teacher at Career Launcher, before starting her own company — Law School 101 — in 2014. At the age of 21, when most young people are trying to figure out what to do with their lives, Vensy had become a blossoming entrepreneur.
Law School 101 is Vennela’s brain child and she began working on it in 2014. It is a platform which brings college students to mentor high school students and bridge the gap in between.

In Vensy’s words — “Law School 101 brings college students together to train school students to crack the national law exams. We study on the weekdays as students, but become teachers on the weekends.  I’ve been teaching law aspirants from the first year of law school, started up in my second.”
She added, “Starting a business as a nineteen year old was not easy but I had full conviction in the strength of my ambition. Entrepreneurship and leadership aren’t for everyone.  It requires me to travel about 150 km in buses every week just to come to the city and take the classes. Being completely student run meant that I had to sit with parents for hours just to convince their kids to attend demo classes. It took a full two years before people started recognizing our efforts and now, it is finally paying off!”
Law School 101 not only helps law aspirants crack the entrance test and trains them in the various aspects of law , it also helps them in extra-curricular activities such as debates, quizzes, motivational speaking, etc. They have also organised Moot Court events, inter-college debate sessions and orientation sessions at schools to attract young children to the subject of law. Vensy and Law School 101 has won, amongst other awards the following:

Center for Management Studies, NALSAR
B-Plan Awards

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, United Kingdom
Community Engagement Awards

Child & Youth Finance International, Netherlands
Youth Entrepreneur Award

Entrepreneurs’ Organisation (EO), International
Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards

Vensy shared this with me recently: “Looking back on the last five years, I remember the stress and pain and suffering it took to manage a successful company along with juggling studying and competing for the top positions at law school. But what I remember more clearly are the hundreds of students whose lives we’ve touched and changed. They remain the reason I wake up every morning to continue working for my cause, one that I am  fortunate to now have hundreds of others believe in.”

Now meet Maithili Pai.
I met Maithili when she was a trainee in mediation in New Delhi, while she was still a student at NUJS, Kolkata. I have continued to be in touch with her, even as recently as a few days ago. maithili

While a student at NUJS Maithili demonstrated a keen awareness of the needs of women and found a place for herself as an advocate of the same. Her areas of interest are human rights law and alternate dispute resolution. In her first year at law school, she worked as a teacher with IDIA which we already heard about in Karthika’s story. From 2014 she assisted as a child counsellor for the NUJS-HSF Bridge project which a partnership between between LittleBigHelp, a charity that works to create better opportunities for vulnerable children in Kolkata, Herbert Smith Freehills – and the students of NUJS.

While a student at NUJS, Maithili was selected to make a presentation entitled “Access to Justice for Domestic Violence Victims: A Need Based Assessment” at the prestigious Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE) 8th Worldwide Conference, held in Turkey in July, 2015. She was also a student researcher at the Centre for Child Rights etablished by UNICEF at NUJS.

And, by the way, she is fluent in English, French, Spanish, Hindi and other Indian languages as well.
Maithili is now Law Clerk-cum-Research Assistant to Dr. Justice DY Chandrachud at the Supreme Court of India.

On August 24th, 2017, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, delivered the main judgment for a rare nine-member bench of the Supreme Court issued a historic ruling with potentially widespread consequences, decreeing that a right to privacy is part of the fundamental right to life and liberty enshrined in the country’s constitution.
Nine justices unanimously joined the decision that was an exhaustive treatise on personal liberties. The 547-page judgment overturned earlier cases and declared, “Privacy is the constitutional core of human dignity.”

What does this mean for women in India?
The right to privacy is closely linked to the exercise of several other rights, from what people say online to who they love to what they eat.
This is a game-changer.
In fact, the court waded into the issue of sexual orientation, calling it “an essential attribute of privacy.” It slammed an earlier Supreme Court ruling that upheld the criminalization of homosexuality on the grounds that the LGBT community was “a minuscule fraction of the country’s population.” The court said that was no basis on which “to deny the right to privacy.” It added: “The purpose of elevating certain rights to the stature of guaranteed fundamental rights is to insulate their exercise from the disdain of majorities.”
The judgment says:
“Life and personal liberty are inalienable rights. These are rights which are inseparable from a dignified human existence.  The dignity of the individual, equality between human beings and the quest for liberty are the foundational pillars of the Indian constitution.

“Privacy includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation.  Privacy also connotes a right to be left alone. Privacy safeguards individual autonomy and recognises the ability of the individual to control vital aspects of his or her life. Personal choices governing a way of life are intrinsic to privacy.”

The right to privacy judgment is a landmark judgment of independent India. It not only learns from the past, but also sets the wheel of liberty and freedom for future.
Privacy is believed to be central human right.
With a fundamental Right to Privacy now in place, there is a possibility of making broader arguments against sexual assault, bodily integrity, and surveillance issues.
The fundamental Right to Privacy will provide a remedy against the state. We have seen that this has already been a valuable argument against marital rape.

Now, imagine yourselves, as Maithili Pai, once a young student passionate about the rights of women and children and other human rights, sitting side by side with the Supreme Court Justice who is about to change the future of India.
Imagine your hands trembling as you place words on paper, change words on paper, suggest words to be placed on paper that will be hailed presently and in the future as life changing events in the history of India.
Imagine the feeling of satisfaction and empowerment selling up in your heart as you are living your dream, having an impact on a general society for years to come, setting precedents that are going to impact many who have lived without power to change things, lived often without hope, and lived without a voice.

Maithili’s story is quite different than the others.
Karthika’s  is a story of personal achievement that shows the impact on self, and through her work impact on others with whom she had a shared identity.
Vensy’s  is a story of personal achievement that shows the impact of creating opportunities for others similarly situated.
Maithili’s  is a story of personal achievement that shows the impact on a society, in fact a whole country.

Each is a story of personal determination and empowerment.

Do you, do WE send our roots down and flourish like Karthika, Vensy  and Maithili? Or are we that seed that is afraid and gets plucked by the yard hen?
If Economic Empowerment is  how people work to create wealth.

If Political Empowerment is all the things we do to organize ourselves and to make decisions.

If Societal Empowerment is everything people do when they live, work, and play together.

What then is our mission, if not our social and moral responsibility?

What is our role in the future of the empowerment movement?

What can WE do?

Will we do our share to —

Acknowledge women of all ages in our communities and our country

Recognize women of all ages in our communities and our country

Honor women of all ages in our communities and our country

Coach women of all ages in our communities and our country

Give voice to women of all ages in our communities and our country

Praise women of all ages in our communities and our country

Hold space for women of all ages in our communities and our country

Celebrate women of all ages in our communities and our country

Yes We will
Thank you