This visit has been an immensely emotional one for me. I have been struck by the strength of the women in the communities I have visited and the ingenuity and resilience they have displayed in organising themselves towards community action on the backbone of a sense of sisterhood. It’s no secret that the position and circumstance of women in rural communities is a troubling one. Deep seated patriarchy, entrenched toxic masculinities and harmful gender norms intersect to not only limit women’s opportunities but put their lives in danger on a daily basis.
I have been privileged enough to interact with some amazingly strong, vocal and empowered women with disabilities here in Ranchi over the last week. What has struck me the most about these women is their utter honesty about the most painful events of their lives. This trip I have spoken to multiple young women with disabilities who are now advocates for others due to themselves having gone through traumatic sexual assaults, violence, rape and in some instances gang rape.
As these women told me their stories I struggled to hold back tears. Not because I wanted to hide my emotions, but because I understood that I needed to be strong and reflect back the resilience that these women projected in sharing their stories with me. I stood there quietly and listened in one instance as an ambitious and dynamic young woman explained that her impairment made her a target in her community. She recounted to me, without stopping for a moment or tripping over the details of her experience, that she did not want others to go through what she did and therefore she had become an activist for change. It was identified by the Partner staff present that this young lady was now one of the most prominent and vocal in her community. She now supports young women and educates both adolescent boys and girls about sexual education offering up her personal story in an attempt to steer these youngsters in the right direction.
I was so taken aback and affected by this scenario that it made me think about the stigma and taboo she must face every day in continuing to simply tell her story. Instead of getting swept away by her sadness or lost in a socially invented and perceived shame, this brave young woman understood the power that exists in her vulnerability. By sharing her traumatic life experience she is empowering young girls with vital awareness and knowledge that they need to protect themselves. In addition to this, by bringing her own circumstance to the forefront she is changing the discourse on speaking openly about sexual violence and therefore feeding into the narrative around eradicating it.
I cannot even begin to put the sentiment I felt out in that community, under the glorious setting sun of a Jharkhand countryside into words. These women represent the epitome of strength, courage and resilience and to say I am in awe of them is a blatant understatement.