Written by Shi Wen Yeo
Edited by Amra Naidoo
Every 3 minutes*, a girl is raped in India. Think about that. Every sitcom episode you watch, every time you walk from your house to the bus stop, every time you sit down for a quick meal, a girl in India is being brutally raped. By the end of the day when you pull the lampshade and turn in, 93 girls would have been raped. Further, rape is not a discrete issue on its own: girls in India have their safety threatened- they cannot go out on the streets feeling safe, and this has very tangible impacts on their ability to access other rights such as education, especially when they need to walk long distances to reach schools. With the scarring psychological trauma left behind by rape experiences, rape victims find it hard to get back into normal life and pursue their passions. Worst of all, rape victims often have absolutely nothing to protect themselves with, and this is a problem that Colorss Foundation from India, is trying to combat. Aparna Saxena, Anand Koti, Asyura Salleh and Izzaldin Osman comprise the team from Colorss Foundation working on Mission 1000. Their passionate team comprises diverse individuals from all over the world, and they are all united by their single, most important life goal of empowering women in and beyond their communities.
“In India, women have a long way to go to achieve women’s equal and equitable status”, Aparna mentions, when asked about why the empowerment of women was important to her. Aparna Sexena is the dedicated mentor of Mission 1000, and she is particularly passionate about forwarding the cause of gender equality in India. Aparna also cannot be closer to the truth when she says that in India, particularly, women face immense amounts of pressure from societal expectations of femininity. Girls are not given enough protection against rape because their bodies are sometimes seen as disposable, or less important. While efforts to increase access to education by building more schools have been intensified, a lot of these are futile if girls fear even getting out of their homes to go to school.
Aparna relates her experience and motivations for embarking on this project, by citing personal reasons. “I come from India”, she says, “and I have observed [gender inequality] from a very young age. I was lucky and privileged to have been brought up by feminist parents. And therefore I want to extend the support to as many girls and women as I can”. Her drive to check her privileges and share them with those around is truly inspiring, and embodies the spirit of a true feminist.
With these personal motivations in mind, Aparna and her team have come up with a brilliant solution to the problem of increasing rape cases in India. Their proposition? Self-defense classes for girls aged 7-17 years old, over a period of ten days.
They aim to engage a thousand girls every financial year and teach them basic moves to defend themselves against perpetrators. Moreover, the classes will extend beyond the said ten days, and there will be refresher courses for alumni, and community leaders will be appointed to conduct practices within the communities. That is to say, girls who have completed the course will get to renew their skills on a regular basis, and will also get the chance to themselves be agents of change within their communities by sharing their learning with other girls in turn. So what this looks like is a small change generating an even larger change that will eventually affect the rest of society. Imagine little girls, from all walks of life, having the skills to use their own body to defend themselves using a variety of techniques – self-defense is a uniquely empowering medium through which we can ensure the security of girls.
Empowering women in this way is a key goal that Aparna and her team aspire towards, as can be seen from how she remarks, “Educating and empowering girls and women is key as that can lead to betterment of living standards for the rest of the family”. Indeed, the central ethos of Mission 1000 is not only creating change for themselves, but also inspiring others to themselves become agents of change. An ambitious goal, no doubt, but an admirable one that is sure to ensure the sustainability of their project in the long run. The domino effect that this team aims to catalyse will have positive impacts on the girls of India.
Now, you may wonder, what about women who are shut in by patriarchal forces and cannot leave their homes? What about girls who live way too far and cannot join in on these self-defense classes? What about the logistical cost that would not be enough to cater to all of these girls? Thankfully, Mission 1000 has an answer to that too. To complement their project, they have built an app for users connected to the internet to download – and it only requires a one-off internet connection. The app will teach the user a series of important self-defense moves and will be interactive in nature. This will give girls a piece of mind to aspire towards their dreams even in big cities, and overcome their psychological inhibitions.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, security is one of the most important needs of a human, both in terms of security for their physical body, and also in terms of their psychological health. For all the girls who lack security in India, something needs to be done as soon as possible. With this program of empowering girls to protect themselves, and so ensure the fundamental security for their bodies, Mission 1000’s ambition of reducing rape cases in India hopefully, will materialise in the near future. What seems like a dream today – equality for women in India, security for women’s bodies and the empowerment of girls – may just as well become the reality of tomorrow.
Colorss Foundation are a Project Inspire 2016 Semi-Finalist, competing for a place as one of the top 10 Finalists. Support them on their journey and help take a step closer to realizing their goals.
*number tends to fluctuate