After completing the Mana Bidda project, Aarti realized that to build off the momentum of fighting gender discrimination, there needed to be an active support system for those defending the rights of women. This is the premise of the ongoing Abhaya project.
To provide physical, social and psychological support and encouragement for women Human Rights Defenders (w/HRDs) identified during the Mana Bidda project across the 117 mandals of Kadapa and Chittoor districts. To facilitate coalition and networking of women to create a safe environment to continue activism in Mandals.
A Message from Aarti's founder, Sandhya
Every girl and woman should be an “Abhaya”, she who can live fearlessly, for it is only in the absence of fear that the human spirit can thrive.
Women challenging the existing norms upset the social order resting on male dominance. Their efforts are met with extreme hostility. They face much more than just smear campaigns and ostracizing; they are vulnerable to physical and sexual violence and even death threats, intensified due to their gender. After conducting our Mana Bidda project, which was in many ways about celebrating the girl child, we realized that the human rights defenders we aimed to create to fight gender discrimination needed defending themselves.
Thus was born the Abhaya project, our second EU-funded venture. It aims to provide encouragement for women human rights defenders, for within unity lies strength. Through our efforts, we hope to ultimately show that the change has to come from within these communities."
Coalition groups: Bring HDRs together to share best practices and structure for problem solving. Will take place monthly in every Mandal and quarterly among several Mandals.
Support Groups: Additional support to Coalition Groups by government officials, local professionals, legal and media experts in cases of human rights violation.
College Support Groups: Bring awareness about Human Rights issues to women studying at the College and University level. Engage and train these young women to be the future HRDs.
Lobbying and Advocacy: Form Advocacy groups for law students to understand the existing legal policy framework regarding women’s rights and identify the gaps.
Open Resource Center (ORC): A physical safe space for w/HRDs to seek comfort, guidance, and training, and form coalition.
Safe House: A place of refuge for w/HRDs facing serious physical or psychological threats.
January - June 2018
These 6 months marked the first phase of the Abhaya project. During this phase, Aarti completed a preliminary baseline assessment of community attitudes, conducted monthly support group meetings, held one-day workshops for w/HRDs, created promotional material, began setting up the helpline, opened the safe houses, and searched for locations for the open resource centers. Part of this time was also spent editing the final report for the Mana Bidda project, inspiring Abhaya, as well as clarifying the goals and implementation of the project components.
Advocacy Team leads an Abhaya project orientation session with the w/HRDs working in Kadapa District.
Our biggest highlight was inaugurating the open resource centers (ORCs). Even within the first two months, we found the ORCs to be highly valuable to the community. The ORCs offer counseling services, technological resources, and access to Internet, allowing women to expand their knowledge and seek advice on sensitive family and gender-related issues in a confidential setting. From learning about organic farming on the Internet to receiving help in navigating divorce, women were not only educating themselves but also coming in to find ways to help fellow community members facing gender discrimination. Additionally, our volunteers were able to conduct interviews with six prominent w/HRDs working in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. We were able to get perspectives from policewomen, government officials, and a journalist regarding state-level iniatives, challenges in implementation, and personal reflections on the state of women's rights. Highlights are outlined below.
Vanaja C, a journalist and filmmaker documenting women's rights in India for 25+ years, comments "[The justice system] has to be revamped completely, not just improved.”
We are happy to say that all the meetings for different groups have been happening regularly and just as planned. Women in the support group are able to solve many problems on the village level. We have also been working with the legal side. A meeting was held with supporting lawyers and law students, a legal awareness booklet was developed and printed. One of our most remarkable achievements was launching the Abhaya app at the beginning of December. This app was designed so that everyone – Human Rights Defenders, women in the villages or college students – would be able to find out their rights as easily as possible.
The app was oficially launched in Aarti Village by Secretary, District Legal Services Authority
What do current w/HRDs have to say?
on approaching women's rights overall
India offers a unique and contrasting perspective. In theory, women are treated as goddesses and are worshipped. The other extreme is female foeticide.
IT Secretary for the State of Telengana
SheTeams was started by the government, after Telangana was formed, to tackle harassment in public spaces.
Indian Police Service & Additional Commisioner of Police, Hyderabad City
[When SheTeams] deals with cases of domestic violence . . . we want to empower the women to make a choice about what she wants to do in that relationship.”
Inspector General of Police and Women’s Safety Director of Telangana
on implementation challenges
There are a lot of issues which cannot be solved through legal ways, because it will take a long time. There needs to be an immediate solution. For those kind of things, we cannot intervene, but community members can explain why the treatment of women needs to improve.