afghan

Afghan refugees are cooking up a better future in India

“Back home in Ghazni, I never used to cook. It was only after I moved to Delhi six years ago that I made my first biryani,” says Farhat. A single mother, she moved to India from Afghanistan in 2010 when the Taliban killed her husband, an Afghan Army officer.

She is a member of Ilham, a catering service that serves traditional Afghani dishes to people in Delhi. Ilham, which means “positive” in the Dari language, was launched in late 2015 by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and its partner Access. The initiative brings together seven women, all refugees from conflict-torn Afghanistan.

“There are too many restrictions on women there,” says Farhat, who tried to support herself and her six-year-old son with odd jobs after her husband’s death. “Neighbours started calling me a bad woman for leaving the house and I was afraid of attracting the Taliban’s attention. So I left for India.”

There are nearly 11,000 Afghan refugees registered with the UNHCR in India, mainly living in Delhi and bordering areas. The influx began in 1979 after the Soviets invaded Kabul and continued through the fall of the Taliban regime. The early refugees were mainly Hindus and Sikhs but with the security situation getting worse, more ethnic Afghans are coming in.

Historically too, India has been a favoured destination for Afghan traders or Kabuliwalas, who would travel across the mountains to sell spices, dry fruits and attars (perfumes), an association that has been immortalised in many Bollywood films and works of literature, including a popular short story, Kabuliwala, by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore.

“India is also an obvious choice because the government allows UNHCR mandate refugees to apply for long-term visas that regularises their stay and enhances employment opportunities and enables easier access to higher education,” says Shuchita Mehta, a spokesperson at UNHCR India.

As of August 2015, there were a total of 27,000 refugees in India registered with the UNHCR. The total refugee population across the country runs into well over 200,000. India’s liberal approach towards asylum seekers attracts large numbers but there is no specific policy or legal framework regarding refugees. The country has not ratified the 1951 convention on refugees.

Refugees registered with the UNHCR find it easier to get long-term visas and work permits. They are entitled to free education in government-run schools and free healthcare. Others face a miserable existence, confined to illegal settlements, where access to water and electricity is irregular.

Finding a steady, well-paid job is hard too. Zameera, a schoolteacher in Afghanistan, had to work as a domestic help in Delhi for years before she became a part of Ilham. “It was a struggle to communicate as I could not speak English or Hindi. I had five children to feed and educate so I was desperate,” she says.

She lives in Lajpat Nagar, home to a large number of Afghan refugees. The community is concentrated in small pockets in parts of Delhi, the ghettoisation preferable to living in a mixed colony where they stand out, their accents and clothes regarded with open curiosity, and occasionally some hostility.

“There is an urgent need for sensitisation programmes,” says Aditi Sabbarwal, project manager at Access. “People have no idea what they are fleeing from, their back stories, so there is a perception among some that they are freeloaders. The government should conduct awareness campaigns so people come to know what’s going on in their countries.” She points to stray comments on Ilham’s Facebook page pointing to the turmoil in Europe over the refugee crises and making the case that India should not take in outsiders.

The idea of starting a catering initiative was born after hours of talks between Access and the Afghan women enlisted with them. “People in Delhi are open to trying out different cuisines but there were very few that served Afghan food,” says Sabbarwal. “So we decided to try some dishes out at a fair last winter. We were sold out in less than an hour. We realised that starting this on a larger scale could guarantee them fixed employment and financial independence.”

The range of dishes is limited but great effort is taken to source the original ingredients to ensure authenticity. The American embassy in New Delhi is among their most regular customers.

The women cook the dishes at their homes and deliver to the designated pick-up centres. Given the growing demand, there are plans to set up a community kitchen.

“We make a profit of Rs 3,000-4,000 a month, which is much more than what we earned working odd jobs,” says Qadria, who left Herat in west Afghanistan six years ago after she was lashed in public for not covering her face properly.

“The orders are growing everyday and the money is good,” says Qadria. “I am able to pay my daughters’ school fees and buy them what they want. I feel happy when I see them enjoy the freedom I never had in Afghanistan.”

Ziyagul, the most vocal of the group, who has dreams of starting her own restaurant, says: “I feel so happy that I am able to share some of my culture with people here. When customers praise my dishes, I feel so confident. I realise that I am as capable and independent as any man!”

Some names have been changed to protect the women.

This article was published in The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/jul/21/afghan-refugees-are-cooking-up-a-better-future-in-india?CMP=share_btn_fb

women

How Technology is Improving Maternal & Child Health

mMitra, started in Mumbai slums with the support of the civic body, is a free mobile voice call service that gives information on preventive care and simple interventions to reduce maternal and infant deaths. It is given in the language of the user’s choice and sent weekly or twice a week. Launched in 2014, it reaches over 5 lakh women in slums in Mumbai city, up to its far suburbs.

Domestic violence accounts for five in 10 of reported crimes against women in India. Many cases go undocumented, nearly 7 out of 10 women have suffered some form of domestic violence. Domestic violence is linked to posttraumatic stress disorder, gastrointestinal infections, suicide, chronic pain, and increased risk of unintended pregnancy, which, in turn, compromises maternal, infant and child health. The Little Sister’s Project, an initiative that works among victims of domestic violence in Mumbai, has 160 local women to identify and report incidents of gender violence using Android smartphones and an app called EyeWatch.

This documentary was done for the NDTV-Gates Foundation campaign, Every Life Counts. To watch click here 

mumbai

With Support From An App, Women Stand Up To Domestic Violence In Dharavi

A two-year-old app is helping women in Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi, to stand up against domestic violence. The Little Sister app, working in 3 languages, is helping women report instances, however small, and get help.

Home to a population of over one million, Mumbai’s Dharavi sees many such cases, say the women who are part of the initiative started in 2014 by a non-profit, SNEHA – the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action.

“Physical abuse and sexual violence is most common,” said Rashida, a sangini or worker in Little Sister.

Violence against women is listed as one of the top 10 reasons of death for women and domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, accounts for five in 10 reported crimes against women in India. Even so, many cases go undocumented, and various studies show nearly seven out of 10 women in India have suffered some form of domestic violence.

A report released last year by Population Reference Bureau, a Washington DC-based think-tank, said India — along with Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – shows a very high rate of violence,  with one in three women reporting sexual and/or physical violence, mainly from a partner.

One of the many reasons why domestic violence goes unreported is because it has cultural sanction. “Everyone, including the mother-in-law, thinks the man has rights over the woman’s bodies, regardless of her feelings,” said Rashida.

“We recently counselled a woman who had been beaten by her husband for 22 years, right through their marriage,” added Saira Shaikh, another Little Sister sangini. “She kept thinking it was OK because her husband was providing for the family.”

Married twice, Rashida was abused both times. She finally found the courage to walk out when she nearly died after consuming poison in a fit of despair. “While in hospital I realised that by suffering violence, I was damaging my children.”

These are not easy decisions for any woman, especially those who are poor, uneducated and lack family support.

This is where the app greatly helps, believes Rashida – its biggest advantage being that women can express their pain in safety and secrecy, until they are ready to speak out.

Registering instances on the app gets immediate response.

Depending on what she wishes, the sanginis contact her and provide counselling. In case of physical violence, they can even contact the police and hold family counselling sessions.

“The project was designed to mitigate under-reporting of violence by providing a tool for women to record instances,” said programme coordinator Damini Mohan. “Most cases are reported to authorities as a last resort, when the violence has severely escalated. It helps us capture instances of violence at an early stage and helps us prevent its escalation.”

Since it was launched in June 2014, Little Sister has recorded 1,062 cases of domestic violence, compared to 200 cases recorded in 2013-2014.

While there are laws against domestic violence, what is not widely understood at the policy level are the health consequences, doctors say.

Women who suffer domestic violence are twice as likely to suffer from depression and about 50% more likely to become HIV positive. Other outcomes are post-traumatic stress disorder, gastrointestinal infections, suicide, and chronic pain. It is also linked with higher risk of unintended pregnancy that compromises maternal, infant and child health.

“Whenever there is violence, physical or otherwise, the physical impact shows up in the form of scars but the impact, internally, is 25% more,” said Praful Kamble of SNEHA. “There is depression, a sense of shock and a major impact on children who witness it. Even verbal abuse can affect pregnancy outcomes.”

This article was published on the NDTV website. To view the video report click here

Premnath

The Young Rise Against Child Marriage in Bihar

The latest Census report says that nearly one in every three married women in India were married off below the legal age of 18 years, a grim reminder of how widespread child marriage is in the country.

Clearly, the practice continues despite the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act because it has strong social sanction.

What is needed is a change in mindset, and that is what the Jagriti Trust, a youth-driven intervention in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan is trying to achieve. Bihar reports the highest number of underage marriages in India – nearly 60% girls are married off before they are 18, and 74% before they are 20.

The Jagriti Trust tries to motivate young boys and girls from the community to get involved in local issues like sanitation, hygiene and education of girls and become agents of change.

The strongest challenge sometimes comes from within the families.

Pooja, 20, who refused to go along with her parents’ wishes and marry at the age of 14 like her sisters did, said, “My father stopped talking to me and I was ignored in my house. It was very hard to cope but I saw what my sisters were going through and was determined to avoid that fate.”

Today. Pooja is a youth leader with the Jagriti Trust and encourages other girls’ to find their voices. She leads workshops where young boys and girls are taught to question the mindset behind practices like early marriage and dowry.

The Jagriti Trust has set up youth councils in three districts of Bihar. The causes they take up are sensitive, but their patient approach seems to have paid off.

“Village elders initially opposed us”, said Premnath, 19, from Ismailpur, who continues to face intense family pressure to marry.  “But we took our time in explaining our side and participated in other village activities and gained their trust.”

Dr Rema Nanda, founder of the Jagriti Trust says that by reaching out to boys and girls, it hopes to achieve a larger behavioral  change.

“Reaching out to girls alone is not enough because boys too are victims of patriarchal norms and we need to teach them the value of questioning stereotypes. It is time we stopped regarding them as the Other and keeping them out”, she said.

This article was published  in the NDTV website

marrr

Not enough in this Budget for Family Planning

Among the most widely reported statements at the International Conference on Family Planning held in Indonesia in January this year was that of the Indian Health Minister JP Nadda who said that the country was committed to meeting the FP2020 goal of providing 48 million additional women and girls with access to modern contraceptives by 2020.

A global partnership, Family Planning 2020, works with governments, civil society and the private sector to enable women and girls to make decisions regarding if, when, and how many children they want.

The Indian Health Ministry team also announced that women would have access to better quality family planning services. A promise that is being met with. Since April, injectable contraceptives and pills are being supplied to all district hospitals across the country.

However, the recent report by the Population Foundation of India points out just how distant that goal of reaching 48 million women and girls is.

While the provision for health in 2016 has grown by 22% over 2015, with FP seeing a substantial increase of 67% compared to previous years, health remains hugely underfunded in India. The rise this year, it points out, is insufficient to compensate for the whopping 54% decline in allocations to family welfare between 2013-14 and 2015-16.

Meeting the 48 million number needs more than simply expanding the basket of choices. It needs awareness campaigns and better rural health facilities to ensure that babies and mothers survive. Campaigns have to be tailored to meet the specific challenges that a country as varied as India throws up.

While the shift away from female sterilization is welcome, there seems to be widespread official myopia in acknowledging just how deep the links between family planning and broader development goals go, and this is disturbing.

women

How Climate Change Impacts Women More

Amidst the stream of news reports on the severe drought across India, here is one that didn’t make it to primetime.

It’s the story of Yogita Ashok Desai from Maharashtra’s Beed district who died of a heat stroke. The 12-year-old was dehydrated and collapsed after her fifth trip to the village hand-pump to fetch water. Just last month,  a 10-year-old girl from Pimpalgaon village, also in Beed district, died after she fell into a well while trying to draw water.Both girls had been pulled out of school to help their families cope with the severe water scarcity.

The reasons for the worsening drought are many; many of them manmade like the indiscriminate digging of borewells and the cultivation of water guzzling crops. Decisions that women had little to do with. excluded as they are from choices relating to irrigation systems or what crops to grow. However, they are facing the worst impact.

A recent World Bank reportShock Waves – Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty, highlights how ending poverty and addressing climate change is key to achieving sustainable global development. Addressing climate change is critical as it directly impacts availability of food and heightens health risks.

Most vulnerable are the poor and marginalized, and within that group, women and children. There are various studies that show that women, especially in developing countries like India, suffer the impacts of natural disasters and climate change more due to cultural norms.

In rural areas, women rarely work and are economically dependent on their husbands for survival. Faced with a severe drought, men have the resources and the independence to find ways to adapt. Women are denied those options.

Faced with a shortage of food, women place their husbands’ and sons’ needs above theirs or their daughters’, making them vulnerable to diseases.

Faced with income or food crunch, girls’ get hit the hardest. They get pulled out of school and are expected to help with the household chores. Their nutrition and health gets neglected. Climate change also affects availability of water. Women and girls’ are expected to fetch water for the family, often traveling long distances to do so.

As Rachel Yavinsky points out in her 2012 study, their secondary role and lack of decision-making power severely limits women’s ability to adapt to climate change.

“Without participation by women, programs to replace traditional crops with those better suited to the changing environment might focus only on the needs of men’s fields and not address the problems women face with household gardens’, says Yavinsky.

She points to various studies that demonstrate how women can be effective agents of adapting to climate change if equipped with information and power. In Bangladesh, for instance, women farmers switched to raising ducks because they kept losing their chickens to frequent floods.

Empowering women, especially rural women, is necessary to address climate change effectively. Climate change will affect all os us, most of all women, and unless we empower them, building a sustainable future will remain a distant dream.

This article was published on the site healthyurbanworld

Meet the street children making their own newspaper in India

“We get pushed around and treated like garbage because there is no one to speak for us,” says Chandni, the 18-year-old editor of India’s only tabloid paper produced by street-children journalists, Balaknama (Hindi for “voice of children”).

Like all editors, Chandni’s biggest challenge is to decide which stories will make it to the front page, and managing the egos of those whose stories don’t. “As editor, I want to play up stories that are most impactful,” says Chandni. “But many reporters get upset when their stories don’t make the mark. So, yes, I do have to tread carefully.”

Related: Can India’s military veterans join the fight for women’s rights?

The monthly newspaper has a team of 60 reporters between 12 and 20 years old and is based in Delhi and neighbouring states of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Most of the street-children reporters were recruited from learning centres run by NGOs the Federation for Street and Working Children (Badhte Kadam) and the NGO Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action (Chetna), which started Balaknama in 2003.

A lot of time is spent on writing the stories. “Many of our reporters started school after joining the paper so writing is a struggle for them,” says Chandni. The copy is written in Hindi and later translated into English.

Each paper is priced at a token 2 rupees and over 8,000 copies, most of them in Hindi, are published every month. Many of them are distributed free to police stations and NGOs working in the field of child rights. The paper makes no profit and is entirely NGO-funded.

Regardless, the sense of pride and accomplishment is evident.

“We filed a report on how the police was forcing children living in railway stations to retrieve the bodies of people who were killed on the tracks,” says Shambhu, 20, a senior reporter. “Imagine forcing a child to go down those dangerous tracks and retrieve bloody, mangled limbs!”

Mainstream news outlets picked up Balaknama’s report and it led to a huge outrage. Eventually, the National Committee for Protection of Child Rights stepped in and action was taken against the police.

Related: Pedal power: how bicycles are changing what it means to be a girl in India

An estimated 51,000 children live on Delhi’s streets, some as young as five-years-old. They make a living by begging or rag picking and are subject to verbal, physical and sexual abuse. Many are abandoned by their families or have run away from home.

Twelve-year-old Rustam is one of the lucky ones. He lives with his construction-worker parents but, like his three brothers and sister, missed out on school because he had to supplement the family income.

He started feeding Balaknama reporters stories last year and got a front-page splash when he alerted a senior reporter about a child marriage in June 2015. He was taken aback by what followed. “Local activists held protests and the police were forced to step in and stop the marriage from taking place. I became known in my neighbourhood and my parents felt so proud,” he glows.

For nearly a year now, Rustam has stopped begging and studies at a learning centre. He is paid a small fee for every story lead that he gives.

This feeling of empowerment is what Balaknama wants to foster among street kids. It does this by highlighting, not just the difficulties they face, but also stories of hope.

Positive reports about street kids who return lost items or help get back stolen goods get prioritised. “Street children feel worthless and hated by the world and we are trying to change that,” says Sanno, 20, a former Balaknama editor, who now advises the team.

Related: The women who refuse to do India’s dirtiest job

Balaknama also looks at larger policy-level issues. The paper campaigned to get street kids in Delhi national identity cards called Aadhar, which give proof of residence and when available, date of birth.

The paper has recently been focusing on the implications of the changes to the Juvenile Justice Act that allows children between the ages of 16-18 years to be tried as adults for crimes like rape and murder. The amended act has been criticised by child rights activists who say it could be misused to implicate innocent minors and that it would undermine the aim of reforming juvenile criminals. Balaknama has taken a strong position on the issue.

“Many street kids don’t have families,” says Chandni. “They don’t even know their date of birth and they have become vulnerable now. A 15-year-old can be turned into a 19-year-old.” She believes it’s a sign of how much farther they have to go to make India’s estimated 400,000 street children visible to those who matter.

“When authorities talk about children’s rights, they are looking at school-going children, with homes and families. No one is looking at the child living on the streets, or labouring inside homes and hotels. They still don’t exist.” Balaknama is determined to change this attitude by enabling street children to tell their own stories, in their own words.

This article was published in The Guardian dated April 14, 2016