During one of the last sessions which I attended during my month in Mumbai, Standard Chartered Bank volunteers set a drawing competition for the girls. It was just before Indian Independence Day, and the girls were asked to show what Independence meant for them. As a history student, to me Indian Independence conjures images of Gandhi and Nehru, Lord Mountbatten and Partition, democracy and modernisation. However many of the girls drew pictures of themselves, going to school, working as a doctor or sitting under a tree, one even playing netball. For these girls independence is a personal issue, one which maintains relevance in their everyday life.
What we often forget is that for a vast majority of the female world population, education, freedom and independence are not inalienable rights, but a privilege. In India, even girls from affluent backgrounds are often subject to a lifetime of supervision, initially from their parents, and later from their husband, a man who their parents have chosen for them. There are many arguments in favour of arranged marriages, but what’s important here is that the girls should choose their own future, even if that be to let their parents make the decision. For the girls from disadvantaged backgrounds who participate in the Goal programme, economic demands often leave them neglected in favour of their brothers when it comes to schooling, household duties and even food. They are not provided with the tools, nor the opportunities, to challenge their situation.
Independence is for them a matter of being able to attend school, of being given the chance to learn and play. My time in India not only opened my eyes to the challenges which Goal has to contend with in order to offer the girls the knowledge, the confidence and the horizons of independence, but also to the importance of promoting female empowerment in a context where it is so necessary, so appreciated and so keenly absorbed.