Monday, September 03, 2012

Challenges of Gender Equity and Health Education Facing India

FSD's interns Julian Cooper, Caroline Patterson and Jessica Nelson took to the web to share the outcomes and challenges of their work abroad and spread awareness about the issues facing the communities they worked with this summer. Julian spent his internship working with the grassroots organization, Vikalp Sansthan (JVSS), in Jodhpur, India. Their mission is to fight the gender-based inequality and violence that is still prevalent in India’s patriarchal society.

For his project, Julian organized a cricket tournament for the boys in the community that included sports training, but also workshops on the importance of female education, improving the boy-girl relationship in society, and violence against women. The recreational backdrop provided a safe, comfortable atmosphere for the boys to open up and discuss these sensitive, but pressing issues. “I felt the biggest achievement of the workshop was the shift in the way the boys discussed gender-based violence and gender-based inequality,” Julian recalls. “They no longer looked at girls as though they were objects controlled by Indian society and tradition, but as individuals with dreams of their own.”

Jessica and Caroline interned with our partner PCB Trust to tackle limited health education for female sex workers in the surrounding communities of Jodhpur. They interviewed one hundred sex workers and documented their difficulties in accessing HIV testing and treatment. Distance and transportation costs prevent these women from taking advantage of the only free HIV testing center in the area. The interns were surprised to discover that one tenth of the sex workers they interviewed did not understand the causes of HIV, while one fifth had never heard of condoms. Working with PCB Trust, Caroline and Jessica developed strategies for the many complex obstacles facing sex workers.

Although these challenges may seem insurmountable at times, they had a good perspective on the roles of interns in the field. Comparing their challenges to a parable about a boy’s effort to save hundreds starfish that washed up on shore, she said, “We certainly can’t expect to clean up the whole beach in a 9-week internship, but maybe our educational materials can help throw one starfish back into the water. That would be enough for us.”

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