Advancing Women’s Rights in India
With an ongoing interest in women’s rights, Emory University student Monica Lefton found Udaipur, India a good fit for her internship site. “I had never been to Asia but was familiar with the plight of many women in South Asia. I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I got there: to work with women to make their lives healthier and safer and happier, and ultimately to make sure they know their own worth.”
Jandaksha Trust (JDT), an NGO with a long history in the region, provided a backdrop of support for her work. Among other activities, this partner organization offers support for female laborers, many are migrants who have traditionally been among India’s most marginalized workforce members.
Monica, an English major, was placed in JDT’s domestic violence counseling office. There, she collected data at local village meetings and during domestic violence cases, creating a case study of JDT's recent work and population they serve.
Monica worked alongside JDT’s staff in the domestic violence counseling center, helping steer women to resources and services that could ameliorate their most immediate concerns. “Most women I spoke with had issues with the treatment they were receiving from their husbands--often in the form of physical, verbal, and financial abuse,” Monica says. “Most immediately, JDT staff and I would help by listening to these women, filing a case report and validating them in that idea that this abuse is not okay, they deserve better, and we will work with them to help find this 'better.’”
Monica’s role in addressing and working toward ending the violence began with meeting with couples and legal aides; this was done to set ground rules and agreements between participating husbands and wives. This was followed by home visits by JDT staff and, in extreme cases, placement at local shelters, so that women could find their own work and get back on their feet in a safe space. “Looking back,” Monica says, “I think a lot of the work is just talking to these women, letting them know they don't have to and shouldn't tolerate any kind of violence and reminding the men in their lives of their value and importance.”
The second aspect of Monica’s work involved data collection that would help inform the NGO’s future activities. She collected case studies and general survey results into a booklet to exhibit the female population JDT surveys and their past successes, as well as challenges for the future.’ “In the short term, I think the community I worked with was reminded of, or soon became aware of the work they’re doing, trends in their progress and where they can improve,” Monica says. “Longer-term, JDT will be able to plan new programs, enhance old ones and understand what they need and want from future interns.”
In addition to her fieldwork, Monica points to an invaluable cultural exchange, which Monica mentioned is often an unsung part of these programs. “It was one of the hardest but most rewarding things I've ever done. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, changing my understanding development, work, family, and life forever. I don't know if it's ever possible to be completely prepared for a development internship, but you should expect everything, and anything can happen, and I think that's the beauty of it. Live in the moment, experience everything you can, try to make a sustainable difference and learn to embrace the new self you're creating on a different continent,” she says.
Monica is enthusiastic about Udaipur as a volunteer destination. “It is a beautiful city, beyond words-- the food and people, the countless lake, forts, palaces, and sunsets helped make this summer unforgettable. The best part of the trip was by far the people--the city’s residents, to be sure, but also the FSD staff and other interns I met. Everyone was so nice and excited to learn about you. I have rarely felt more welcomed and loved than I was during my time in Udaipur.”