Wednesday, June 6, 2012

151: The Self-Empowered Woman: Dr. V Mohini Giri

Dear Followers,

In the past, I've written about a variety of  troubling women's issues around the world: child prostitution in Cambodia, genital mutilation in Africa, Saudi Arabia refusing to allow women to drive, Afghanistan making it hard for girls to attend school, Japan's use of "Comfort Women" in WWII, Somalia's Islamic Militia terrorizing nomadic women, etc., etc., etc.

Today I'd like to introduce you to Dr. V. Mohini Giri, who has devoted her life to human rights and gender justice in India and South Asia. Currently, she is best known for her work on behalf of widows in India. These women, once their husbands die, are "highly stigmatized," and she must never 1) remarry, 2) dress differently (see the photo above), 3) fend for themselves, and 4) eat only once a day. Currently there are about 40 million widows in India (this means eleven percent of all Indian women) who are struggling against this cultural prejudice.

Vrindavan (which is "the city of widows" and has always been considered to be a holy place for Hindus in India), is where 15,000-20,000 widows have congregated and live on the streets: some have been there as long as 30 years. The women there pray for seven to eight hours a day in public, and in exchange they receive a few rupees and one cup of rice.; most widows also beg on the streets, in Dr. Giri's words "it's depressing and demeaning."

Dr. Giri speaks nine languages and has earned eight honorary degrees, in addition to the postgraduate degrees she earned as a student. She is famous in India for her work to empower women economically, legally, politically and socially. She was lucky enough to have a father who had studied at Harvard, and encouraged her to complete her education and be of service to others (even though he died when she was only nine years old). A widow herself, her father in-law was the former President of India from 1969-1974, and during that time she was very active in social welfare causes related to the Indo-Pakistani war.

According to Dr. Giri, the biggest obstacle to ensuring that older Indian widows be treated with respect "is patriarchy. They don't change--they think they are superior. Slowly women are breaking their silence, but only the educated ones." An organization called Guild of Service was established to help women in need. In addition, Dr. Giri runs the Ma Dham Shelter where women can live in a group environment, learn a skill, and receive room and board.

In spite of the overwhelming challenges she faces, Dr. Giri remains optimistic: "I have hope for the future when I see the women in this country today and women all over the world...When I see the grassroots elected women leaders speaking about gender budgeting in the government's fund allocation, my heart fill with pride. These are women who until a few years back could barely sign their names...Aren't dignity and love absolute elements of life for every woman, man, and child? Isn't the woman born into this world with the same rights as the man? Without the woman could there be any harmony within the family, community and environment? No nation can develop without the woman's well being."

Looking forward to your comments...

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