Tag Archives: India

Grassroots Girls Initiative: Empowering girls in West Bengal

This guest post from the Grassroots Girls Initiative tells the story of Mohammad Bazar Backward Class Development Society (MBBCDS) and their efforts to end child marriage and empower marginalized women and girls.  MBBCDS is an nonprofit organization that AJWS supports in West Bengal, India.  

The Situation for Girls

West Bengal is one of the poorest states in India and its tribal villages are labeled “economically backward.” Female literacy is extremely low; more than half of adolescent girls are either pulled out or drop out of the education system by high school. Girls in tribal villages are extremely vulnerable to early marriage, early pregnancy and domestic violence.

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Human Rights in 2013: Our End-of-Year Top 10

As we get ready for the New Year, we’re also taking a moment to celebrate the joys and victories in human rights that took place in 2013—an exciting and tumultuous year for human rights around the globe. Read on for 10 human rights happenings that AJWS celebrated in 2013, listed in chronological order. Let’s celebrate the strides we’ve made together and take heart for the work still ahead of us!

10.  India: Supreme Court ruling upholds indigenous people’s rights over contested land (April 2013)

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Children from the Dongria Kondh community. Credit: Survival International

In a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal that would have allowed a UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, to mine the Niyamgiri hills. The court recognized the indigenous community of Dongria Kondh‘s right to the land, which they make a living from and worship as part of their traditional beliefs. The ruling affirmed that people with religious and cultural rights to land must be involved in decisions about how to use it.

This marked a major win for the rights of indigenous people in India, and it shows the power of social action. Thousands of protesters rallied to protest the mining effort last December, and hundreds of Dongria pledged to stay in the Niyamgiri hills.

1st item video screengrab

Click to watch Survival International’s video story on the mine. A new window will open.

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Welcoming Chanukah and My Daughter in Mumbai

This piece was originally published as part of AJWS’s Chag v’Chesed series

Rabbi Steven Greenberg's partner, Steven Goldstein, with his daughter Amalia.

Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s partner, Steven Goldstein, holding his daughter Amalia.

My daughter was born in Mumbai, India, between the Hindu and Jewish celebrations of lights—Diwali and Chanukah. We have sweet memories of lighting Chanukah candles in the hotel dining room in India, celebrating the transformation that her birth brought into our lives.

Both holidays are likely related to the ancient celebration, Saturnalia, a holiday of lights leading up to the winter solstice. Chanukah appears in this context to be tied to a universal human desire to resist the encroaching night by adding light of our own when the heavens grow dark.

Last July I traveled back to India, this time with American Jewish World Service and 17 rabbinic colleagues, in order to understand better how a very small group of people can bring some light to an often very dark place. The community we worked with, Bhakaripurwa, was literally dark at night with no electricity.

We were tasked with improving the school for the children of the village. Alongside the capable villagers, we paved the schoolyard so that the children didn’t have to play in the mud during the rainy season, and we refurbished the kitchen and a classroom floors, as well.  Read More »

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A New Year of Promise

It’s hard to believe fall is here, and Rosh Hashanah has already come and gone.

Ruth Messinger in Kenya with an AJWS grantee staff member

Ruth Messinger in Kenya with an AJWS grantee staff member

As my thoughts turn to the Jewish New Year, I begin to think about all the exciting ways American Jewish World Service will continue to deepen its work in developing world. Here’s what we’re working toward this year: Read More »

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Reimagining Our World: Reflections From an AJWS Trip to India

This post is also featured on the blog of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

rabbi delegation

Marvin Goodman, far left, traveled with an AJWS rabbinic delegation to India.

This July, I traveled to Lucknow in northern India with American Jewish World Service and a group of 17 rabbis from across the United States. Our goal was to personally see and understand AJWS’s important international work. And, as I look back at the trip, we certainly accomplished that—but we also got a more powerful crash course in the profound disparities between the conditions and expectations for human rights in the U.S. versus the developing world. The experience was overwhelming, surprising, uplifting, depressing and eye-opening. Read More »

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Meena Seshu Discusses India, Sex Work and Human Rights

Meena Seshu

Meena Seshu

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) recently hosted Meena Seshu for a visit to our headquarters in New York City. Meena is the secretary general of SANGRAM, an AJWS grantee in India that educates and empowers sex workers to overcome their most challenging health and human rights issues.

While she was here, Meena stopped by The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC, New York City’s public radio station. She talked with guest host and actress Martha Plimpton, star of the Fox television show “Raising Hope,” about SANGRAM’s efforts to help Indian sex workers curb violence and keep themselves safe from HIV.

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Munija Chooses Her Future: Advancing Girls’ Education and Opposing Child Marriage in West Bengal, India

Munija Khatun. Photo Credit: Lydia Holden

Munija Khatun. Photo Credit: Lydia Holden

“My father says not to go to school, that I should be at home. ‘You are marriageable,’ he tells me,” sighs Munija Khatun, 15, as she mashes onions with a pestle for their dinner of fish stew. “My father has two families and takes responsibility for the first family, but not my family. Father comes one or two times a month and dominates the family. He asks why this or why that, why go to school?”

While Munija’s mother toils tirelessly to support her children’s education, her monthly income of 500 rupees ($9) from selling pop rice scarcely covers basic necessities, making the monthly 100 rupees ($1.2) government school fee for each child formidable. Munija helps her mother as much as she can, rising at 5 a.m. to wash the dishes, clean their brick and straw home and take care of the cow. After school, Munija finishes the day’s cleaning, helps her mother prepare dinner and studies for three hours by kerosene lamp. Even with all of her tenacity and hard work, Munija worries she will be married off to become another family’s property, a common occurrence in this remote West Bengal village; by eighth grade 80 percent of girls are pulled out of school for marriage. Read More »

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Why Is This Day Unlike Other Days?

Celebrate the women and girls creating change worldwide!

Celebrate the women and girls creating change worldwide!

Today is International Women’s Day—an important date on AJWS’s calendar! It doesn’t get a lot of fanfare here in the U.S. but it means a whole lot for women and girls around the world who are struggling against injustice.

In the communities AJWS supports, International Women’s Day is a day to honor brave women who are demanding equal rights and working to end poverty and oppression. It’s a day to celebrate determined girls who grow up to be leaders, against all odds. International Women’s Day is about empowering every young girl and every woman—no matter where she is born—to believe that she can make a difference.

To help AJWS spread this message, view our photo gallery on Facebook of extraordinary women and girls worldwide who are working to make the world a better place—and then share it with your friends! Read More »

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Commemorating the UN’s International Day of the Girl

A community outreach team run by AJWS grantee, Fortress of Hope, teaches about gender-based violence. Photo: Evan Abramson

Last week on October 11th, the United Nations commemorated the very first International Day of the Girl. My colleagues and I were still reeling from the tragic shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani activist who was unjustly targeted for going to school and speaking up for her right to get an education. But we were grateful for the outpouring of support for the UN’s decision to dedicate a day to advancing the status of girls worldwide.

AJWS is committed to promoting girls’ rights, preventing gender-based violence and improving access to education and healthcare for girls in the developing world.

A few sobering facts:

  • Two-thirds of the world’s children who receive less than four years of education are girls. Girls represent nearly 60% of the children not in school.
  • Child marriage is a threat to the fundamental human rights of girls, and to the health of communities.
  • Ten million girls every year become child brides.
  • One in seven girls in the developing world marries before she turns 15. These young girls are forced into motherhood before their bodies are ready, and too many die giving birth as a result.
  • Every year, some 14 million adolescent girls give birth. They are two to five times as likely to die owing to pregnancy-related complications than women in their twenties, and their babies are less likely to survive. Read More »
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Everyone Deserves Access To Safe, Legal Abortion

Photo Credit: Feministing.com

Today is Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, so we’re taking stock of sexual and reproductive rights around the globe. For many Americans, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the struggle to safeguard women’s health in the United States. We often forget about what’s happening in the developing world. So, a reminder:

  • In Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico, health coverage for indigenous families lags substantially behind the rest of the population. In Guatemala, maternal mortality among indigenous women is almost double that of non-indigenous women. Organizations like Asociacion de Mujeres Campesinas Q’eqchies “Nuevo Horizonte” are dedicated to promoting the rights and health of Q’eqchi women in Guatemala by organizing communities to work on projects to reduce sexual and gender-based violence; increase public education on sexual health and rights; and build women’s leadership and presence in community and municipal decision-making. Read More »
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