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So there I am, in a bleak East Indian state, sitting on a cold stone floor in a dilapidated building, surrounded by dozens of colourful women dressed in beautiful saris, listening to them tell me about their lives. You soon forget that your legs have gone numb as you hear the incredibly difficult, yet inspiring stories. It’s also one of those ‘pinch me’ moments because, for some reason. I get to be the one to listen to these accounts.
Let’s come back to the UK for a minute. Social media and the news have infiltrated all aspects of our lives. All you have to do is start scrolling through your Facebook feed to see things happening on the other side of the world. We’ve never been so connected and yet in some ways still so far apart. I’m sitting on a slightly more comfortable seat on South Western Railway heading into work and reading the latest story on sexual harassment and abuse in India; a country filled with patriarchal laws, customs and traditions. As I read the heinous crimes against women which so often go unreported or ignored, I can’t help but feel pain and sadness. I also feel guilt, because honestly, I feel relief that I’m here. We get to read and understand what’s happening in other cultures from the comfort of our homes, but through my job at All We Can, I also get to see it face to face.
So back to the cold floor and the numb legs and there I am listening to stories of women who have overcome rejection, ignorance, abuse and pain because of their gender and have come together, through the support of All We Can, to become a team. To become a group of women who rely on, listen to, support and love one another. They all have their stories, they all have their pain, they all have their challenges, yet they decided it was time for them to make a change in their lives. They join women’s groups, they’re supported with income generating activities so they can bring home their own money, support their children through school, in some circumstances they have even been able to work with their husbands and fathers and change the way women are seen in their communities. Through a gathering of women, a little start-up money and someone saying, ‘we believe in you’, these women, these brave, strong women, have changed the course of their lives and potentially the futures their children will have also.
So next time I sit on my comfy sofa or the London tube, next time I pick up my phone and scroll through the news, I’m going to think about that cold, stone floor. I’m going to remember the strength of the women I met there and I’m never going to forget the difference they’re making for the future generations of India.
Help more women experience the change and freedom Angela has witnessed.
Angela Richardson is the Assistant Programmes Manager for All We Can's International Programmes and Partnerships Team. Angela has travelled extensively in Africa and is passionate about women's rights and communities facing the challenge of HIV/AIDS. She moved to London three years ago and though she enjoys learning about the history of the city, misses the countryside and the sea. In her spare time she balances keeping fit with meeting friends for coffee and cake!
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