We Encourage 1st Fundraising Cause: Dalit Women Forum to help Low-Caste Girls into Education

Covid-19 has further highlighted the inequalities in our world, with the poorest communities suffering a loss of what little income they had. Among their myriad of problems, these destitute families are not in a position to send their children to school, so they will be exploited as child laborers and engage in begging.

We Encourage piloting cause, organized by a small-scale fundraiser Sharon Elizabeth is for enabling education for girl children in Indian slums. The fundraising is targeted for an Indian organization called Dalit Women Forum, in which Sharon Elizabeth and her husband have worked.

Dalit Women Forum to Help Low-Caste Girls into Education

Dalit Women Forum (DWF) works to make a positive impact in society, believing that a focus on education will result in better development for such communities and the economy overall. Enhancing the skills of young women and protecting them from exploitation will equip them with better employment prospects, allowing them to earn an income for their families. Over time this will improve living conditions for people living in slums and raise the profile of the Dalit in society.

DWF are currently fundraising to finance a project to get 25 girls into education — and keep them from dropping out by supporting them and their families and communities.

Distributing school backs for children
New school bags for kids

Excluded from Society

Urban population across the developing world has seen rapid growth during the last few decades, and nearly half of the world’s population is expected to live in cities or urban areas. Urban poverty has engaged governments in India far less than rural poverty, both in terms of range of interventions and financial allocations. India’s urban population is the second largest in the world, and while it is home to many successful individuals, huge numbers of less affluent citizens can be found on the outskirts of cities. For such residents, the conditions are inhumane: Housing is often not legal, there is no healthcare, poor sanitation, living spaces are overcrowded, and children have no access to schools. Residents are known as the “Urban Poor,” and their homes are referred to as the slums.

The southern Indian city of Hyderabad has more than 2,500 slums, the largest being Addagutta — home to more than 100,000 people. Earnings are small and job opportunities are limited, usually consisting of masonry or garbage clearing for men and cigarette rolling or rag picking for women (rummaging through refuse for materials to recycle). The community is made up of 60% Scheduled Caste people, or Dalit, the lowest caste in India and once known as the “untouchables”.

Despite a guarantee from the state to protect all citizens irrespective of sex, caste, or religion, the Dalit are still a marginalized group, and Dalit women face double discrimination. Living in an incredibly conservative patriarchal society, Dalit women are typically excluded from the workforce as they are believed to have no entrepreneurial or useful skills to contribute to society. Discrimination against women starts at an early age. There is a reluctance to seek medical care for ailing daughters, they are breastfed for a shorter time than sons, and should they be lucky enough to enroll in school they are forced to drop out early to take care of their siblings. State literacy rate for men now sits at 74.95% whereas for women in the Scheduled Caste it is only 49.9%.

Students watching television

Dalit women have no decision-making power within their communities and families and are often subjected to physical and mental abuse. Cultural norms mean it is believed that educating girls will be a waste of resources. Instead, girls are forced into child labor, often in hazardous conditions, or married for a dowry at an early age, which results in dangerous adolescent pregnancy.

Battling Covid-19 in Deprived Areas

The global pandemic of Covid-19 has heightened the structural inequalities built into our world, making the work of DWF all the more important. While we are still learning about the virus and its effects, it’s clear that women, girls, and marginalized communities will be particularly hard hit and we are facing a global humanitarian challenge along with a deep economic crisis. As the virus impacts people’s daily lives and hampers economic activities in many countries, India is facing its own challenges during the pandemic, with high numbers of cases making it the fourth worst-hit country worldwide. The rapid increase in cases of Covid-19 in India has seen NGOs and other charitable organizations step up their efforts to help. They are playing an essential role in providing humanitarian support in the form of free meals and opening shelter homes for thousands of people without income during the lockdown. Many are not in a position to send their children to schools, especially girls, which will increase the likelihood they’ll be exploited as child laborers. However, many children remain unemployed and with no resources available they engage in begging and rag picking.

Workshop on Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribe Special Development ACT

DWF Program Supporting Children into Education

Through working with deprived communities, Dalit Women Forum noticed that young people are becoming more vulnerable than other sectors, with children aged 7–14 the most at risk. DWF surveyed children of those ages in nearby areas of Secunderabad, twin city of Hyderabad, and identified 243 children living as beggars, rag pickers, and other hazardous and non-hazardous situations. Out of 243 children, most are Dalits and Dalit Christians and many are orphans and destitute.

Previously, DWF ran residential centers with the support of Rajiv Vidya Mission, a state government program from 2006–2009, then from 2010–2014 DWF ran a residential home for vulnerable children. Due to lack of resources the programs were forced to close and children were admitted to neighboring centers.

Kids on their way to picnic

DWF has regularly visited these centers and built up a good rapport with the children in order to be able to offer them long-term support. Various strategies were adopted in order to make them understand the importance of education, reduce dropout rate, and increase retention rate among them. DWF enrolled 57 children into schools at the outset, but the children quickly switch and go back to the same begging and rag-picking occupations. Those who do attend school struggle to obtain funds for fees and other expenditure. Some charitable individuals are supporting the schoolchildren but this is short-term, one-off support. Dalit Women Forum want to mobilize support on a larger scale and longer term in order to decrease the dropout rate.

With this in mind, DWF are launching a project that will target children in need of help in the Addagutta area. After building rapport and understanding the families in this area, 25 girls will be selected to enroll in mainstream education. Awareness camps will also be held for 300 parents to emphasize the importance of education and literacy, aimed to increase the retention rate of these 25 children. Activities will also be conducted to raise awareness in the community about caste- and gender-based discrimination.

After enrolling the children in the program, DWF will conduct eligibility tests and admit them to nearby schools under the Right to Education Act, which offers free and compulsory education. Local volunteers will give up time to support both dropouts and schoolchildren. Enrolled children will be provided with school uniforms, books, and shoes to give them the ability, confidence, and dignity to fit in with the mainstream education system.

Children during study hours and lunch time

Throughout the project, DWF will monitor the progress of children with reports and records, and the aim is that all 25 children will stay in the schools. The charity will also work with the local community to ensure the sustainability of the project beyond its initial phase — along with funding, community participation is key to the success of the project.

Dalit Women Forum

Dalit Women Forum (DWF) is a secular, nonpartisan charitable society working to empower the oppressed and create an egalitarian society that is just and free by promoting, preserving, and defending human rights. The Forum focuses on supporting the younger, female population in India, while creating public awareness of caste and gender discrimination. The longer-term vision is to create a caste- and gender-free society where Dalits have freedom, equal rights, and can assert themselves as stakeholders in mainstream socio-economic, cultural, and political spheres. DWF believe this can be achieved by strengthening the Dalit movement with organizations, leadership, and resources, and creating networks at various levels.

DWF was founded by Ms. C. Vijaya Kumari, a Dalit Christian woman with significant experience of working with minorities, Dalits and commercial sex workers for more than 20 years. Her experience, together with the passion and knowledge of committed social workers, human rights activists, and academics, led to the creation of the Dalit Women Forum.

The cause is established by a small-scale fundraiser Sharon Elizabeth.

Estimated budget

The required budget required for mainstreaming 25 children is INR 788,000 (EUR 9,479), broken down as follows:

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We Encourage is on a mission to empower women and girls under oppression. WE develops a customizable AI tool to help victims of domestic abuse.

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We Encourage

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We Encourage is on a mission to empower women and girls under oppression. WE develops a customizable AI tool to help victims of domestic abuse.

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