The car pulled up and stopped in front of what looked like a house with an office inside. I was pretty impressed by the location. I crossed the street and waited for our host to lead the way, and to my surprise she headed down a narrow alley adjacent to the house. My mother and I were being taken to a Gender Resource Center affiliated with a small charity in India, called WAG CHELSEA. The electricity was temporarily out. In this flashlight lit, 2 room space; there were a group of women sitting on the floor awaiting us. We came in, sat down, and as I looked down at their smiling faces, I suddenly became really uncomfortable.
I had brought my modest DSLR along on this trip in hopes to get really great photos for this blog and what I do for We Talk Women. However, in that moment I realized I didn’t have the stomach to photograph these women and capture their emotions the way I had anticipated. “Hey, look at me! My camera cost more money than you likely see in a year!” The photos you see in this post are courtesy of my point and shoot. Because the office had their own; I felt more comfortable shooting with it than my DSLR. Even as someone quite in tune with the rights injustices that plague India, the country never fails to humble me!
These women had gathered to learn how to sew after a few months they will receive a certificate from the government and will be able to make their own clothes, potentially attain employment at a factory or sell their creations. It was inspiring to see how hope prevails in dark, seemingly destitute corners of the world. The somewhat upsetting aspect is the need for it, their tiny space, the uncertain funding, and above all, the guilt of having the ability to walk away.
Being in India brings about these mixed emotions in me, every time I return. As I ride past the poverty stricken neighbourhoods in my relative’s car, walk past the begging children to enter a tourist market where I spend enough money on food and shopping that could feed a family for a month, my guilt and pleasure are tantamount.
While I’m there, I suppress (somewhat successfully) my inner conflict and focus on enjoying my vacation. I don’t feel guilty being catered to and served by my aunt’s maid, knowing that she’s been given a safe place to live, respect and a caring “boss”. When I return home and reflect on the circumstances that lead her to consider living in my aunt’s place a great “deal”, the guilt returns. When I look at the photos from my trip and see the GRC, recall the poverty, receive my visa bill, distribute souvenirs amongst family and friends or write this blog; the guilt returns.
But guilt isn’t a productive feeling unless you turn into what inspires you to take action. I’m a big believer that if we all just did our part, this world could be a significantly more just place. Today, I’d like to encourage you to support One Billion Rising Toronto and all the men and women that will rise for justice on April 28th at Yonge/Dundas Square.
One Billion Rising Toronto is part of a global campaign to demand an end to violence against women. I attended the gathering last year (see photos). As the leaders spoke and the flash mob danced, there was a collective feeling of hope and determination that filled the air. This year, founder of V-Day, Eve Ensler will be in Toronto to rise with us. In her words, this is what the One Billion Rising movement is about: “It is a call to survivors to break the silence and release the stories of both pain and hope – through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever way best expresses their outrage, their need, their desire, and their joy. The path to justice begins with acknowledging and recognizing the violence – letting it be known. This year we will RISE, RELEASE AND DANCE.”
If you believe that women deserve a life free of violence, if you’re a survivor, if you’re an activist, if you dream of a just world, if you still believe that together, we can make a difference. Join us!
(In Canada, February 14th is the date of the Annual Women’s Memorial March for The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, which has been taking place for twenty two years. The march honours and grieves for the thousands of women who are still missing or who have been murdered.