Imagine you have prepared a delicious meal for your family.
The aroma of the freshly prepared dinner fills the room, your mouth waters with anticipation. You have not eaten since breakfast and you have spent the last two hours preparing your favorite dish for your family. You begin serving the meal, first to your sons, then to your husband, and lastly to yourself. To your dismay, you watch as the food disappears before your eyes. By the time you are finally able to serve yourself, the best food has been served to the men of the family and all that is left for you to eat is meager handful of rice.
For many women in India, this scenario is a common experience that stems from deeply held cultural beliefs that perpetuate discrimination against women. Viewed as the future of the family, sons are believed to be the most hardworking and deserving, and it is believed that they should be fed first with the best food available. It is considered a wife’s duty to her family to serve herself last, eating only what is remaining after the men and the others have eaten. Often this amounts to very little or no food at all. Ironically, while women are expected to be the primary providers of health and nutrition for their families, it is the same women who suffer the greater extent from hunger and poverty.
These deeply held beliefs rooted in religious doctrine, practices, legal systems, and cultural traditions require that women across India give up their individual rights and sacrifice their personal well-being for the benefit of their husbands, families, and community. Generally, it seems that these issues are deeply related to a lack of education and understanding. Many women are prohibited from gaining a proper education and are denied a voice in society. We have visited several NGOs working in Auroville to minimize gender discrimination, one of which being the Life Education Center (LEC). The LEC is an NGO that seeks to combat gender discrimination by empowering girls through education in order to build their self-confidence, self-worth, and to give them a voice in their families and within their community. While this NGO seeks to empower women during their time spent at the LEC, their programs are aimed to help these women develop skills and confidence that are sustainable and continuously developed beyond their time spent at the LEC.
The LEC was established in 1991 and has since provided a safe learning environment for women from Auroville and the surrounding villages. The LEC’s mission is to support women’s empowerment through education, seeking to “bring social change through a change in consciousness.” At the LEC, young women are provided a safe educational space where they learn skills and tools that enable them to continue their personal growth even after their time spent in the LEC. The LEC currently offers vocational training programs as a means to provide an opportunity to earn a livelihood and to help support their families. This vocational training program is a means to bring identity and dignity to women who are often oppressed and considered inferior by society. At the LEC, women are encouraged to connect to their inner creativity and consciousness, and to use their work as a way to reflect, build confidence, and express themselves through their craft. Not only do they offer a means for women to learn technical skills, they also offer entrepreneurial skill development programs, collective quilting classes, health and nutrition workshops, cooking classes with a focus on sustainability, and a career development program that helps young women in the college application process.