In America, we often hear of the plight of young girls in far off parts of the world who by virtue of being born female, are at a disadvantage. It is hard for many, born and raised in a Western minded civilization to even conceive of that kind of inequity and yet it exists. In many countries women are treated as property, objects and worse, servants whose sole purpose is to cater to the whims and needs of men.
Many women are never taught to read or calculate basic mathematical formulas and in far too many cases, many are sold off by their own parents for marriage and a life of servitude. What is shocking, is when these things occur in what Westerners define as enlightened countries. Media paints the image of women under Taliban or ISIS rule, and most are sickened by these stories, however, few speak of the horror girls go through in places like rural India.
India is a massive country, and it is far more than the financial epicenters of Delhi or Mumbai. Much of the state is poor and tribal in nature where the lives of women are not their own, and opportunities for girls to become educated are few if they exist at all. There are many who are working towards a change, to bring the opportunities of the big cities to girls and women all over the country, and it is with the help they receive from Americans like Nikesh Patel that enables them to not just succeed but thrive.
One such effort is called The Ohm Shri Shivsankalp Seva Trust, which is a unit of the All-India Movement for Seva (AIM for Seva). AIM is an award-winning agency that seeks to bring opportunity to all children across India bridging the gaps between those in and near the cities who have means, and the millions who do not have the same opportunities.
The Indian government is already a country that understands the need of empowering girls and young women. In fact, about a decade ago they set aside January 24th as ‘National Girls Day’ to raise awareness and keep it up so that programs and educational opportunities for girls can sprout up across the vast nation.
It was shortly after National Girls Day was founded that Swamini Omkaranand, created Shivsankalp Seva Trust. His vision was to do just what the government was trying to do, with the inspiration of strong female leaders like Indira Gandhi, to empower young women to become leaders and alter the patriarchal society that existed in much of the country.
The reason behind selecting the 24th of January as ‘National Girl Child Day’ was specifically Indira Gandhi. That was the day she was elected as the first woman Prime Minister of India and the day was set aside to create awareness on a few topics like rights that girls have which are the same as boys, the importance of education, proper nutrition, and of course health.
Historically, when a daughter was born into a rural family, they were pushed into child marriage, or they were promised to a family for future marriage in exchange for a dowery. Since the independence of the country, the Government of India had been trying against discrimination between girls and boys, against the atrocities faced by the girls as they reach puberty.
In order to improve the condition of girls, the Indian government has taken several steps over the years such as Save the Girl Child, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, free or subsidized education for the girl children, reservations for women in colleges and universities. It was under these laws that Swamini Omkaranand partnered with AIM to develop his sanctuary for girls and while it is through the help of the Indian government that the Trust exists, it cannot run day-to-day without the help of generous people across the world who share in the belief that all girls and young women have the right to live free as their male counterparts do.
Nikesh Patel is one of those generous men who has been instrumental in supporting the Trust so they do not just operate, but grow and reach a wider swath of the country bringing hope to areas where hope is a precious commodity. Born and raised in America, the businessman has spearheaded the support for organizations like AIM and Swamini Omkaranand’s Seva Trust.
Paying it forward is what is taught by the Trust, and one of the reasons Nik Patel chose this as one of his philanthropic goals. It is also an example of one of the Seva Trust’s success stories is Simranjeet Kaur of Khanpur Village, Ludhiana, an alumnus of Swamini Omkaranand who after graduating, became the first girl in her home village to develop an initiative to educate girls in her community and spread knowledge about the practice of safe menstrual hygiene practices and the availability of sanitary products along with an emphasis on the necessity of a balanced diet.
Talking about her efforts, Simranjeet said that in India, one of the most serious health concerns for women is menstruation hygiene. “According to a National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in 2015-16 Only 121 million of the country’s 336 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins”, she says while adding that menstrual hygiene management in rural regions is a major challenge due to lack of information as well as social taboos around menstruation.
It is not just hygiene that is focused on. The Seva Trust instills a sense of empowerment in girls who are blossoming into young women. From mental health to physical health to education and a sense of pride in who they are. Simranjeet is only one example of how giving girls the confidence, attention, and benefits afforded to all boys can pay off. The goal is to one day see these women leading companies in the power centers of Delhi and Mumbai while helping lift the impoverished living in the slums up so that India can truly be an economic force and global power with values that appeal to most civilized Western societies.