Dignity Freedom Network Australia
International Women's Day is celebrated throughout the world on 8 March, this year headlined by the theme "Choose to Challenge".
What an apt theme, encouraging women to challenge existing injustices and inequality. We are blessed that in an evolving global landscape, more women are able to use their voices to effect change. However, in places like rural India, the voices and lives of many women continue to be suppressed and downtrodden.
One example is the Jogini practice still rampant in some parts of India.
A 'Jogini' is the name under which a young girl is forced into ritual sex slavery in Southern India. It is an illegal system that sees thousands of girls and women from low caste, impoverished backgrounds 'married to the goddess'. Although this sounds exotic, the practice actually sees many young women and children being forced to offer sexual services, on demand, to men in their community. Being a Jogini essentially condemns a woman to a lifetime of sexual abuse and strips away her fundamental rights and freedom.
This practice was outlawed in India in the 1980s, but it is estimated that there are around 80,000 Jogini women and girls still enslaved in this practice today, with very limited means to challenge or speak out against the status quo.
Dignity Freedom Network Australia (DFN) has been working on the ground to raise awareness of and help eradicate this practice. Our community workers are active in 260 villages, working to educate, prevent, advocate for, rescue and rehabilitate Jogini women and prevent dedications of little girls.
One success story is that of Lakshmi*, who was the second girl born to a manual scavenger and a street sweeper. Impoverished and desperate, Lakshmi's parents looked to dedicate her as a Jogini when she was only 5 years old. They saw this as a way out of poverty, and that being "married to the goddess" would restore some pride to the family. When she was 5, Lakshmi's parents started grooming her to become a Jogini by sending her to live with an older Jogini for a short stretch every few months. The things that Lakshmi saw and experienced during this time really affected her, until one day a DFN social worker came to learn of her story.
Thankfully, DFN's team on the ground swung into action as soon as they became aware. They approached Lakshmi's parents to explain the illegality of the system and the options available to support them. Understanding the social context and pressures that Lakshmi's parents were under, DFN's team offered shelter, education and a safe space for Lakshmi, which were gratefully accepted.
Lakshmi has never looked back. She is now 11 years old and attends the Good Shepherd school. She plays sport, dances and wants to become a teacher. Her life has been turned around, because of DFN's work on the ground with local communities and the meaningful way the organisation rescues and empowers women and girls.
For International Women's Day this year, DFN is "Choosing to Challenge" the injustices that continue to be perpetrated against precious Jogini women. DFN hopes to raise funds to support more Jogini Village Leaders and expand the reach to help more women and children trapped in or bound for this practice, like Lakshmi.
You can support DFN's work from wherever you are. Between February 11th - March 31st, we are inviting groups and individuals to join 'the challenge' by organising local fundraising events to support this campaign. Download our International Women's Day Tool Kit for ideas and tips and join the 2021 IWD campaign in a fun way!
Follow DFN on Facebook where we will be profiling the needs, posting stories, updating the number of Jogini Village Leaders supported, and sharing the creative ways people are partnering with us.
*Name changed to protect identity
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