Sometimes a simple action can capture a moment of change, can sum up all the words, charts and PowerPoint slides that we churn out from day to day.
All the hopes and aspirations we place into the idea of empowerment and equality.
This particular action was in a village in the state of Uttar Pradesh in Northern Indian and it involved no more or less than a “charpoy”, a traditional sitting bench, and a young woman called Devika.
A scene that many of you working in development will recognize: The team of development workers arrives in the village and the charpoy is bought out and the visitors and men of the village sit to talk. Around them gathers the village—lanky teenage boys staring, sinewy old men dressed in white cotton leaning on sticks, small grubby children dressed in oversized party dresses falling off their shoulders and old toothless women crouching on the floor. So we talked, of polio and nutrition, of births and water pumps—and then we asked about “school and girls.” Much nodding of heads and shouting. Then, through the crowd came a slender girl, pristine, wearing a powder blue shalwar kameez. She sat on the “charpoy.” She didn’t stand or crouch, she took her place with the elders and talked, telling us about her girls club and the work they did for children with polio. “And your mother,” we asked. She pointed to an old toothless woman squatting on the floor.
This moment when Devika literally took her place at the table—despite her youth and her gender—is one we should strive to repeat in everything we do. Empower young people, and particularly young women, to speak up and contribute to the larger discussion. Let’s ensure that the millions of Devikas know that they have a place at the table and have their say.
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