By Lydia Holden, Communications Lead for Grassroots Girls Initiative
"I don’t want to lead a life like my mother, where she is dependent on others financially. I want to be independent and learn on my own," declared Shabham, a 19-year-old girl living in Delhi, India.
Shabham arrived from a rural village 13 years ago, where being an educated, self-sufficient girl is not only undesirable, it is shameful for the family.
"They think she will just talk back and do whatever she likes and won’t be obedient. My [extended] family in the village is constantly asking if my parents have found a husband for me because younger relatives are already married," said Shabham.
With great difficulty, Shabham was able to persuade her parents to let her finish high school. But after graduation, her father said "no more." Low-quality public education and her family’s financial situation only prepared her for low-paying jobs. Furthermore, her father and brothers had instilled in her such a fear of the outside world - under the guise of keeping her safe - that, "I was really scared talking to people and would break down and cry," said Shabham. "I always needed company if I went out anywhere."
Overwhelmed with the boredom of sitting at home day after day watching TV, Shabham was feeling pretty hopeless until a friend told her to go to our grantee partner, Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT), for a six-month free course in computers.
Though India is ripe recruiting territory for tech companies, only 21 percent of IT industry workers are women. Of those, few reach decision-making positions. This is one of the reasons the Global Fund prioritizes tech funding for women's groups like FAT.
Though Shabham had never used a computer before, she liked that FAT strives to empower marginalized and economically poor girls in Delhi by closing the technological divide between men and women.
"Technology is here to stay and not something we can fight against," commented FAT Executive Director Gayatri Buragohain. "Technology controls government and development, so women’s voices are hugely needed in technology, but their voice is not present."
After three months at FAT, Shabham’s life changed drastically—for the better. She applied to university and found a telecom position to pay her tuition. The intrepid spirit Shabham developed at FAT really shone when her father refused to sign her admission form to university. "I told him that when you come for the signature for the marriage document, I will deny in front of everyone and not sign."
With shrewd determination, Shabham is not only studying, she gets high praise from her father, who now brags about his child at university. As Shabham comes into her own she continues to visit the FAT technology center, which recently received a face-lift thanks to a Global Fund supporter, Craig Newmark.
"I want to be a role model and teach other girls for free. In my village the girl relatives are talking about me and saying, ‘Shabham finished 12th grade, so why can’t I?’ I want to help those girls who can’t come out of their house."
Through a partnership with the Nike Foundation’s Grassroots Girls Initiative (GGI), Global Fund for Women and other leading grantmaking organizations are empowering adolescent girls like Shabham to effect social change.