Mahila

IMG_3452I am an individual who has lived all over the world as I am in international development, with a focus on health and human rights. Currently I am living in Hyderabad, India. I had dreamed of coming to India for several years and finally made it here. I consider myself a strong individual that is warm and kind-hearted but yet independent and adventurous.

Being in international development is not easy work. You find yourself moving to different places quite often and doing your level best to assimilate into the culture. You are a foreigner in a strange land trying to contribute your skills to help others as well as learn from them on how to be more effective.

There are things about India that are truly amazing. I love the way one can travel by train across the country. I love that there are so many different landscapes and different ways of traveling. I simply love juggad. Juggad is a Hindi word that basically means a way around something, an innovative way of fixing something, of making it work. It only happens in India! I love the fresh fruits and vegetables that surround you and how easily accessible and affordable they are. Perhaps most of all, I love the children of India. Inevitable there seems to always be a curious kid around the corner wherever you seem to turn.

All of this being said, I have to be honest that I have found living in India to be quite tough. Now I know I am only speaking about the city where I live so I don’t want to generalize. There are things that certainly make it more difficult such as not speaking the language but most of all being a woman. Being a woman in India is a whole different story. You are stared down constantly. You have to be on your toes 150% of the time. Dress conservatively; do not go out after dark alone. Do not go behind trucks or buildings where you cannot be seen… If I want to walk down my street from my house to the grocery store in order to buy the things I need to help me get better and stay healthy, I have to face the stares, the uncomfortableness of walking past the auto stands, the tea and chat spot, all filled with many, many men staring at me very intensely. You don’t know what they are thinking. All you know is that you are an alien and don’t feel safe. I get into an auto only to have a man come out of nowhere on a bike reaches inside to touch my leg. The injustices for women here continually astound me. The lack of access to menstrual hygiene such as affordable sanitary napkins and safe public toilets is just a couple of examples. Every time I fill out a form or see a doctor, etc. I have to provide either my husband’s name or my father’s name. In India a woman is nothing unless she is owned by a man.

Now the juxtaposition here is where it gets tough. There is a movement in India to change things for women, to give them more freedom and independence. But how do you do that if you have to protect yourself? How do you do that when the judges rule in favor of the men who rape women? I can’t say I have any answers. I can’t say that I don’t get extremely discouraged. I can’t say there have not been days that I seriously wanted to call this quits and go home. What I can say is that the desire to fight the injustice is stronger that my desire to quit. So far since being here I have been able to help bring livelihoods through jewelry making to women who have been rescued from trafficking. I will also go visit our shelter in Kolkata next month. That alone has been worth my stay here so far but it is not enough. I’m not sure what my next steps will be in this whether it is advocacy, helping set up more programs, etc. All I know is that I will not stop in seeking justice for the girls and women in this country.

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Gabrielle's passion for international public health began during a summer spent in South African townships, where she taught HIV/AIDS prevention to middle and high school students. She subsequently studied the language and culture of isiZulu as a Fulbright Hays scholar at the University of Natal, attempting to gain an understanding from the Zulu people of how HIV/AIDS impacts the individuals and their communities as a whole. Her education and professional experience lie largely in the areas of health promotion with an emphasis on HIV/AIDS, water and sanitation issues, and human rights. In addition to interning with UNAIDS in Dakar, Senegal, she was recently a Field Manager with the LifeStraw Carbon for Water campaign in Western Provinces, Kenya. Outside of work she is an avid reader, a classically trained opera singer, and enjoys running and watching sports. Gabrielle is thrilled to come to India as a Clinton Fellow, and is looking forward to expanding her knowledge of public health innovations in such a vibrant and entrepreneurial environment. She will be working with Healing Fields Foundation, an Ashoka Fellow led organization recognized for its pioneer work in the areas of health financing and community health education based in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

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5 thoughts on “Mahila

  1. Wow – You are truly an amazing person Gabrielle. I’m in awe of you, your strength and your commitment to improving the lives of others.

  2. Be strong when going places. Use body language to show you are confident. Men will respond differently.

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