Marginalised Indian women are not likely to improve their lives through the intervention of NGOs (non-governmental organisations).
This is in the opinion of Dr Srila Roy who spoke at a seminar entitled ‘Saving Women from Themselves’, held this afternoon at Wits University.
Roy, Wits Sociology senior lecturer, reflected on her experiences at an event in Eastern India at the end of 2011, which was hosted by an NGO protecting young women from coerced marriages.
6000 women from 40 villages were involved in the event but while the NGO was encouraging girls to go to school, they were not concerned with the state of the schooling system.
“The NGOs constantly say ‘send your girls to school. Young girls must no longer be coerced into marriage, they must go to school’, But when I asked them how the schools are, they said to me; there is nothing there.”
Roy said that the schools are poorly resourced, there is a lack of teachers, poor infrastructure and high expenses which are unaffordable to the students. “So what exactly are they going there to do if they’re not learning?” she asked.
“It’s either the NGOs were disingenuous or really removed from their context,” Roy said.
The problem is that few or no NGOs focus on women’s education and literacy, she explained. The reason behind this was because Indian NGOs are micro-financed and focused on economic development.
The NGOs are getting small loans to start businesses and the goal is to generate more money.
“NGOs just want a quick fix,” Roy said.
The market therefore becomes the criteria, and having objectives such as educating young children would not generate any money for them as such, she explained.
The seminar discussions soon turned from India to the South African context.
South African women
A young South African Muslim woman and a Wits student said she could relate to the experiences of young Indian women.
She that of a group of 12 South African girls of Indian descent in her Polokwane matric class, she is the only one that has not yet married.
But she still believes that it is important not generalise: “We can’t assume by educating women they won’t choose to get married at a young age … a number of educated people make ‘morally unsound’ decisions,” she said.
“Education is only one of the solutions” she added.