On the eve of International Women’s Day, we are pleased to interact with the Reddit community to exchange views and answer questions about adolescent girls’ empowerment in India and the role of women and girls in public life.

Find below some information about ourselves, our work and the situation of adolescent girls in India. We look forward to hearing from you! Ask us Anything! We will begin answering them at 8:30 AM EST (7 pm) for approximately an hour.

India is home to more than 243 million adolescents, who account for a quarter of the country’s population. Over the past two decades, rapid economic growth has lifted millions out of poverty. This, combined with government programmes, has led to the improved health and development of the country’s adolescents. However, millions of adolescent girls still face difficult obstacle in their lives, experiencing various forms of discrimination, exploitation and abuse on account of their age and their sex. The double burden of being female and young relegates millions of adolescent girls to the margins of society where, unseen and unheard, they enjoy low status and their rights are disregarded.

UNICEF is committed to creating an overall protective environment for adolescent girls that addresses diverse issues during their lifecycle. Nurturing and empowerment of marginalized girls during early, middle and late adolescence can benefit them—and potentially alleviate their isolation and disempowerment—as they move into young adulthood. UNICEF believes that giving all young people the tools they need to improve their own lives will foster a generation of economically-independent citizens who are fully engaged in civic life and able to actively contribute to their communities.

Chhavi Rajawat is the sarpanch of Soda village, 60 km from Jaipur, in Rajasthan, and the changing face of growing dynamic rural India. Apart from sorting out various disputes among the farmers and villagers, she is also taking note of the unemployment issues and kind of facilities provided to the villagers of Soda. Chhavi has promoted water conservation and solar power projects, as well as construction of drains.

Date: 7 March

Start time: 8:30 am EST (7pm IST).

UPDATE: We are about to wrap up. Thanks a lot for your questions. It has been a great experience for both of us. Looking forward to the next AMA!!

UPDATE: 1.30 hr of great conversation!! Thanks for having participated!

Comments: 123 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

WASH8825 karma

Greetings, I work in the water and sanitation sector and have visited many villages and slums across India. I want to know whether there can be a policy level engagement for the situations where lack of adequate sanitation facilities increase the risk of physical assault for girls and women in India? There are many reported cases in India where women become victims of sexual abuse when they are forced to go to open -unsafe areas for answering nature's call. On the occassion of women's day can there be a common call to ensure that no-one becomes a victim of gender related voilence in absence of an adequate sanitation faclities? My email is [email protected]

unicefindia14 karma

Hey Pratibha, this is Louis-Georges. Building on what Chhavi responded to Anand, lack of sanitation has a great impact on women's health on daily basis because they cannot relieve themselves before dark. It is also clear that it aggravates violence against women and girls who are forced to go out into the darkness and become easy targets against sexual assault.

unicefindia13 karma

Pratibha, you are right, both of us think that International Women's Day offers an opportunity, on one hand, to really push for the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (total sanitation campaign) because unfortunately there are still more than 600 million people who are defecating in the open. Most importantly, this is an occasion to join hands and call for mindset change on how women are perceived as commodities that can be disposed off (assaulted, raped, killed).

rajkumar201311 karma

Dear friends, what are your concepts of women empowerment in the Indian context? Do you have any policy suggestions on this subject? I truly believe the existing conceptualisation of empowerment needs an expansion in the Indian context.

unicefindia15 karma

Great question Rajkumar2013. I (Chhavi) personally feel the term empowerment itself is not properly defined, nor understood, especially in the context of women and even panchayats. By giving someone a designation or a chair, the person is not necessarily empowered. We need more focus on training the elected representatives all across.

unicefindia19 karma

Hi, Louis-Georges here. Just imagine how India will be when all children, boys and girls, will have achieved 12 years of good quality education. There is no secret. In all the countries where this has happened, it has empowered women and transformed societies. Some examples are Thailand, South Korea and Japan. This is one area where India cannot afford to fail.

Podragon9 karma

This is awesome work folks !

I have just one question:

As an average one more among a million young Indian middle-class job-holder, what is something that I can do that'll help make a difference in the life of one of my sisters in one of our villages ?

unicefindia10 karma

Hi Podragon! This is Louis-Georges. I firmly believe that social change can be initiated by individual actions. If each of us start looking at our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, girlfriends with respect and on equal basis, we will create a more equitable culture. Just imagine that one individual starts to act this way and influences their peers, this will create a rippling effect. So yes, YOU and every individual action counts!

t0mkaka9 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA. I have two questions

1. What challenges you faced by villagers being an educated person who studied outside of village and came back to improve the village? Were they any condescending questions like "you know nothing about here" from the villagers? If yes how you handled them?

2. How the challenges handled differently in corporate world as compared to your village?

Thanks again

unicefindia13 karma

Thanks for this question. This is Chhavi. I have been going to the village since I was a child and spent my vacation living there. In the village I don't have a problem, since it was the villagers' idea to make me a sarpanch, and they see me as the daughter of the village which in fact works to my advantage. The main difference between the corporate world and the rural is the fact that one is organized, while the other one is not. However, the same management skills can be used to develop rural areas, which is what I am trying to do in my village. There is huge potential in the rural sector and I wish more people would realize this and join in.

imakpandey8 karma

Hi, I am Anand. I want to know what are the things against woman that you want to eradicate completely in your village. Secondly what are the biggest challenges that you have to face in your village for the above purpose. Lastly how have you planned to tackle with these challenges.

unicefindia12 karma

I would like to ensure that in Soda, my village, all girls and even women are educated and that child marriage is eradicated. We are also in the process to provide skills training for the unemployed youth focusing particularly on women and girls. Education is key to empowering women and this has the potential to open many doors for them.

unicefindia12 karma

Sorry Anand, I forgot to mention that we are also focusing on constructing toilets in each house, since women and girls suffer the most from the lack of toilets.

4silvertooth7 karma

Thank you for doing an IAMA.

Do you think the panchayat raj system is outdated and there should be a new thought out system.

unicefindia3 karma

This is Chhavi. I think the panchayat raj system is in fact a great initiative and very well thought out. However, what it is really required is the support to make it more efficient and genuinely empower the gram panchayats.

gargsuny7 karma

@unicef india : Is reservation in gram panchayatas can be beneficial to empowering the women rights because more than 60% of population of india is village based. And Our RashtraPita Mr. Gandhi also said once that development of our country is sourced from development of resources and strength of villages

unicefindia10 karma

This is Louis-Georges, from UNICEF. What I have seen today in Tonk district of Rajasthan is extremely encouraging. The way the panchayat has been organized has increased participation, transparency, ownership and accountability. As a result, the various social schemes, in two year time, have transformed the lives of the people, mainly because the elected representatives, especially the women, have a say in how the government programmes are being implemented. For instance, malnutrition, school attendance, health services, pension and foster care services are being closely monitored by panchayat standing committees and the results have greatly improved in a short time.

vajay316 karma

Hi Chhavi, How a Village can function well when the Sarpanch is not allowing any developmental activities in that particular area?

unicefindia7 karma

Thanks, this is Chhavi. By creating awareness among villagers of that panchayat about the various government schemes, will help put pressure on such an individual to deliver. In addition, gram sabhas (community meetings) should be held with greater participation from the villagers to ensure that their demands are met.

doragiusti6 karma

Ms. Rajawat, what do you think that is the role of a sarpanch to prevent child marriage in the community? what would you tell other fellow sarpanch to encourage them to address the issue of child marriage?

unicefindia7 karma

Chhavi here - Yes, sarpanchs and the panchayats collectively can play a huge role in creating awareness and motivating villagers to steer away from the various social evils which have been carrying on for generations, more from the fear of social pressure rather than individual mindsets. The drive to make villages a child marriage free zone has already started and we hope it is successful. In my village, for example, we collectively took an oath against such practices.

ajaytzar5 karma

Hiii, My name is ajay yadav. I would like to ask you following: 1. what steps have you taken in your village so far, as to strengthen the women in village? 2. What are your views about GHOONGHAT PRATHA in villages? Don't you think, it blocks a women's freedom? 3. How good do you think the idea of INTERCASTE marriages may work in villages, to eradicate the caste differences, as told in Satyamev Jayte? 4. Did you try to implement Solar electricity model in your village?

I want reply of my questions. My email address is [email protected] & i aspire to lead the nation. ANY SENSIBLE & LOGICAL REPLY WOULD BE HIGHLY APPREECIATED. THANKS.

unicefindia7 karma

Hello! This is Chhavi. I will try to address first the first question. We have formed different clubs such as women's clubs, adolescent girls' clubs, youth clubs, farmers, etc, therefore, giving each group a platform to raise their concerns independently. This has helped women and girls in particular, who otherwise, may not get the voice they need. In addition, we have tried to empower women and girls economically because we feel that it is only with the value addition to the girls/women that they will be respected. This way they also gain self confidence and self worth.

unicefindia7 karma

It's Chhavi again. Regarding the second question, GHOONGHAT PRATHA came in to protect the women from atrocities post the various invasions India saw, prior to which it didn't exist in the Indian scenario. Over decades it has become now part of the Indian culture and it is more often than not a sign of respect to the elders, especially the parents/relatives in law. The clothing/veil need not necessarily the reason to restrict a woman's freedom. Women behind veils are also known to be bold, provided they are given the support and opportunities to be so.

unicefindia6 karma

Hey there! It is Louis-Georges now. I would like to answer the third question related to inter-caste marriages, which by the way is a great one. Be it India or elsewhere inter-caste and inter-race marriage has proven to be very efficient way to address the social group inequity. But I would like to mention that this is not a rural phenomenon but also happens in urban areas.

pinkjaipur4 karma

how effective do you think are panchayats today? though it was our father of the nation's dream, do you think they are relevant in today's context? especially if we talk about women's issues? do they even have a voice in rural india?

unicefindia5 karma

Chhavi here. I understand some districts and states have done well but from my own observation in my own area, I feel that the Panchayats don't receive adequate support.

unicefindia5 karma

As UNICEF Representative, having visited several panchayats in different states, one can see that there is great potential to empower women, especially regarding to adolescent girls. When they are given the forum to express themselves, they gain self-confidence. I still remember one of the field visits I have done. I saw a 14-year old girl who stood up against her own marriage and was successful in doing so with the support provided by different actors including UNICEF. This is encouraging.

jasonskjonsby4 karma

I know this maybe an inappropriate question but here goes: Recently there have been stories of gang rapes and violence towards women in India. Number 1. Are these long standing occurrences or has the Western media just been focusing on a recent situation? Number 2. In America some studies have shown that girls and women who have been raped or molested is around 25%, Does India have similar statistic or is it better or worse? Number 3. Does the social status or "Caste" of the girls/women have an effect on potential for rape?

unicefindia11 karma

Allo, Louis-Georges here. Good question. Rape is not specific to India, and it happens everywhere around the world, including my country, Canada. It is true that the media has helped to bring the issue to the forefront in India, which is positive. We must seize this opportunity to address the mindset on the low value of women in society, the rampant impunity as well as the fact that one out of three rapes in India are against children below age of 18.

Katsas_pl2 karma

What do you think about 1.2mil annum salary of Unicef CEO ?

unicefindia2 karma

Hi Katsas_pl, thanks for your comment. That's not true. It's a rumor that's been floating around on the Internet about UNICEF USA for years. http://www.unicefusa.org/about/faq/ceo-salary.html

About 90 cents of every dollar to UNICEF USA goes directly towards helping children. You can see their independently verified finances here: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4617

all_who_wander1 karma

Is it true that UNICEF CEO Caryl M Stern earns $1.2MM a year in salary plus expenses, and was given a Rolls Royce? Is it also true that less than $0.05 of every dollar donated goes towards the cause?

unicefindia1 karma

Hi @ all_who_wander, thanks for your comment. That's not true. It's a rumor that's been floating around on the Internet about UNICEF USA for years. About 90 cents of every dollar to UNICEF USA goes directly towards helping children. You can see their independently verified finances here: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4617 And UNICEF USA’s CEO Caryl Stern drives a Prius, not a Rolls Royce: http://www.unicefusa.org/about/faq/ceo-salary.html