"My name is Gwendolene Mugodi and I am a writer and the founder of Paivapo Storytellers, a movement that aims to provide better access to local, good quality literature to the children in Zimbabwe--and eventually beyond. Our work would not be complete without the help of local artists like Abel Zvorufura who I met through the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. As two different artists we spent about a month and a half going back and forth on this book until we got to a place we were both happy with. I look forward to sharing that full book in a few months, but for now here's a little bit about Abel and why he does what he does."
The Call We Didn't Expect
“H-Hello? No Country for Women?” came a shaky voice on speaker phone.
“Yes,” said Shreena. The monsoon rains had left us both cranky and I was anxious to sleep. It was almost 11 pm. I rolled my eyes at her and whispered, “Dude. Why did you answer that?”
“H-Hi. I am speaking from Bhubaneswar. I am 19 years old, college student. I need your help please.”
Shreena and I founded No Country for Women a little over a year ago in Bangalore. What started out as a humble summer project began to gain traction and grew steadily into its current state: a social venture that has provided gender education workshops in more than 45 educational institutions in India. NCFW’s work is largely preventive: we want to use education to tackle cultural attitudes which trivialize, sanction and perpetuate gender-based violence. We want to help students understand gender as a social construct, and equip them with some of the skills necessary to navigate the heavily gendered Indian society.
All of this is in the hopes that, one person at a time, mindsets will change and there will be a shift in cultural norms. Discrimination and sexual violence will become a thing of the past.
As one might imagine, the phone calls we normally receive are from excited high school students or administrators who want us to deliver workshops for them. This was not one of those phone calls.
“Yes, how can we help you?”
All I could hear was sounds of erratic breathing. Shreena and I exchanged uncomfortable glances.
Finally, we heard: “I just want to tell you something, please.”
Neither Shreena nor I were emotionally prepared at the time to hear this woman’s story. My heart sunk as she narrated to us the details of her brutally violent history of sexual abuse.
“Can you help me?” she asked.
I choked softly on my flimsy words of comfort. We weren’t a helpline. But how were we supposed to cut this woman off, explain to her that we only educated people about sexual abuse, and didn’t actually help women who had suffered from it? How can we claim to make a difference if someone like her calls us and we just turn her away? We frantically tried searching online for resources she could use – helplines, shelters, anything. However, it became pretty clear that we weren’t equipped to help her – she knew it, I knew it, Shreena knew it. She was calling from a small city in a part of India 1,500 km away from us, where gender-based discrimination and violence is quite normalized and prevalent, and there was very little infrastructure in place to help women in her position.
“This has been happening to me for 12 years. No one here will believe me or listen to my story. There is nowhere for me to go,” she said after an hour-long conversation. “Thank you for listening and for believing me.”
Working in sexual violence prevention in India at times feels like a mission far-detached from reality. Too often, I hear comments such as, “Nice work, but you’re not really going to change anything. You should use your resources to make a women’s shelter instead.”
It does feels strange to put so much effort in changing the future when so much is at stake now. I’ll never know for sure, but maybe, just maybe, the work I’m doing now will prevent a case like this woman’s from occurring in a generation or two.
August 11, 2016
June 13, 2016
Lauren Maunus '19 is starting a bold new venture.
Its goal: To help eliminate food waste and bring healthy, affordable food to "food swamps" in Rhode Island and beyond.
March 15, 2016"If little girls like me were saying Barbie is the pretty one and the brown one is the ugly one, that's a problem."
Yelitsa Jean-Charles studies Illustration at RISD with a a concentration in Gender, Race & Sexuality. She identifies as a visual activist, and believes that artists have a responsibility as society’s image-makers. Her doll company and book series, Healthy Roots, combats internalized racism and colorism by getting to the root of the problem: altering beauty standards and cultviating self-love for young girls through education, diversity, and positive representation.
March 12, 2016An Excerpt
Mina is a Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellow. She traveled to her home in Iran last summer and brought back a cultural souvenir: the book she wrote, Taste of Culture. She explores Iranian families, streets, stores and the stories and spirit embedded in the recipes of Iranian food. She hopes to start a conversation about the benefit of knowing cuisines of different cultures to connect societies.
This year's class of Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellows have just begun their yearlong foray into the world of social entrepenuership. Check out their projects here.
December 16, 2015
Ria is a 2015 Social Innovation Fellow and co-founder of No Country for Women (NCFW), an internationally-recognized gender education initiative that aims to combat systemic gender-based discrimination in India. Ria and her co-founder, Shreena Thakore ’16, who grew up in India, were awarded the Projects for Peace fellowship and used this grant to launch the project in May of 2014. NCFW was set up to educate the people in India on gender, rape culture, and misogyny through a series of workshops and initiate informed discussions about social change.
I was inspired by Ria’s story because she was determined to start a conversation about an issue in a country that fights hard to keep such issues silent and hidden. We reflected on Ria’s experiences, her interactions with young people, most of whom had never thought about this obvious form of discrimination before, and her moments of self-doubt and extreme conviction.
October 2, 2015