After working in domestic violence for many years, co-founder Minal Dani began to notice several commonalities among the women effected by the violence. Again and again, she observed low levels of education (many forced to drop out of school as early as the 5th standard), teen marriage (arranged by family before the girls had reached adulthood), and child labor (working to support an economically struggling family). Until this point, ASHA’s work had centered around reactive practices – responding to each of the challenges women in domestic violence situations were facing. By recognizing the commonalities amongst these women, however, ASHA was now able to expand their work to include preventative practices. Thus the Girls Empowerment Program was born.
Located in the Janata Vasahat slum of Pune, the Girls Empowerment Program is designed to provide 360 degree support to girls. The ultimate goals is to remove and reduce the barriers that lead girls to teen marriage, school drop out, and child labor. The primary focus is on education; the ultimate goal being to help the girls to attain the level of education they wish to achieve in order to secure the vocation of their choosing. Supports include: financial support, thus freeing a child from labor; parental assistance to single-parent children; group and individual tutoring/counseling to foster the child's education; and general life skills like nutrition and hygiene. Additionally, ASHA provides for material needs like clothing and school supplies, thus reducing the “burden” of the child on her family. And finally, ASHA provides regular field trips to local or distant locations. These trips are educational in nature, however, they also endeavor to boost the girls’ sense of self as they realize they are important enough to have exciting and meaningful life experiences. Field trips have included visits to the theater, museums, and historical sites.
Since 2011, ASHA’s program has helped 38 girls to achieve post-secondary education. Assuming some of these girls would have otherwise dropped out by 5th standard, this means the opportunity for an additional 9+ years of education was supported through ASHA’s intervention. Each year the program supports approximately 85 girls ranging in age from 10 to 21 years.