Irada Gautam -Voice Giver Published in Republica 2012 July | Domestic Violence | Violence

Irada Gautam

The Voice Giver Irada Gautam left her comfortable job at an INGO to start making changes herself. Positioned in Surkhet by the INGO, she worked and lived in the region for years and encountered numerous cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse. But almost all of these cases were hushed as it was considered a social taboo to talk about them. Having lost her father when she was a child, this hardworking woman, who had to make her way through life herself working from a very early age, was not the one to be hushed down. Gorkha was where she was born and brought up but Surkhet had become her workplace. There was a certain emotional attachment in that her father had worked there before and she felt a sense of responsibility to the people of the place. She worked in Surkhet and raised her voice against the social issues. “Even mothers were unhappy when they got girl children because they knew their daughters would only suffer,” says Gautam. “There were many cases of domestic violence against women, sexual abuses and even trafficking going on, but there was no one to address these ills on the community level.” She then founded her NGO which she aptly named Aawaj (Voice) to start raising awareness against such malpractices. “It was high time to start prevention. How many victims could rehabilitation centers take anyway? Things had to change at the grassroots level to stop the vicious cycle of girls and women being victimized in the first place.” It was initially very hard, she says. Women and children especially would not speak up about any sort of sexual abuse they faced, especially because the culprits were their husbands or the sole breadwinner of the family. But with massive advocacy campaigns, awareness programs, case study presentations and training representatives from several influential groups in the village like mothers’ group, youth group and such, people started opening up. For all cases, the priority was first to try to solve at the community level through active local participation in mediation and dialogues. In worst cases, they would work to give justice to the victims in court and in the community. “The first step was to listen to their stories patiently. That’s one of the most important parts of counseling,” says Gautam. “Mediating in dialogues, reporting to the police or taking cases to court follow. .” Gautam believes that those who face violence or abuse are the real owners of the problem and thus only they can be change makers. Their job is to only positively facilitate, counsel and guide them through any legal procedure when needed. Now working in Surkhet, Dailekh and Bardia, Aawaj has continued giving voice and courage to suppressed and victimized women and children as well as providing livelihood support through vocational training and economic support for income generating activities.

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