“My name is Saroj. I live in Madhya Pradesh, India and work as a video volunteer. I interview community members and produce videos to highlight local issues and tell stories on behalf of women and girls. I show these to community groups to spark conversation and inspire action for change.
More than 50 households have joined my group from the tribal community and from the upper caste – groups of individuals who would normally not mix.
During our meetings, I usually wear the traditional Sari, but I have started to wear a Gumcha —like the men—to show that women don’t always have to follow the rules. We need to push boundaries to achieve gender equality.
Right after my studies, when I married my husband at the age of 19, I moved to the village where I live now to work on a Government-funded project. When our child was born, I was happy that my husband agreed to stay at home so that I could continue working and doing what I love. My mother-in-law told me that I was never meant to be a stay-at-home mom, anyway.
From 2003 to 2007, I led a women’s self-help group where I taught the community about savings, land and agricultural processes. I also helped them to write applications to the Government in their efforts to grow their businesses. I must have made an impact because it was this very group that nominated me to become a community correspondent for Video Volunteers.
My first video was about gender-based discrimination in newborn and antenatal care services. Women are often forced to have children until they deliver a boy. In the same video, we spoke about the lack of vaccination services in remote areas, and the inadequate and limited antenatal care services that are causing an increase in neonatal deaths.
I uploaded the video to YouTube and shared it with our local health officials. After follow-up, the Government designated more nurses to our local health centres and increased the number of pregnancy-related home visits.
Previously, when you wanted to raise an issue with the Government you had to send a formal letter that would often just remain unopened on their desk. Today, we can send Government officials a video of evidence and interviews of issues impacting families.
I have always worked in the social sector, but never before have I seen the Government listen as carefully as they do now. The villagers have told me that my videos can help them advocate for change.
As a result, I was elected the first ever female village leader.
For example, being a widow raises big concerns in India. In our culture, women are not encouraged to remarry, even though they may have married as a young adult. When a women becomes a widow, she is also asked to remove all of her jewelry, including her Bindi (a colored dot worn on the forehead) and Sindoor (red powder worn on the hairline – the mark of a married woman).
The result of these actions have forced many young widowed women to run away, for fear of losing their rights and liberty to live a free life.
After my community watched the video that I made on this issue, all the women in my village decided to stop wearing their Sindoor in solidarity with these widowed women.
We need female reporters to tell stories impacting women and girls if we are to advocate and push for gender equality. The videos that I produce are evidence of what is happening on the ground. We need to remember our rights so that we can reclaim them!”
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