Her long road to safety

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Her face bears the gruesome scars of countless beatings, yet she stands strong and says, “Ab main meri Jeevan ke liye ek nayi kahani likhoongi” (Now, I will write a new story of my life) — Vanita

Vanita, a 38 year woman, along with her two children were abandoned by her husband and family many years ago. In due course of time she met a man who became her lover, but he was not ready to accept her children. This led to incessant quarrels between the two, resulting in vicious and violent physical fights as she was not ready to give-up on her children. Situation deteriorated and not a day passed without physical and mental abuse from her lover, who was an alcoholic. Helpless, she finally had to send her kids to a home centre for vulnerable children so that they could live a safe and better life. She also decided then to leave her lover, and support herself. However being illiterate, it was extremely difficult to get a decent job; she started rag picking from the streets of Pune and lived on the street.

Devastated with her life, Vanita started looking for solace in alcohol, and soon became a heavy drinker. Overtime, this led to indulging in injecting drug use. The money made from rag picking was not enough to sustain her drug habits, she started engaging in sex work. Gradually, drugs became a necessity for Vanita making her more vulnerable to violence.

There are so many other women like Vanita, whose lives are fraught with vulnerability and dissonance. India HIV/AIDS Alliance, through its Regional Technical Support Hub (The Hub), is implementing a project in partnership with Sahara Aalhad Center for Residential Care and Rehabilitation in Pune, India, to address intimate partner violence (IPV) and Gender based Violence (GBV) among women who use drugs (WUDs). The project intervenes using the WINGS (Women Initiating New Goals for Safety) model licensed under the Columbia University, US. WINGS is designed to help women from all walks of life to identify the violence that they are facing and help them receive relevant solutions. A number of WUDs has been identified with their stories of hardship in their daily lives.

Through the project, the team was able to find Vanita, and persuade her to be a part of the WINGS project. Though she hesitated at first, she was convinced once she learned that the WINGS team comprised of women, women who are survivors of intimate partner abuse and gender-based violence.
It has been a heart-warming experience to see Vanita go through different stages of the WINGS model in last few months, thus enabling her to become aware of her situation and plan the way forward. Together with the WINGS team, she has been able to come to terms with her past and strategize on ways to keep herself safe from the mental and physical abuse that tend to befall women street dweller and WUD. Also, the peer recruiters of the project is coordinating with the Sahara Aalhad Rehabilitation Centre for her drug treatment. The WINGS counselling sessions are bringing postiive changes in her life, and you can see her once again slowly becoming the strong woman that she is.

Strength of a woman, one like Vanita’s know no boundaries, and their resilience inspires us to continue our work towards empowerment! This International Women’s Day, let us pledge to support women such as Vanita; stand up for their rights, and together put an end to gender based violence. This 2017, let us invest in violence prevention programs and demand that our Government uphold women rights in its entirety.

The author of this blog is Pemu Bhutia, Senior Technical Officer, South Asia Hub

Alliance India