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#GirlsVoices: Roma, challenging gender stereotypes

21-year-old Roma is a graduate of Plan International’s Saksham project, which provides job orientated vocational training for young people aged 18 to 29 from poor and disadvantaged communities in Delhi.

Roma is a keen advocate for girls' rights

Saksham is challenging traditional gender stereotypes and discrimination, by sharing information with parents, communities, and employers about gender equality, equal opportunity, and economic empowerment of young girls.

We spoke to Roma about what life’s like for girls in her community, and how her life has changed since she found a job.

What’s life like for a girl growing up in India and in your community?

In India and in my community, girls are not provided with equal opportunities in comparison to boys. They are always dependent and their freedom of movement is very restricted. Girls are told to make sacrifices and compromise in every situation. The ultimate goal of most girls is decided by their parents, and it is to marry as soon as possible.

What do you think needs to change to make sure girls and boys are treated equally?

First of all, the mentality of the community needs to change. Everyone must realise that girls and boys should be given equal opportunities, because they both play a central and vital role in the development of their country. Traditionally, parents invest in their sons because they believe that when growing old, their son will support and take care of them, whereas girls will be married and care for their own house and family. The government should provide a safe and empowering environment for girls by promoting their value to the population.

Why is it important that young people like yourself are able to get good jobs? Was it difficult for you to find a good job?

Getting a good job is the only way for us to get the experience we need to become accomplished and independent adults. Young people who have jobs are more independent and more confident.

When I had to quit school three years ago because of my family’s economic difficulties, I had a really hard time finding a job as I had no qualifications or skills. I was really disappointed and starting to feel desperate. Then I finally got the opportunity to do training through one of Plan International’s youth economic empowerment project that would help me find a decent job. Thanks to that training, I now work in a big jewellery outlet as sales executive.

How has your life changed since you are employed?

The biggest change in my life since I started working is that I managed to save enough money to start studying again. It was a real moment of pride for me. If everything goes well, next year I will be able to pass my Bachelor’s Degree. It’s been two years now since I have been working. I am more independent because I can take care of my own expenses, make my own decisions and also support my family.

What does your family think about what you have achieved?

My family is very proud of me. I supported them when they were in need and I am still supporting them today. My parents often ask me for advice before taking any decision related to household expenses and financial matters. For example, when my father had taken a big loan from his employer a few years ago, I advised him and helped him to pay it back, and he followed all of my advice. I also guide my siblings with career choices. I am much more confident now that I can take care of myself and my family.

Do you think it is important for young people to be asked for their opinion about things which affect them? What would you change in your community if you could make the decisions?

Children and young people need a platform where they can express their views and ideas. As they live in the community and are part of every challenge, they can play an important role in providing the solutions. If given the opportunity, young people can become the agents of change in their community and country.

If I could make decisions, I would make sure that all girls get an education and opportunities matching their skills. I would also create opportunities for boys and girls to interact and work with each other. Finally, I would try to ensure that boys and girls respect each other.

What do you think would change if there was a girl who became president in your country?

If a girl becomes President of India, it will motivate other girls – they will start believing that they can too become president or anything else they want in life. Parents will be more likely to support their daughters and to believe that they can do well in life. It would provide millions of girls, currently forced to live under repression and neglect, with wings to take new leaps of emancipation.

More than anything it will provide us all the ray of hope that we can expect more girl friendly schemes and services, better access to quality education and employment opportunities, provision of women-friendly spaces, more safety nets, and higher representation of women in all sectors.