International Women’s Day 2017 marks the one-year anniversary of a great feat of female empowerment. One year ago, Yogendra Bangar, 41, founded a school in the Phangane village, India where its grandmothers are able to go and learn.
In the Maharashtra state in India, a country where women are nearly a third less likely than men to be able to read and write (UNICEF.org), Yogendra Bangar, decided to found a school for elderly women in the village after they expressed the desire to learn to read. In particular, the women wanted to be able to read about the life of 17th century king, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, whose life is celebrated by the village each year. Every afternoon, except Thursdays, the grandmothers wrap pink saris around themselves, pack their abacuses and chalkboards into their bags, and make their way to school where they are able to learn the alphabet and how to count. Bangar commented “It is said that women have to be respected on Women’s Day, so we thought that our grandmothers, who until now have not received respect, shall finally get the respect they deserve,”. Bangar goes on to affirm that “The people of our grandmothers’ generation did not get any opportunity to go to school.”
The oldest student at the school is 90 years old, named Sitabai Deshmukh and walks to her lessons with her youngest granddaughter, eight-year-old Anushka. She commented “Never in my long life had I thought I would get a chance to go to a school… When I was young, my family was poor and girls didn’t have the chance to go to schools. I have had a new life for the last year.”
The documentation of the grandmothers learning has been taken on by photographer Satyaki Ghosh, who has followed the journeys of these women to literacy. Her colourful and vibrant photographs capture the dynamic positivity and enlightenment surrounding women in education, photographing their smiles and enthusiasm within the classroom.
Although some of the women complain that they sometimes forget what that have been taught, have trouble with their eyesight and other physical ailments, their dedication to learning is a lesson of female empowerment and an example of how a community thrives when women, of all ages, are treated with the respect and given the opportunities they deserve. The impacts and benefits of female education are numberless, as the school’s founder agrees “If a woman is educated, the entire house becomes educated as she brings knowledge and light to the house”. International women’s day is about empowering women in order to aid the progression of women’s education, rights and opportunities. It is perhaps more important to recognise that such milestones cannot be reached in a secluded, western form of feminism, and the Phangane grandmothers provide an example of feminism that knows no boundaries of age, race or ability. When women are given the opportunity to learn, we all move forward.
Image: The Wire, https://thewire.in/114485/women-education-grandmothers-school/