Edited by: Ananya Khandelwal
In 2010, the United Nations Foundation founded an initiative called the Girl Up campaign to help support UN agencies that focus on helping adolescent girls. The campaign has clubs all over the world—a total of 3300 clubs in 120 countries—that have impacted the lives of over 58,000 girls. It is an initiative that works towards gender equality and women empowerment through various social awareness campaigns, fundraisers and leadership development programs.
Kangan Dhawan, our very own former Campus Correspondent for Her Campus Ashoka, was one of the co-founders of the Delhi chapter of the Girl Up campaign—Girl Up Roar. She tells me, “Founding Girl Up Roar was not something that we had planned. Once, around 2 in the night, one of our friends and now co-founder rang all of us up wanting to register us for this super cool UNF Initiative that she came across on her Instagram Ads. Confused and sleepy, all of us agreed to being a part of it. Little did we know that Girl Up Roar would become such a special milestone in all our lives.” They decided to name their club Roar because they believed that women had a voice that they needed to be empowered to use, a roar that needed to be heard.
“The aim of Girl Up Roar,” Arushi Bahl, the current president of the club and a student of economics at Hansraj College Delhi University, says, “is to initiate conversation and consequently enforce action around building a better future for the woman in our community by creating a inclusive and credible safe space.” They do this by improving the conditions of lifestyle, hygiene, security, education and free will of girls in Delhi.
Girl Up Roar uses a multi-platform approach to tackle these issues, taking to social media as well as on-ground work in order to make a tangible difference. #BooTheTaboo is Girl Up Roar’s first flagship event which was launched on 8th March 2020 in honour of International Women’s Day. This was a fundraiser that promoted menstrual hygiene and awareness amongst the girls and women of Delhi. “We raised INR 3,00,000+ to support the menstrual needs of girls and women across the city of Delhi. We distributed 600+ menstrual kits that contained 12-months worth of sanitary napkins, soap and 2 underwears. We distributed these kits in remote parts of the city of Delhi, right from the slums in Chanakyapuri to the narrow lanes of North-east Delhi. We partnered with 7+ organisations like Goonj, Pinkishe, Kailash Satyarthi Foundation to conduct workshops on menstrual awareness for these women and girls,” Kangan informs me.
Some of the more successful online campaigns that Girl Up Roar has run address themes such as Polycystic Ovarian Disorder (PCOD), gender equality, sexism in Bollywood and intersectional feminism. The club also raises awareness about current events like the state of women in Turkey and Yemen as well as the recent horrific crimes against women in India. Arushi tells me, “My favourite campaign perhaps is the one going on currently, Halt The Assault. It is an online podcast series of people talking about assault and their experiences with it—we had people who were sexual assault survivors talk about their experiences and people who faced body shaming talk about how they dealt with it.”
Working with Girl Up Roar has been a memorable and exhilarating experience for both Kangan and Arushi. For Kangan, it was “the autonomy of making decisions, planning events, and learning from mistakes” that made her experience surreal. Arushi describes her experience as something that has grounded her. She says, “It gave me an opportunity to interact with very diverse kinds of people within Delhi itself and recognise and introspect on the privilege I have.”
Doing this kind of work, however, can sometimes be hard. Kangan explains to me the logistical hassle of managing the schedules and meetings of club members from different universities. It required an immense amount of coordination and planning in order to get the group working collectively. Another thing that Arushi brings up is the kinds of circumstances that one sees doing on-ground work. “I think the major lows were seeing the deprivation so up close. I think as privileged youngsters we have seen deprivation only as concepts in textbooks, but to see it so up-close was certainly a low for me, it made me a lot more motivated to do more for women as a community and made me realise the intersectional approach that feminism must have to be effective,” she elaborates.
Unfortunately, Girl Up Roar’s ability to work towards its goal has been somewhat hindered by the ongoing pandemic. On-ground work, which is so crucial to reaching out to a wider audience, has become an unavailable mode of spreading awareness and providing help to women. Arushi tells me, “As students, it is almost impossible for us to collectively step out to do ground work in these difficult times.” Girl Up Roar is resilient though. Their efforts have not stopped during lockdown—they have simply found a new focus. “We have shifted most of our campaigns and advocacy initiatives online and decided to do online campaigns, Instagram live sessions and discuss contemporary issues through our social media till the pandemic eases out,” Arushi explains. Going forward, Girl Up Roar plans to continue to work on creating meaningful conversations—online and offline—on prominent issues such as feminism, body shaming, the importance of consent and many others.
The members of Girl Up Roar work tirelessly to achieve their long-term goal of gender equality. Arushi says that they have certainly made an impactful start and Kangan adds that on a short-term basis they have met their goals of promoting education, hygiene and health of underprivileged girls and women as well as generated awareness about these issues through their offline magazine—The Outroar—along with other various campaigns and online events. Girl Up Roar knows that it has an uphill battle ahead. Kangan declares, “We are nowhere close to done. But, we are ready to work for as long as it takes to reach our long term goal of gender equality in the country.”