This is my story. A young woman who lives the life at the fullest, taking each day as full of learning opportunities, whose quest is to make this world a better place for every human being especially for young women. I, Priyanka Sheoran, comes from a middle-class family in Delhi originated from Haryana. Haryana is the state where the sex ratio is the most skewed in India. I was fortunate to have born to parents who never treated me any less than her brother. I got equal opportunities in terms of education and any other choices. It is in 2013 when I started traveling alone and realized that a new world of learning and growth has opened for me. I got exposed to new cultures and understood women’s position in different cultures. That’s when I realized while comparing that men in many cultures are preferred over women. This is something kept bothering me wherever I traveled.
In 2015, I decided to work in an organization working for education of Sahariya tribal children in a remote village in Madhya Pradesh. While working there, I tried my best to provide space for young girls to learn and grow equal to their fellow male friends. Seeing males taking part in the cricket tournament happening in this school every year made me question whether girls want to take part in the cricket as well. I consulted with the girls to get their views and realized that no one ever asked them about their choice when it comes to sports. That’s when I decided to start a cricket tournament for girls as well. The same has become a normal sport for girls in that area and every year, hundreds of girls from government schools take part in the tournament. This achievement was just a starting point for me to make the existing space equal for all genders. I also worked on understanding why many girls enroll and don’t come to the school regularly and realized that because of parents’ insecurity of traveling long distance, they are kept in the homes. I discussed the problem with the girls and their parents and came to a solution of providing bicycles to these girls who come from long distances. This was something impossible to get my team and donors convinced on providing bicycles for these young girls but finally, I made it possible! I got funded 30 bicycles in two years time for 30 girls in the school and made sure they attend school regularly.
During this time, I decided to take these little achievements to a much larger scale. With the idea of establishing safe spaces for young women where they can share their life challenges, achievements and support each other, I applied to the kanthari leadership training program in Trivandrum, Kerala (www.kanthari.org) where I learned how to go about this idea of establishing safe spaces for young women. In the course of 7 months, I developed this idea understanding the root problems that Indian women face and their needs.
BAYA- Be As You Are (www.bayaindia.org) is the result of my immense work in the kanthari institute for social change. BAYA aims to provide self-empowerment programs for young Indian women. The aim is to bring women together where they can learn about various issues related to themselves, e.g. Sex education & reproductive health, life skills, Self-defense skills, leadership development, conversations around sexual assault scenarios, etc. The core aim is to provide practical and emotional resources; as well as a safe space & support system of trust and openness which these young women can carry throughout their lives and reach out whenever they need.
Recently, I spoke about my plans as BAYA in an event, kanthari Talks 2018, where I gathered huge support from the audience. The aim is to create safe spaces and support networks for young women where they talk about their life experiences, challenges, experiences of sexual assault and learn to act in situations of assault. I envision young women venturing out alone confidently and taking independent decisions of their own bodies and rights.