Northern India - The Gulabi Gang started in 2006 by Sampat Pal Devi, and has turned into a remarkable women's movement concerned with pressing issues such as domestic violence, child labour, child marriages, and dowry demands. The group is based out of the Banda District of Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, one of the poorest areas in the country; it is marked by "a deeply patriarchal culture, rigid caste divisions, female illiteracy, violence against women"(1), and many other unsettling practices against women.
The group is popularly known as The Gulabi ("Pink") Gang due to the bright pink saris that members adorn. However, this 'gang' fights for justice; members consider themselves champions for equality who oppose all forms of domestic violence and spousal desertion. The group was initially founded with the intention of punishing oppressive men who refuse to end the cycle of violence. They would accost these offenders, and press them to see the error of their ways; more serious offenders were publicly shamed when they refused to abate their malicious practices, and the Gulabi Gang would beat these men into submission with bamboo sticks. The formation of the gang stemmed from one seminal event: "One day when Sampat Pal Devi... saw a man mercilessly beating his wife. She pleaded with him to stop but he abused her as well. The next day she returned with a bamboo stick and five other women and gave the rogue a sound thrashing."(2)
Today, the Gang has tens of thousands of female members, and also boasts several male supporters, with numerous successful interventions to their credit. The scope of their focus has expanded to include "ensuring proper public distribution of food-grains to people below the poverty line, or disbursement of pension to elderly widows who have no birth certificate to prove their age, or preventing the abuse of women and children."(3)
The gang's mission is to "Support and train women to enhance their basic skills to become economically secure and develop confidence to protect themselves from abuse through sustainable livelihood options"(4)
Violence against women is widespread, and certainly a global phenomenon. It is encouraging to think that even in the poorest areas of the world, where women have considerably fewer rights, less education, and are forced to live in a culture that reinforces a significant gender gap, women are fighting back against injustices. If these women can learn to stand up, and emphatically declare that enough is enough with both words and actions, then surely this ought to be the case for women elsewhere. Hopefully The Gulabi Gang's message of empowerment and strength will reach women around the world, and encourage them to not only start making changes in their neighbourhoods and cities, but also in their mentalities.
For too long, women who have endured hardships have resigned themselves to a defeatist mentality, thinking that their plight cannot be alleviated due to any number of obstacles, from lack of education, to lack of funds, to lack of support. Let these women in Northern India stand out as a shining example to other women across the world, for they are indicative of what we are all capable of, no matter the circumstances into which we were born or currently find ourselves in. Change begets change, and it only takes one person to get things started.
(1) The Gulabi Gang. http://www.gulabigang.in/