Half the Sky

The Half the Sky movement is cutting across platforms to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide, the defining issue of our time. Inspired by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book of the same name, Half the Sky brings together video, websites, games, blogs and other educational tools to not only raise awareness of women’s issues, but to also provide concrete steps to fight these problems and empower women. Change is possible, and you can be part of the solution.

The Series

The Half the Sky project includes a four-hour television series for PBS and international broadcast, shot in 10 countries: Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the U.S. Traveling with intrepid reporter Nicholas Kristof and A-list celebrity advocates America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Gabrielle Union and Olivia Wilde, the series introduces women and girls who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable — and fighting bravely to change them. Their intimate, dramatic and immediate stories of struggle reflect viable and sustainable options for empowerment and offer an actionable blueprint for transformation. The series will premiere in the United States Oct. 1 and 2, 2012, with international broadcast to follow.

This TV series (and the book) provide a great opportunity for individual Unitarian Universalists and UU congregations to develop greater understanding of the global context of Human Rights for Women.  And, with that great understanding, to pursue action steps in many ways – including partnering with the UU Holdeen India Program (donate) and the UU United Nations Office (donate) – both of which are actively engaged with partners around the world fighting for Human Rights for Women.

For more information, please contact the UUA International Office

Celebrating Kathy Sreedhar

Kathy Sreedhar (left) and daughter Anita at the celebration.

Kathy Sreedhar, a champion of social justice in India for five decades, is retiring from the Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) at the end of June. For the last 28 years she has built the program into a major force for grassroots social change in India. She has identified transformational leaders and organizations who are now at the forefront of India’s struggles to build a more just and equitable society. She has also raised wide awareness in the United States about poverty and social justice in India. Her achievements are a testament to the strength of UUHIP’s vision for international grant-making—a vision she was central in creating.

Kathy with students of the Eklavya Parivartan School in Usgaon, Maharashtra

Before serving with UUHIP, Sreedhar was renowned in the adoption community. She facilitated the placement of 1,000 children in the United States from Mother Teresa’s orphanages in India, all the while working as a volunteer. She herself adopted two children from these orphanages and raised them as a single mother. Prior to this she worked as an administrator with the Peace Corps in India and Afghanistan, as well as serving at non-profit organizations in Washington, D.C. She has long been known in Washington as the go-to person for all things Indian.

Ela Bhatt (right) reflects on partnership with Kathy and UUHIP

On May 19th, 2012, friends and colleagues from around the United States and India gathered to celebrate Sreedhar’s outstanding career. Two of India’s leading women’s leaders—Ela Bhatt, founder of SEWA, and Vasanth Kannabiran, founder of the Asmita Resource Center for Women—spoke about their many years working with Sreedhar. Ela Bhatt said that Kathy is known as Sister Kathy to the women of SEWA. “Kathy’s support is not the result of strategic thinking or elaborate program development,” Bhatt, who has known Sreedhar for over 25 years, said. “Kathy’s support is based on two simple things: one, a Unitarian belief in the fundamental unity of all human beings and two, Kathy’s commitment to stand on the side of the weakest. If we need an example of what an individual can do, to make a big difference in India’s poverty or the poor’s ability to come out of poverty, Kathy is a text-book example.”

Vasanth Kannabiran (right) embraces Kathy after delivering her speech at the celebration

Vasanth Kannabiran, who has also known Sreedhar for over 25 years, said, “I can’t tell you how useful it has been to have someone as sharp, as sympathetic, as warm has Kathy has been throughout the years…Kathy, you have been one of the most precious influences in my life. You have been a great support at very difficult moments. And I really love you.”

The same love and deep admiration for Sreedhar was expressed by all who spoke. Kay Montgomery, Executive Vice-President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, said, “I am in awe of Kathy. I don’t know anyone else who has so directly changed so many lives for the better on behalf of the UUA. It’s been a privilege to be a witness to your incredible work.”

John Sommer (right), UUHIP Advisory Board Chair and MC of Kathy's celebration

John Sommer, who has known Sreedhar since the 1960s, served as Master of Ceremonies for the evening. He recounted that he was serving as Dean at the School for International Training in 1983 when a call came from the then executive director of the UU Service Committee. He asked if Sommer had any suggestions on who could lead a new UU initiative focusing on India. Sreeedhar immediately came to mind. “I still firmly believe that recommending you was my greatest accomplishment in life,” Sommer told her at the celebration, though with the caveat, “Except for begetting my children!”

Derek Mitchell, who succeeded Kathy as Director of the Holdeen India Program in August 2011, presented her with an album bursting with tributes, photographs, and stories sent from her friends and colleagues around the world. Mitchell has known Sreedhar for less time than almost all the other speakers, but has traveled extensively with her over the last four years. He told the gathering that even when traveling in the remotest of villages in India, mentioning Sreedhar’s name has elicited recognition and smiles. People do not forget Kathy Sreedhar. Her legacy will continue on in the countless lives she has changed and phenomenal program she has built.

Sreedhar will become Director Emerita of the Holdeen India Program when she retires at the end of June.

UU Holdeen India Program Roadshow

The UU Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) is a powerful expression of Unitarian Universalism’s commitment to social justice. Since 1984, UUHIP has supported organizations of India’s most vulnerable groups as they seek to advance empowerment and promote equity. It is committed to enabling these groups to transform their social and economic conditions in directions of their own choosing.

Derek Mitchell, Director of UUHIP, will be on a trip to the United States this summer to share stories of social transformation at the grassroots level in India. His travels will take him to the following UU congregations:

Derek will speak about the challenges UUHIP partners face in opposing injustice and their groundbreaking achievements. His captivating accounts of social change carry lessons for those seeking justice anywhere in the world.

He will also conduct a workshop on the strategies UUHIP partners pursue to inspire change in India. The workshop will explore the historical and theoretical roots of these strategies, what has worked most effectively, and how the changing scenario in a globalizing India may affect future struggles. He will conclude with a dialogue on how UUHIP partners and Unitarian Universalists in the United States can work more closely together to promote social justice at home and abroad.

A Dinner in Honor of Kathy Sreedhar at the Embassy of the United States in New Delhi

Embassy of the United States Charge d’Affaires Peter Burleigh. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy New Delhi

On October 31st the United States Chargé d’Affaires in New Delhi, Ambassador Peter Burleigh, held a dinner in honor of Kathy Sreedhar, Director Emerita of the UU Holdeen India Program (UUHIP).

Ambassador Burleigh hosted the dinner at Roosevelt House, the historic Ambassador’s residence on the grounds of the United States Embassy. Kathy has known Ambassador Burleigh since his days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal in the 1960s, when she was a Peace Corps staff member in New Delhi. They have remained friends since and she was thrilled to learn of his recent appointment as Chargé d’Affaires in New Delhi.

Joining Ambassador Burleigh to celebrate Kathy’s nearly fifty years of service in India were numerous friends and Embassy officials. Kerry Pelzman, Kathy’s god-daughter, and her husband Patrick Robinson, both now serving in senior positions at the USAID mission in India, were among the guests, who also included Kathy’s sister-in-law, the feminist scholar Devaki Jain, and Indira Jaisingh, Assistant Solicitor General of India and a renowned women’s rights lawyer. Renana Jhabvala, the National Coordinator of UUHIP partner organization SEWA Bharat, was joined by her husband Harish Khare, Media Advisor to the Prime Minister of India. Also present were friends serving as foreign correspondents from National Public Radio and the Associated Press, an artist from Alaska, a teacher at the American Embassy School, and Derek Mitchell, who succeeded Kathy as Director of UUHIP last August. Officials at the dinner included the Embassy Spokesperson and USAID’s Chief of Mission.

The Ambassador’s guests were delighted to discover that he had chosen stunning tribal paintings to decorate Roosevelt House during his residence there. The paintings were created by members of the Gond tribe, with whom two UUHIP partners have long worked. Much discussion during the evening centered on UUHIP’s courageous partners and Kathy’s twenty-seven years working with them. Ambassador Burleigh’s dinner was a heartfelt tribute to her pioneering vision for social change in India.

Incredible Support for the UU Holdeen India Program

Derek Mitchell, the new Director of the UU Holdeen India Program (UUHIP), shares the following update:

During August and September, friends of the UU Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) have shown incredible support for the work of our partners.

An Uplifting Musical Contribution

On August 13th Keith Arnold and David Burrows of the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Colorado held an evening of song and stories to raise support for UUHIP’s work in education. Last February Keith and David spent a month teaching music at the Eklavya Parivartan Vidyalaya residential school for girls in Usgaon, Maharashtra, seventy miles from Mumbai. The school provides an education to 170 tribal girls, some of whom come from tribes with female literacy rates close to 1%. UUHIP partner organization Vidhayak Sansad established the school to change this tragic and unjust scenario, allowing hundreds of tribal girls in the Thane District of Maharahstra to become the first
educated women in their families.

Keith and David are music teachers in Colorado. Keith is Minister of Music at the Jefferson Unitarian Church and David, an expert in woodwind instruments, has been Choir Director at Columbine Unitarian Church and involved in the children’s music program at Jefferson Unitarian Church.  The administrators in Usgaon welcomed Keith and David to spend a month teaching protest songs, in the social justice spirit of the school, spirituals, and flute and assisting the English teachers with their instruction.

I had the pleasure of meeting Keith and David during their time at the school in Usgaon.  They were the model for volunteers. They came well-prepared for the culture, language, and environment that they encountered in Maharashtra and were as eager to learn as they were to teach. It isn’t easy adapting to the chaotic schedules and confusing mix of languages anyone new to India finds, but Keith and David went through it all with a smile!

Inspired by their experience with the students in Usgaon, Keith and David resolved to hold musical recitals in the United States to raise $5,000 for UUHIP’s work in education. That amount would allow one student to attend the school in Usgaon for ten years, from the first grade to the tenth, after which students can go to college in India. The recital in August featured classical songs in French and German, flute music, and a performance of “Silence and Music,” a choral piece by Keith that he conceived while in India. Keith and David also presented on their time at the school and the incredible impact it has on
students’ lives.

I was moved to learn of the reactions to the event and the generous contributions those attended made to UUHIP. Dea Brayden, special assistant to President Peter Morales, sent us her reflections:

Keith composed a choral piece that was stunning. He was inspired by his time at an ashram. That’s where that music began in his head…I can tell you that people were so so moved by the slide presentation and by the videos and recordings of the girls singing and of life at the school. Of course, Keith, David  and I were in tears.

Keith and David followed up this event with another recital for UUHIP at the home of UUA President Peter Morales and his wife Phyllis Morales. They have now raised $3,971 and plan to hold more musical fundraisers, inspired by the impact it will have on educating disadvantaged youth. The UU Holdeen India Program is deeply grateful to Keith and David for their outstanding commitment.

One Young Woman’s Dedication to Education in India

Kathy Sreedhar with students at the school in Usgaon

Early in September, Kathy Sreedhar, Director Emerita of the UU Holdeen India Program, called to tell me that her seventeen-year-old niece Emily Teall was about to donate $10,000 for our work in education! I was overwhelmed by the news. That would allow twenty new students to attend for one year. What had inspired this young woman, still in high school, to make such an incredible contribution? Kathy told me that Emily had always known about our program’s work in India through what her aunt told her growing up and the kind of education that the school in Usgaon provided tribal girls.  When she turned sixteen she surprised Kathy by donating to our program everything her family and friends gave her for her birthday. She also told Kathy that she was celebrating her birthday by taking friends to a speech by Elie Wiesel. She’s quite an amazing young woman!

That year she and her parents made a personal visit to the school in Usgaon. The girls studying at the school greeted them with songs and laughter. Pictures here of the students show just how warm and welcoming their smiles can be! The Tealls saw the plaque outside the school, dedicating the building to Kathy Sreedhar for her nearly three decades of guidance and support to the institution. They also had an inspiring interaction with Vivek Pandit, one of the founders of the school and now a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the state of Maharashtra. He told us later how impressed he was to meet a sixteen-year-old American so dedicated to the education of tribal children in India.

After Emily decided to make her contribution of $10,000, we asked her what had moved her to provide such incredible support to UUHIP. She’s a modest person and didn’t want to discuss her own motivations, but offered these reflections on the responsibility of those more prosperous to support the disadvantaged:

I believe that the difference between haves and have-nots is one of birthplace, luck or opportunity. Those who lead a life of affluence therefore have a moral responsibility to aid those in need. It costs little to those with wealth and could make a huge impact on those without; they in turn will better the world for themselves and for others, both rich and poor…Those with money also have a moral responsibility to aid those without because indifference or inaction sits no better morally than acting against someone.

Emily graduates from high school this year and we have no doubt that she will continue to inspire others with her vision and dedication. UUHIP is profoundly appreciative of her contribution to education in India.

Ela Bhatt honored with Radcliffe Award

Ela Bhatt
Image source: Harvard Magazine

In keeping with a historied tradition of honoring individuals who have had a transformative impact on society, Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study bestowed this year’s Radcliffe Institute Medal upon Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a UU Holdeen India Program partner.

“The definition of leader in SEWA is one who helps make others lead,” said Radcliffe Institute Dean Barbara J. Grosz, quoting Bhatt during her introductory remarks on Radcliffe Day, which took place May 27th.

With a legacy of leading and creating leaders, Bhatt certainly fits the bill.

Empowering over 1.3 million marginalized women in India since 1972, SEWA, under Bhatt’s leadership, has created a social justice movement that’s challenging and changing the very fabric of Indian society, believing that “it is from the margins that real transformation comes to the center.” With its origins as a women’s trade union, SEWA has steadily developed into a self-governed NGO, offering assistance in the form of  microlending, health and life insurance, and child care to its members.

“The Radcliffe Institute is proud to honor [Bhatt] this year, in which gender in the developing world is one of its dominant themes,” the Institute said. The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University is a scholarly community where individuals pursue advanced work across a wide range of academic disciplines, professions and creative arts, with sustained commitment to the study of women, gender, and society.

Over the years, Bhatt has been internationally recognized for her incredible social justice work. Last November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honored Bhatt with the Global Fairness Initiative Award; Bhatt was also the 2010 honoree of the Niwano Peace Prize.

The Unitarian Universalist Association, through the UU Holdeen India Program, has been a strong ally and supporter of SEWA for the last 27 years.

Read Harvard Magazine’s coverage of Radcliffe Day and hear Ela Bhatt’s speech

Holdeen Partner ENSS/SUTRA Receives Changemakers Grant

ENSS/SUTRA A Family of One's Own

The Omidyar Network and Ashoka’s Changemakers program announced UU Holdeen India Program partner Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan (ENSS), a social movement working through Social Uplift Through Rural Action (SUTRA), as a winner of their “Property Rights: Identity, Dignity, & Opportunity for All” competition at last week’s annual World Bank Conference on Land & Poverty.

In conjunction with SUTRA, ENSS works to secure the rights of single women so that they can live with dignity and justice in Himachal Pradesh, India. Widowed, divorced, deserted, and unmarried women in India face unfathomable challenges, suffering in silence while a draconian system of mores strips them of rights and even basic assistance from their own families. With over 6,000 members, cutting across caste and class divides, ENSS has said no more to this systemic oppression.

By forging new family relationships and giving single women a support network, ENSS/SUTRA is demanding long-term lease rights for them from the government. Promoting a new type of “family,” or naya sasural, single women of all ages would be brought together to create a joint household, allowing for a division of labor through interdependence. This new kinship model gives women the opportunity to help one another and themselves by sharing househould responsibilities, childcare, and farming. Through it, they are no longer alone.

ENSS/SUTRA is pushing the Himachal Pradesh government to grant 30-year lease rights to single women. Through such an acquisition, a collective resource will be born and passed on, empowering landless and economically vulnerable single women. To encourage their government, ENSS/SUTRA plans to create a pilot program of five naya sasurals, comprised of 10 single women and their children, to demonstrate the value of this new family model and the importance of long-term lease rights.

The Changemakers competition attracted over 211 entries from 47 countries around the world, engaging a global community of thought leaders, sector experts, and citizens in support of the critical issue of property rights. ENSS/SUTRA, along with two other grant recipients, will receive $50,000, along with access to a broad network of leaders, to further their incredible work in this important field.

UUA hires new UU Holdeen India Program Director: Mr. Derek Mitchell

Mr. Derek Mitchell

It’s a pleasure to announce that Mr. Derek Mitchell will serve as the new Director of the Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) effective August 1, 2011.

For the last nine years Derek has studied and researched inIndia, exploring the causes of social transformation and engaging in strategic planning and evaluation with non-governmental organizations and advocacy groups.

Derek recently served for nearly three years as the Philips Talbot Fellow of theInstituteofCurrent World Affairs. He traveled throughoutIndia, extensively researching the challenges that impoverished communities face through globalization and economic change. This broad exposure has made him a trusted adviser to foundations and research institutions concerned about social and economic transformation inIndia.

With a degree in Religion fromColumbiaUniversityand experience working with the Gandhi Peace Foundation as a Fulbright Scholar, Derek brings with him a spiritual and philosophical understanding of the complexities surrounding social change inIndia. Additionally, Derek has worked with current UUHIP Director, Kathy Sreedhar, for the last three and a half years and has subsequently built close relationships with current UUHIP partners, informing his deep understanding of the program’s approach to social justice and organizational support.

As announced last Fall, Kathy Sreedhar will continue to work for UUHIP in a part-time capacity beginning July 1, 2011 and retire from the UUA on June 30, 2012.

Please join the UUA in welcoming Derek into his new position!


“My Life”

"My Life" composition winner and Dea Brayden, Special Assistant to President Morales

This is an essay by a student of the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK) vocational school in Ahmedabad, a partner of the UU Holdeen India Program.

This student won the “My Life” composition award at her graduation ceremony, which President Morales attended last month on his journey through India. Her composition was translated into English below by Martin Macwan, founder of the DSK school.

In the story of my life I want to tell others that when I was studying in class 7, I had the desire to study further but I could not due to my family’s poor economic condition. There was a day when my family did not have even a single penny. We stayed hungry. My father has only one kidney and he has difficulty hearing. A year and half back my father was admitted to the hospital and his sister had donated one of her kidneys to him. As of now, my father has fractured his hand. These are some of the difficulties in my life.

My biggest difficulty is my engagement which I was not ready for but had given-in to due to the pressure of my parents. After I return home, I want to break my engagement as I wish to study further. I dream of becoming a beautician and earning money for my parents. I want my family to realize that I can contribute too.

When I was twelve years old, I was so anemic that people advised my parents not to waste money on my health and hospitalization; that I should essentially have been allowed to die. My parents were hopeful of my survival, however, could not find people who could donate blood to me. I’ll never forget that while I was hospitalized for twelve days in Jamnagar, one of our neighbors donated blood for me.

I have never been allowed to step out of my house. I have been told repeatedly that a girl should never step outside the house and respect and believe all her parents tell her. Thus,  I believed all what was told to me. After coming to DSK (Dalit Shakti Kendra) I believe that even a girl can make progress. In my family, all believe that a girl should be married off at sixteen. I am not prepared for marriage but my parents believe that a girl at sixteen is destined to be at her in-law’s home. I wonder why only girls have to suffer all these difficulties? The boys have no restrictions.

I cannot select my own dress. If I have to go somewhere I have to seek permission. Why all these rules for me alone? Why do these rules not apply to my brother? After I return home from DSK I want to tell my parents that both boys and girls should be treated as equals and should not be discriminated against. Initially I did not like DSK but today I feel it is my own home. I do not wish to leave from here. On my return home, I want to challenge my arranged marriage. DSK has taught me that I should make decisions for my own life.

I understand that parents like agreeable daughters. After coming to DSK I have learned that a I have a right to have a say about my own life. I have a right to live. On my return home, I want to convince my neighbors to send their daughter to DSK. I will tell them that after going to DSK one gets a new life as has been the case with me. On my return home, I want to setup my own business. I want to become self-sustaining.

Initially all were opposed to my idea of coming to DSK, but I did not believe them. I will convince my parents that girls should be allowed to be free. One of my nieces had eloped with a boy and my parents feared that I too, if set free, would also elope. Parents should trust their children; girls elope when parents do not trust them. Although I shall never elope, I do want to marry the person I choose. I do not want to disrespect my parents but it does not mean that I shall give in to their choice of the boy when it comes to the question of my marriage. It is my life and marriage has to be my choice.

After marriage, do the parents know that the girls are happy with their husbands? I want to ensure for my marriagethat I am happy after the marriage. It is a normal case that initially after the marriage, the girls are treated nicely by the in-laws but often, in the later days, they are beaten and sometimes even killed too. At DSK I have learned that I have a right to live and make progress.

At home, I hated to be a girl. The girls are expected to make all the sacrifices. After coming to DSK I am proud of being a girl. In our families when a girl is born, her arrival is treated as an advent of  ‘Trouble’ for the family. Birth of the son, on the other hand, is an advent of ‘Kuldipak’ (Lamp of the clan). The life of the girl is compared to ‘Jalebi’ (A sweet that is shaped like a spider net, with complicated architecture) but the birth of a son is celebrated by distributing ‘Penda’ a delicacy, which is nicely shaped and known for its taste. Why do our own parents discriminate against us girls?

Everyone in the neighborhood tries to influence me and my parents regarding my marriage. People and my parents question me on my idea of pursuing my education in place of marriage. Their logic is that after marriage the girl has to attend to all household chores and therefore need not be educated. But I do not approve the idea that women have to serve the husband after the marriage. He will order for water and then go to sleep. At every stage, the girl after her marriage is criticized and oppressed. Often she is abused and assaulted. She has to obey everything her father and mother-in-law tell her. Hence I do not want to marry until I am on my own and independent. On my return, I want to tell others not to interfere in my life.

I want to start my small business. I will never be able to forget what I learned at DSK. This is the account of my life thus far.

International Women’s Day: Ela Bhatt Counted Amongst “Women Deliver 100”

Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a partner of the UU Holdeen India Program,  is on the list of top 100 people working to advance women’s lives worldwide.

In line with 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, advocacy organization Women Deliver has announced the “Women Deliver 100,” the group’s list of the hundred “most inspiring people who have delivered for girls and women.”

“This list recognizes women and men, both prominent and lesser known, who have committed themselves to improving the lives of girls and women around the world. Honorees derive from the fields of health, human rights, politics, economics, education, journalism, and philanthropy, and represent a great diversity of geographic and cultural backgrounds,” according to the group.

Included on the list are Michelle Bachelet, executive director of the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or U.N. Women, Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the U.N., Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state, and Andrew Mitchell, U.K. secretary of state for international development.

“I am flattered to be included in the Women Deliver list which recognizes people working hard to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in the world,” Mitchell said in a Mar. 2 statement. “Girls and women are at the forefront of the UK Government’s work to tackle poverty in the world’s poorest countries.”

International Women’s Day takes place on March 8th; this is the 100th anniversary of this special day.