Gisele Bolton

Gisele Bolton (Vikalp Women’s Group in India and CONCERN in Nepal): Prior to her fellowship, Gisele earned a BA from the University of Minnesota and an MA from City University London. Gisele volunteered in Honduras and Kenya, where she taught English and developed a connection to children with special needs. She also interned in the US with The Advocates for Human Rights and The Nonviolent Peaceforce. After working with transgender people at Vikalp, Gisele wrote: “One size doesn't fit all and we must always remember that.” About her fellowship at CONCERN she wrote: “(It was) enriching both professionally and personally! I always felt very supported and learned so much more about grant writing, fundraising, communications and development. I feel that is an area I'd now like to work in.” After finishing her fellowship with CONCERN, Gisele accepted another job in Nepal.

First Day At The Vikalp Office: A Special Case

14 Jul

The Vikalp office is a busy place constantly humming with energy – people coming and going with various questions, concerns, reports, or to just stop in and visit. One of Vikalp’s main charges is to support the village women in continuing to hold court cases that allows marginalized women access to the legal system

On my first day Yashoda one of the main leaders from the women-led court Nari Adalat, came in for monthly reporting. Nari Adalat is one of the first legal courts that Vikalp created a partnership with. Nari Adalat runs independently and is considered a close, successful partner to Vikalp. The court currently handles over 100 cases a year, and the number continues to grow.

Monthly reporting to Vikalp includes: stating how many new cases have been filed, the number of fact-finding missions that have been carried out, the number of cases that have been resolved, and how many cases remain unresolved and open.

After discussing some notes, Yashoda intently put down her large notepad and began to passionately explain a case that has remained open for some time – a case that has left the women of the court unable to come to a comfortable solution.

She describes a village woman in her early thirties looking for support and resolution that came to her five years ago. The young woman was divorced from her husband two years into their marriage because he refused to provide for her and their daughter. The mother is asking that the daughter go and live with the father. One of the main goals of the women’s court is to encourage a settlement with the woman’s perspective in mind, but in this case the court is having a difficult time granting her request.

This case is not simple. It carries with it a set of unique circumstances that aren’t often seen or talked about in this community. The daughter of this woman and her estranged husband is a seven year old with profound special needs. She cannot walk or talk and requires 24 hour care. The mother bears the sole responsibility for the care of their daughter financially, physically, and emotionally.

The State provides very little as far as financial and medical assistance, and it is very difficult for those, especially in rural areas, to access this assistance. In India, most special needs children do not receive a formal education and they are often segregated from mainstream schools and social activities. There is a stigma associated with people of special needs, and they are often outcasts of the community. Obviously this not only hurts and violates the rights of those with special needs but also the family members caring for them.

This woman is confined to the home – isolated – unable to live her own life in many ways. Her parents are too old to help and her only brother has three children of his own to care for. With little financial and emotional support, and no one willing or able to provide her with assistance – she is completely overwhelmed.

She would like to remarry but because of the stigma of people with special needs, it is highly unlikely that she will find someone accepting and willing to take on such responsibility.

The court will not put this young, vulnerable child with father because he lives with his father who killed his own daughter.

The child must be protected and the safest option is to live with her mother. The court has decided that the father should pay money to the mother each month to help with the child.

But what about this woman’s rights?

Although more financial support will provide some relief, she will still suffer the emotional fatigue and isolation of caring for her daughter alone. She will be unable to find companionship, a livelihood, a social life…

Day in and day out she alone will carry the weight of her child’s very special needs.

Posted By Gisele Bolton

Posted Jul 14th, 2014

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