India (MNN) — Born out of a U.S. socialist movement in 1909, International Women’s Day has become a global platform for the recognition of women and women’s rights. What began as a strike for safe working conditions and the right to vote has become an annual demand for equality in all aspects of life.
That demand is quickly stifled by India’s paternalistic culture. In the world’s largest democracy, to be male is a blessing; females are a curse to the family. Sam*, an in-country ministry leader working with Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India, is surrounded daily by this mindset.
“I was born and brought up in a village where women were treated as sub-standard human beings,” he says. “Parents really don’t want a girl child to be in their family, simply because a girl child [is] a liability.”
Sam grew up seeing women that had skills to work but were denied access to the opportunity. His mother had attended school through the 8th grade and wanted to work for the government.
“The government offered her some employment, but my dad wasn’t for [didn’t want] women to work,” he recalls.
The tide is gradually shifting in India’s urban areas and cities, Sam says. But in rural villages–the areas Mission India serves by partnering with local churches, change is much slower.
“In India today, 176 million rural women are functionally illiterate,” Sam explains. “They cannot read or write, so they feel that there is nothing they can really contribute to the home or to the village or community.
“But when literacy comes into [the] picture, they’re not only able to read [and] write, but [they] also go through a kind of awareness: ‘We are not nobody, we are somebody.'”
Mission India’s Adult Literacy Program helps men and women break free from the chains of illiteracy. During year-long classes, students achieve a 5th-grade level of reading and writing.
“They’re learning [their] rights, they’re into the community, and they’re into the decision-making. They’re able to get some extra bucks by raising their economic situations. Even their own children are giving more respect to these mothers,” Sam adds.
For perhaps the first time in their lives, women learn they were created with purpose and value through Bible-based lessons. Their instructors tell them about salvation through Jesus Christ.
“They realize that there’s a vacuum, and they realize that they need a Savior in their life,” explains Sam.
“In India, a lot of people struggle to come out of sin. They find there is no single solution. But as they go through the books, they find [an] answer for their life.”
A special matching campaign called “She Counts” is helping more women enroll in Mission India’s literacy program. Through midnight tomorrow, all gifts to the program will be matched dollar-for-dollar.