Mauritius: Sheistah Bundhoo

Date: September 19, 2018
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“Life lessons are well-learned through trails.”

I applied at Gender Links to be able to do an internship after completing my degree course in Bsc Sociology (Specialisation: Gender Studies) with a first class degree from the University of Mauritius.

One of my most memorable experiences with GL is when I first went to take testimonial of gender based violence victims. I never thought that I could get to hear those testimonials. The story that I took was that of a lady who was forced to get married at 13 even though at that time she did not had her first menses. I could not resist shedding down tears with her when she narrated the life she has been living. From then on, each I-story I took brought me to get a deeper insight of violence. I believe that some people simply know the term ’violence’ as an act of discrimination against someone by inflicting pain on the latter. But my internship at GL brought me to think otherwise. Violence was most deep rooted and I even found myself counseling people and encouraging them to live and see the positive features of life after some time spent at GL. I could explain to people that violence and discrimination are abnormal and should be stopped if we start by refusing to be perpetuators. In this sense, I was able to sensitize many people as well within my locality and those that I get to meet each day and talk about my experience at GL to them.

My learning journey with Gender Links started well before I joined as an Intern. When I was at the University, I used to quote the works of GL in my assignments and projects. When I started as an intern in August 2014, I was more exposed to the works of GL. My first journey started with taking I stories for women victims of violence. I was really shocked to know that one over four women in Mauritius has known violence. While taking I stories and filling surveys, I also noted that women were not aware of the different forms of existing violence. As part of the GL team, I have known the groundwork done by GL to get data to publish. I had the opportunity to form part of different workshops done by gender links for gender based violence survivors and for the different local authorities as well. I became has a close knowledge of people’s attitude by doing the surveys of gender links in different localities and I also had the opportunity to educate people on their rights during the 16 Days Campaign 2014 which has as major them the emphasis on human rights.

However, I must agree that while doing field work, nothing is a bed of roses. There is a constant need to get people to agree to fill out surveys, for instance. I also noted that several people preferred to put a blind eye to gender matters because they think that it is something reserved for women only and which means that we are fighting only for women. I did has a hard time to get people know about the real mission of GL and why GL sets out to work with both men and women and subsequently I was able to instruct them on the importance of trainings and workshop which can help to sensitise people and change mindsets.

My internship experience at gender links changed my life and myself undeniably. Having been vastly exposed to the realities of life by knowing the personal statements of people, I felt grateful to God that I do not know such misery. But not knowing such miserly for me did not meant ‘outcasting’ certain people. I pledged to myself to help those in need and make people aware of what is violence and how can they overcome it. I saw how the country manager, Ms Anushka Virahsamwy would help people and take time to advise them. I always followed the same path.

My country manager, Ms. Anushka Virahsawmy would also always say that ‘if we fail to plan, we plan to fail’ and this became one of my biggest mantra in life. I cannot dare to disagree that I became a more organised person when I joined GL. Each day I draft my working plans with a deadline and I work accordingly.

My lifestyle at home did change automatically as I joined GL. I now teach almost all family members the essence of Gender Equality. My father has special interest in the works of Gender Links and each evening back home, he asks me about the work I did during the day. He also reads the publications of Gender Links. As for my mother, she helps me in filling out knowledge and attitude surveys by asking her friends and neighbours to do the same. I was also surprised about how she instructs them about gender issues. As I am a Local Councillor I have been able to sensitise people about gender issues and the need to act to end gender based violence and stereotypes. During the 16 Days Campaign, I shared postcards to people in my locality and told them about the need to act against gender based violence when they are familiar to it.

I also had a meeting with ladies in my locality who take entrepreneurship courses and had the opportunity to talk to them about human rights. It has been noted that in Mauritius, many people are not aware of their rights and they do not assume as important to familiarise them with their rights; this applies mostly to women. Also women are not so much exposed to media information in rural areas of Mauritius.

I have the opportunity to meet several people in my locality and within my council itself to talk to them about the importance of having a gender approach to policy formation. In my council for instance, I being the only girl elected, I make sure that we do a proper gender based budgeting each year and that we mainstream gender in each activities and events organised by the Council.

I wish to sensitise more people both within and outside my locality. Meeting people, talking to them and initiating them to take actions along with acute follow up and monitoring will make a huge change according to me. It will take time for sure but if this step is followed the mindset of many can be changed.