Rozy Khedoo – Mauritius

Rozy Khedoo – Mauritius

Date: May 29, 2012
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My position as a Councillor has made me understand the suffering of so many vulnerable women, and Gender Links has changed the way I respond to them. I am a village Councillor in Baie du Tombeau, which forms part of the District Council of Pamplemousses/Riviere du Rempart. I was the first woman to become the Vice Chairperson in a District Council which has always been dominated by men. In my district, I have worked on GBV in many capacities. Once, I sat in a brothel for two long days not because I wanted to know the function of a brothel but because I had to get two young girls in their early teens out of the hell of prostitution. I fought and I won. The two young girls who were both raped when they did not even know what sex meant are now working, and the brothel has now been dismantled.

I have been consistent in helping women in my village since I was first elected as Village and District Councillor in 1991. My constituents come to see me on a daily basis. My doors are always open. Even when I cannot help them personally I know where to send them. I am able to make a difference because I know my region by heart. I know every single street and know where help must be given. The main problems of these women are poverty and unemployment. I was shocked when in 2004, together with other people I did a survey and found that 50 young girls from the age of 13 to 16 had babies in their arms with no place to go. I realised that there should be more shelters for women in Mauritius. My dream is to open a shelter for vulnerable girls and women.

Some of my most positive professional experiences have been going to Gender Links workshops. I was doing a lot for my community, but at village level and not at a national level. Joining the Gender Links team to help with workshops on gender and local government all over Mauritius has made another person out of me. I could talk in front a big audience without my voice trembling. I could share my experiences and stories as a councillor, and most of all I could help participants draft their Action Plans on Gender Based Violence. I had on the ground experience and Gender Links gave me the tools and the techniques to connect this to other contexts. Through Loga Virahsawmy, Gender Links gave me the chance to go to South Africa twice to follow trainings on Gender and Local Government. I felt empowered taking part in the workshops and meeting participants from the region.

Now, I always help Gender Links in workshops at the local level; especially in villages. Recently I organised a workshop for women in politics. The outcome of the workshop was an electoral manifesto and a list of candidates for village elections. I would love to connect with Gender Links more often and do more follow up, especially after a workshop is done; I regret that there isn’t always more frequent communication, because we really experience the impact of GL’s work.

Gender Links helped me gain confidence in myself, and look at me now; I am not only a politician doing tremendous work for my region but I have come a long way. I am the Director of a School “Ecole de la Vie” (School of Life) for vulnerable children. These children were on the streets, sniffing drugs to fill their stomachs since they did not have food to eat. Most of these children are from broken homes; their parents are in prisons, their mothers are sex workers or on drugs or some of them have been rejected by families because they are pregnant. They have never been to school. I try to earn their trust, and very slowly once a relationship is built, I teach them to read and write.

My school gives these children a chance of a life time to live like any normal children. At least I know that the 57 children that I have can wear clean clothes, get the basic educational necessities and have at least two good meals a day. Up to now I have trained 200 children. I have two trainers, one school clerk, one cook, and I also get a social worker and a psychologist regularly who work with the children as well as the parents.

Telling my story has been a great source of pride for me; I like to think Gender Links has given me the platform to inspire others in their work. When I share my experiences, maybe other people say, “Rozy can do it, why can’t we do it?”

I will never forget the day when I disguised myself as a man to be able to see with my own eyes what was happening to all these girls who were being picked up by men in my region. Teenage pregnancy is rife in my region and over and above that, I knew young girls were being raped and made pregnant. They do not know what to do with their babies. I heard and saw two or three women sympathizing with these girls by telling that them that they could be given night jobs while their babies would be looked after. I wanted to know what these night jobs were, as I knew there was something fishy about men picking up these young girls and putting them in private cars. For me this is a kind of unofficial trafficking that we cannot close our eyes to. Disguised in a male costume, a male friend of mine agreed to accompany me. One night we followed one of these cars, which took us to a discotheque in the North of Mauritius. The horrors I saw cannot be described. Some girls were even having objects put into their sex.

I have always worked with grassroots women, and their experiences have been a source of inspiration for me. The 2011 Gender Links workshop on women in politics gave me more insights on how to organise my group of nine candidates, and put more women than men forward as candidates. I am using the new Local Government Act which stipulates that there must be at least 30% women or men as candidates to encourage women to stand in elections.

I aim to be a model for HIV positive people who are injecting drug users. I am a leader of the needle exchange programme that the Government of Mauritius has put in place. I encourage my clients, both women and men, not to share dirty needles, and I give them clean needles. By knowing how to talk to them and gaining their trust, I have been successful in sending a few people to rehabilitation centres. I give two hours of my time weekly on this project, which is very close to my heart. My village is now a model for Mauritius. My colleagues and I have worked in all the streets of the village to make sure that injecting drug users are using clean needles and I am proud to say that there are no new cases of HIV in my village.

The best impact of my work is when children leave my school and fend for themselves and their families by finding decent work, with a reasonable salary.



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