100+ disadvantaged girls learn to code

By Naomi Menezes, International Representative (India)

A famous African proverb states, “ If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”

However, the proportion of girls who complete five years of primary schooling in India and are literate is 48%, much less than 92% in Nepal, 74% in Pakistan and 54% in Bangladesh. This is a simple but powerful signal that India’s education system is under-performing.

Increasing female access to education has its known positive impact on community health, social and economic outcomes too. Each extra year of school gives women 20% additional income in adult life.  However, empowering the girl child goes beyond the textbook.

This is why, Rinsa Perapadan, a graduate from University of Mumbai’s Social Work program, along with a few friends co-founded Gyanada Foundation – a not-for-profit that creates better educational opportunities for Indian girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. They believe in unleashing the thinking capabilities of a child through creativity, rather than an educational system that is grade driven.

The Binary Story


Founded in 2013, their latest initiative The Binary Story empowers girls by introducing them to computer science. The initiative aims at boosting how children think, not what they think. 

By learning to program – a skill that many of their peers from private and urban schools do not possess – it boosts their confidence and interest in innovation.

The National Curriculum Framework of India in 2005 stated that computer science needed to be a part of every school curricula. However, the educational system has fallen short of this implementation. This is solely credited to the absence of teachers in the field. To fill in the gap, Gyanada Foundation initiated a Fellowship Program that enables young graduates and anyone interested to participate in their initiative and teach young girls to code.

Rinsa fiercely states:

“It is a myth that you need to have a computer science background in order to teach programming. It comes from pure passion and interest. As an Arts student, I started to learn knowing nothing about the field, and I am still learning with no trouble.”

Learning from Scratch

Gyanada Foundation uses Scratch, a programming language designed and maintained by the Life Long Kindergarten group at MIT Media Labs. Through this platform, Binary Story teaches girls between the age group of 11-13 years basic programming skills, logic and systematic reasoning, problem-solving tactics, and enhanced communication skills. Understanding basic computer skills encourages clear communication, creative thinking and working collaboratively.


Before launching the program, the Binary Story team conducted a 6-month pilot run from January to June 2017. The sessions introduced basic computer science concepts through Scratch to 12 vernacular medium girls from underprivileged backgrounds. This enabled the team to measure how language may be a barrier in learning to code. But it didn't pose as big a deterrent as they believed. The students enjoyed learning, coming up with new ideas and taking responsibility for their projects. The girls who graduated are now capable of following scripts and creating videos on Scratch.

Rinsa enlightens us: 

“Most of these girls are under immense pressure from their families to earn money, and taking time off from the day to go to school is considered a waste of time. Low-income families who send their girls to private schools do not necessarily have a healthy neighbourhood. Under such circumstances, a grade-driven approach of teaching them is not the right path. Education or the process of learning needs to be a two-way street, where they enjoy absorbing information and applying it to real-life situations.”

The Power of Programming

The Foundation has seen a huge paradigm shift in the perception of education amongst these young girls and their enthusiasm stands as a strong testimony. They are free to build any project of their choice. Recently, a bunch of street children built a recorder that enables them to learn the correct pronunciation of English words.

The students have also been using their programming power to make subjects such as History that they find boring into interesting chapters. They make simple videos explaining a historic event or a common quiz that the whole class can play, making learning a truly fun process.

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The Foundation has been tracking the overall progress of every girl - social, emotional, physical and cognitive - as this enables them to tailor the program better for each child's needs.  

Currently working with 4 schools across Mumbai and 1 NGO, the Binary Story has been able to reach out to over 110 students. The Foundation aspires to set-up Innovation Labs in each school, and teach more than 5000 girls to code.

Little girls with dreams become women with vision

How can you help Gyanada Foundation?

The Capitalism of Self-Care

“If you’re selling self-care, doesn’t it benefit you to have a consumer who is living in a permanent state of anxiety and unwellness?” — Victoria Buchanan

As you may have read in my previous post on Self-Care for Cynics and Skeptics, I stated how I feel capitalism ties in to modern-day self-care techniques currently perpetrating mainstream media (and society overall). 

Self-care is critical for our wellbeing. However, despite what the media may lead you to believe, self-care doesn’t necessarily mean “treat yourself” to a luxurious day at the spa. Rather, self-care involves a long-term commitment to “develop, protect, maintain and improve … health, wellbeing or wellness.”

While self-care is frequently associated with millennials, the concept has been around for centuries, with ancient Greeks believing it to be integral to democracy. In the 1970s and 1980s, self-care gained political traction as a way for people of color and those in the LGBTQ community to push back at the oppressiveness of society. As Audre Lorde famously said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Simply put, minorities who were habitually overlooked and cast aside by society were taking a powerful stance by putting themselves first: making sure to not work themselves into an early grave, making sure to eat, making sure to be mindful of their personal triggers like hate speech and other attempts to devalue their existence.

Nowadays, if you search #selfcare on Twitter, you’ll find millions of Tweets featuring yoga, hot drinks, self-care kits, and even bath tea—hardly the political act of decades past. From at-home apps (of which the 10 most popular grossed 27 million USD alone in the first quarter of 2018 worldwide) to bath bombs and crystal healing, an increasing number of people are investing in the kind of self-care that tiptoes along the precipice of a certain type of self-indulgence that only the privileged can attain. With articles like Bustle’s “19 Items To Buy For Your Mental Health, Because Self-Care Isn't Always Free” and “Self-care gifts to help ring in a peaceful New Year” on Cool Mom Picks taking social media by storm, though, it’s hardly surprising that more people are financially investing in this type of “self-care.”

The ideas that underpin self-care are perhaps more subtle or subconscious in the marketing schemes of giants like McDonalds, which famously stated in 1971 “You deserve a break today.” Other examples, like “Because you’re worth it” by L'Oréal Paris and Kit Kat’s “Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat” only further illustrate this issue. After all, if you don’t indulge in that special shampoo or spend just $1 for a candy bar, are you even caring for yourself?

And perhaps buying that extra item does make you feel (at least temporarily) better. What’s important to remember though is that self-care is a long-term voyage, not short-term gratification nor the destination, so to speak. Self-care involves a continuous, conscious commitment to yourself that extends beyond the price tag of a green smoothie. So, next time you consider whether to buy yet another day at the spa, try to keep in mind that self-care that hits at the heart of mental (and physical) health and requires time and effort, not necessarily your credit card.

Don’t know where to begin on your self-care journey? I recommend heading over to Dr. Kristin Neff’s site to test your level of self-compassion. (Confused? Have a look at my previous post to learn about the connection between self-care and self-compassion.)

Director's Cut: One of the biggest challenges to feminism

Last year, our Director Madeline hosted 'The Weekly' - a weekly blog post pertaining to feminist issues. This year, it is the 'Director's Cut'. Stay tuned for more blogs from our National Director and Founder, Madeline Price

CW: systemic racism, violence, meninists, rape

In 1963, whilst imprisoned in Birmingham Jail, Dr Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the following passage;

'I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not… the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’

This passage, from the impassioned civil rights leader, demonstrated his frustrations with the social and political moderates of 1960s America – their emphasis on changing the system from within its inherent and systemic constraints, patience and compromise in the face of injustice. This type of criticism of the moderates of society is evident across a wide array of social movements – from historical civil rights to the current #blacklivesmatter movement, from neo-atheists fighting against religious culture in the USA to environmentalist movements, and more. (A whole blog post alone could be devoted to the sheer number of social movements we have had in the 20th and 21st centuries!).

Within all of these movements is a strong pushback on moderates and their views that action done quietly and peacefully and slowly will create change – these movements do not have time for slow, peaceful and quiet change when their members are being killed by the system moderates want them to work within (if we look at the historical civil rights movement and the modern BLM civil rights movement), or their rights are being restricted by the processes moderates do not care enough about to change (if we look at neo-atheists joining with pro-choice organisations to fight bans on abortion globally), or where the world is being destroyed (#aninconvenienttruth).

It is not that moderates are bad people who do not care. It is simply that moderates either have not (yet) been directly impacted by the problems the social movement wants to change (if we look at the situation of white moderates during the civil rights movement) or they have been impacted and just do not believe they possess enough political/social power and will to do anything about it (if we look at those who state that their recycling is not enough to do anything about climate change). They support the idea of the social movement, but do not want to vocally support it, or get involved in creating the change needed. As implied by Dr. King (among others), you are either actively anti-racist (and vocally part of the civil rights movement), or you passively propagate the racist system you live in (if you are a moderate, by not being a vocal part of the social movement), or you are a racist (if you are a racist/against the movement).

When the stakes for you are lower, or you believe you do not have enough power to make a difference – you are more dangerous to a social movement and to wider social change than a racist, or a bigot, or a climate-change denier, or, even, a meninist.

The reason moderates are more dangerous to social movements than those actively against a social movement is simple – supporters, numbers and passion creates change. And if you support a movement but from the sidelines, if you are a lukewarm supporter who says ‘yes, I agree with your premise, but it’s too hard to change a system’, if you are happy to sit back and just wait for social change to happen organically, then you are not supporting the movement because you are, effectively, silent. You are, effectively, passively supporting the structures and systems of oppression that social movements are fighting against.

It is relatively easy to dismiss a climate change denier, or a racist, or a meninist (like that guy who said women could just hold their bladder instead of perioding everywhere so tampons should be taxed). It is harder to convince a moderate to stand up and be counted, so that a social movement can progress and create active change.

And it doesn’t take much to stand up and be counted when we look at the movement towards global gender equality. It could be as simple as recognising that the way you are treating two people differently because of their gender is related to inherent subconscious gender bias. It could be as simple as raising your sons like you raise your daughters. It could be as simple as talking about consent to your sexual and romantic partner/s, or your parents, or your children, or your friends. It could be as simple as calling out or calling in someone who makes a rape joke, or asks ‘what were they wearing?’ rather than ‘what sentencing is the perpetrator receiving?’. It could be as simple as not saying ‘man up’, or ‘the boy hit you because he likes you’ or ‘boys don’t cry’, when talking to children and instead providing positive statements that don’t perpetuate gender disparities and inequalities. When we are talking about global gender equality, it is easy to move from a moderate-passively-accepting-gendered-norms-and-structures to a supporter-of-the-movement. You don’t have to be a radical to not be a moderate, you can simply be someone who does something to not perpetuate active structures of systemic oppression based upon gender.

What is rare though, is a strong pushback on and impatience of the moderates when talking about global gender equality. The simple reason?

The moderate tend to be our friends. Or our family members. Or our politicians. Or our community leaders. Or our teachers, or our professors, or our mentors, or our advisers.

The moderates when it comes to global gender equality, tend to be the people closest to us. And that is why it is hard to get them on board – we still value our personal relationships more highly than systemic and social change (I get that though).

But let’s face it, the personal is political. The movement towards global gender equality is forging ahead, and you’re either vocally with us, or you’re against us.

Untold Stories: Sheetal Jain

As part of an ongoing series created by our International Representative (India) Alifya Loharchalwala, we will be telling a series of ‘Unkahi Kahaani’: Untold Stories of girls who are creating a positive difference in their communities through their work.

Untold Stories: Sheetal Jain

Content Warning: rape, sexual abuse, domestic abuse

“I could have ended up in a brothel like a few of my friends if I would not be sent away to a hostel far away from home at age 13.” - Sheetal Jain, daughter of a bar dancer and sex worker in Kamathipura (Asia’s most infamous red light area).

When you meet this 22 year old cheerful and good humored music-art therapist, you feel in awe of her determined spirit and enthusiasm to create an impact on the life of others. “I aim to design music therapy sessions for girls who have faced sexual abuse to help them overcome trauma” Sheetal says resolutely.

After having hours of conversation with her on life, I realized Sheetal precisely understands the adverse impact that abuse can have because of her own life experiences. Sexually abused and raped by her step father for over six years from the age of six, she has faced multiple forms oppression and violence within the walls of the very institutions that were supposed to protect her.

“I wanted to die because I did not know how to save myself. As soon as it was time for him to come home, I would hide in my neighbor’s house to protect myself, but eventually he would come and find me,” she sadly recalls.

Her alcoholic mother did little to save Sheetal from violence and rape except recommending marriage as a solution to all problems. “I stopped complaining to her, because I was afraid she would send me to the village or get me married,” she explains.

Her school teachers loathed her because of the stigma attached to her mother’s sex work and assumed Sheetal was making up stories in order to cover up for her poor academic skills.

“Instead of helping me, my teachers would pass comments on my background; they often repeated sentences like ‘randi ki beti randi banegi’ which means a prostitute’s daughter is destined to become a prostitute’, I was disappointed with the education system,” she says with a disheartened expression. Ridiculed and taunted for unkempt looks and poor academic abilities, she dropped out of several schools.

At age twelve, abandoned by her mother, Sheetal worked as a house maid for almost 2 years where she was made to work for twelve to fourteen hours every day, and one of her tasks also included buying liquor for her alcoholic employer. “My employer allowed me to stay at her place and provided me with food, but I had to work long hours. I was underweight and was barely able to cope up with her work demands, she would keep threatening to throw me out of the house and I did not have any other place to go to,” Sheetal recollects.

The turning point in Sheetal’s life came about in a very ironic way. Her step father, afraid that Sheetal would expose his crime of rape, forcibly sent her away to a hostel far away from home.

She does not have very fond memories of the hostel but she was able to use this as an opportunity to get away from domestic violence. “Even though, they made me convert to another religion, made me mop floors and baby-sit younger children, I got a chance to go to school and I’m grateful for this.”