Shattering the White Saviour Complex and Celebrating Women in India

After nine years of running programs, Operation Groundswell has worked with some incredible organizations on projects that have shaped, changed, and motivated everyone involved. 2015 was no exception; this past year we saw more projects that inspired participants, encouraged partners, and positively impacted communities around the world. We’re excited to highlight partners that truly capture the spirit of OG and show the scope and scale of our projects, while also thinking critically about our impact on the ground.

For the past three years, Operation Groundswell’s Gender & Religion program in India has been involved in organizing a speaker series to highlight the inspiring work of our partner organizations in Delhi and the surrounding area. For two days, our teams engaged with activists and grassroots organizations driving change within their local communities and beyond.

This past summer’s conference was especially illuminating as speakers from various backgrounds and expertise gave our teams a real awakening on what women’s empowerment looks like on the ground in India. Local activist Seema Baquer, for instance, spoke to us about the fight to improve accessibility and the overall quality of life for women and girls with physical disabilities while Kamalpreet Kaur from Thrive Seed taught us about the challenges and opportunities that lie in improving girls’ access to education. The YP Foundation, a youth-led organization that supports and enables youth to create programs and influence policies in the areas of sexuality, health, education, and the arts, also shared their experiences with us. We  had the opportunity to hear from Aarti Jaiman of Gurgaon Ki Awaaz, a radical and democratic community radio station that seeks to amplify the voices of those living in Gugaon. Finally, we had Dr. Jyotsna Chatterji of the Joint Women’s Programme share lessons about the issues of child marriage and sex trafficking and the crucial work being done to put an end to such abuses.

Each speaker presented on their subject of expertise as it related to gender and religion, opening the space for all those in attendance to reflect on these pressing issues. Most importantly, the conference celebrated the women working tirelessly to effect change in their community, forcing our backpacktivists to critically assess preconceived notions of “victims” and “saviors”. As one of the first activities on our program, our teams quickly come to the understanding that the very people typically thought to be in need of our help are already helping themselves in more and deeper ways than we ever could. Moving forward, our teams engaged in interactive discussions on ways to fill the various knowledge gaps in India and back in our home countries, as well as the ways we could all work in solidarity towards a more equitable and just society.

Building critically informed travelers who actively interact with and impact the world around them is the foundation upon which Operation Groundswell was built. The Delhi Speakers Series transforms our India: Gender & Religion participants by showing that our role as Western volunteers is not to save anyone, but rather to support the work that is already being done by our incredible partners. The Speaker Series is essential as it builds solidarity between our teams and our partners, deeply challenges the ‘white savior complex’, and creates a space to highlight the power of the incredible women who are working toward a better future for themselves and their communities.