September 29, 2017

Renowned Social Activist Visits Oakwood

On Monday, September 18, Gouri Choudhury—esteemed human rights activist and founder of Action India—visited Oakwood to meet with our school’s chapter of Girls Learn International (GLI) and the organizers of The Pad Project. Involved with the autonomous women’s movement in India since 1978, Choudhury has specialized in working with gender issues for decades, initiating and founding new ways of organizing women for collective action and building participatory democracy.

In a joint meeting of the Gender Equality Club, GLI, and the Cultural Awareness Association, she shared her messages about the importance of enhancing the participation of women and girls to claim their full and equal rights as citizens and the ongoing injustices of child labor to an overflowing room of captivated students. She also addressed the entire secondary school community at Town Meeting, standing at the front of the crowd with members of GLI and speaking about child labor and the difficulties that girls in her country often face when they reach the age of menstruation. In that meeting, GLI and Choudhury also screened a teaser for the Pad Project’s documentary.

When a girl in America gets her period, she may miss a class, but when a girl in a developing country gets her period, she may never go to class again.

What brought Gouri Choudhury to Los Angeles was not only a desire spread her teachings to Oakwood and to visit the city for the first time at age 78—a visit during which she did manage to squeeze in a Melissa Berton-escorted trip to the Hammer Museum and a midnight comedy show in Hollywood—but her deep commitment to her partnership with Oakwood’s GLI and their Pad Project, an initiative that seeks to shrink the gender gap in education by making it possible for girls to continue to attend school when they have their period.

As Choudhury shared, when a girl in America gets her period, she may miss a class, but when a girl in a developing country gets her period, she may never go to class again. Because they lack access to affordable and hygienic menstrual products, girls in rural India turn instead to rags, which increase the risk of infection, and drop out of school, sometimes not even knowing what is happening to them.

Stills captured from The Pad Project documentary

The stigma surrounding menstruation and the inability to acquire products that Americans take for granted are obstacles that the Pad Project has tackled. For the past two years, Choudhury has worked with Oakwood students to purchase a machine for the community that lives in the rural village of Kathikera (outside of New Delhi) that can produce pads, employ women, and create a micro-economy.

It was an honor for Oakwood to host Choudhury, an activist on a global scale. Her words were an inspiration to all of us, and we look forward to tracking the success of The Pad Project.