Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is the capital of West Bengal and the third most-populous metropolitan area in India. Widely regarded as the “cultural capital” of India, Kolkata was the center for the movement that led to India’s independence in 1947, but it subsequently suffered from several decades of economic decline due to steep increases in the population, a rise in militant trade-unionism, and a lack of capital and resources. Kolkata’s economy is now rebounding as a result of recent changes in economic policy.
Love Forward has initially partnered with an orphanage in Kolkata called “The Refuge.” Established in 1901, the institution cares for about 300 children. The children receive a good education through secondary school and limited vocational training, but prior to our partnership, there was no opportunity for the students to attend college. Love Forward is working with the Refuge to provide a higher education for the girls who age-out of their institution, who otherwise have extremely limited opportunities apart from marriage. In most cases, they arrived at the Refuge after losing at least one parent to death or abandonment and were at extreme risk without a place to live. Love Forward is also engaged in discussions with other local girls’ homes with regards to potential partnerships.
Recent news articles discuss India’s widening gender gap and the challenges facing women in India. Out of 144 countries globally, the 2017 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report ranks India at 139 for economic participation and opportunity for women and at 141 for women’s health and mortality. A complex web of cultural issues contributes to the situation, but issues of gender bias and the diminished lack of value and stature of women in the culture contribute to the situation.
Violence against women is also a significant issue. One academic study of women in India observed that between 40 and 78% of women in India experience some form of domestic violence (depending on the study). Among those, an estimated 21% experience violence daily. The same study noted that violence against women decreased as education levels increased: “About 42.22% of women with no education had experienced physical or sexual violence, as compared with 16.67% of women with 12 or more completed years of education.” Kolkata is also home to Asia’s largest red light district, Sonagachi.