Rahul has conducted research on the role of sports in society, and basketball in India and holds a degree in Sport Management. His not-for-profit work experience in sport for development spans a broad range of areas; from working with the NFL’s Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, Ashoka, and USA Football in the United States, to personally delivering sport for development programs in Gujarat as an Indicorps Fellow.
Currently, Rahul serves on the Advisory Board for the Centre for Sport Management at George Mason University.
After working in the engineering and technical fields for 7 years, I decided to completely switch gears and move into the “sport for development space”. In 2009, I decided to move to India for a year and work on a sport for community building project,sponsored by Indicorps. After seeing the transformative power of sport in person (esp when it came to female empowerment), I decided I wanted to stay in this field, and in particular, work with India in some way.
When I learned about Magic Bus, I was amazed that while I had spent a year working on these issues with hundreds of children, they had been working since 1999 and were working with hundreds of thousands of children.
After a few meetings, Matthew Spacie, the Founder of Magic Bus, and I decided that the time was right for Magic Bus USA and the rest is history.
Magic Bus uses community mentors to impart life skills in the areas of gender equality, education, health, and livelihoods to marginalized children and youth – using sport and play as the catalyst for engagement.
Can you talk more about your organization’s focus on empowering girls and work around creating gender equality?
One of the most peculiar things I’ve noticed about female empowerment projects is that they exclude everyone else. At Magic Bus, we realized that to have any enduring change in gender equality, we must involve all stakeholders and it must take place over a long period of time starting at a young age. Teamwork is key to this equation. The default “teams” in society are male and female, and by using sport, we are able to experiment with mixed-gender teams at every level or participation. We have 15 year old girls coaching 10 year old boys…a groundbreaking sight in some communities.
Of our 250,000+ children in the program today, more than 44% are girls, a remarkable figure. Additionally, 98% of adolescent girls in Magic Bus regularly attend secondary school – a testament to the fact that multiple stakeholders believe in girls’ right to education.
When did you become aware of female infanticide and sex-selection in India?
I was aware at a young age, growing up in the USA, but it was just a statistic to me. Through Indicorps, I was able to communicate with young people and really see what the reality looked like 20 years later, when it comes time to attend college, get jobs, and get married.
Do you think Indian girls are still endangered? And if yes, why?
Absolutely. I actually believe things will get worse before they get better. The problem is so deep on so many levels. We send messages of empowerment to girls and their families, but we don’t have similar messages for boys and their parents. Older generations still view things through a narrow lens, and our messages to them are simply “times are changing.”
We will continue to see more and more violence against women in the near future as the “old guard” does more and more to prove their point, that things should remain the way they are.
How do we change the attitude of parents who consider their daughters a burden?
I actually think the parents of girls, for the most part, are already doing quite a lot. If you sit and talk to any of them, they love their daughters and do want the best for them. Unfortunately, we keep asking the parents to take bigger and bigger risks
• We ask parents to educate their girls…but most of the boys in their community, when it comes time to get married, actually view a highly educated girl as a risk.
• When gender based violence takes place, society’s reaction is to create a “safe women’s zone” – which only reinforces that the man has done nothing wrong…
What can we do to make India a safer place for girls?
We need to sell to society as a whole that they will benefit from allowing more opportunities for girls. We need to work together to debunk myths that opportunity is a zero-sum equation and that if you give more choices to women, that men will suffer.
While men get most of the blame for this situation, I think affluent and middle-class women don’t nearly do enough to help their own. It’s a shame that more women don’t treat one another better. You see it within families, you see it with domestic help…you also see it how affluent parents treat their daughters compared to sons.
I think the separation of male and female zones in public spaces is one of the most harmful things, because it reinforces that men and women should not be expected to be able to coexist in a shared space, which is a shame. “Separate but equal” has been proved to be a failed experiment in the USA, and is destined to fail in India as well.
How can we change the way men perceive women in India?
We need to stop approaching the problem so linearly. Assuming that individual men hold the key to the solution limits the other ways in which we can make progress:
Women begin to treat each other with more respect and support the advancement of one another.
Society begins to involve more and more stakeholders in the “gender equality” discussions.
Begin changing the narrative from risk/fear to investment/reward when it comes to investing in a girl or women. Men need to see that having an partner as an equal will make their life better.
All very hard things to do, and will take time.
What are three things you love about India?
The resourcefulness and creativity.
The vibrancy and energy.
The sense of community (this one is a double edged sword, but focusing on the positive right now).
Your favorite quote
“Youth is wasted on the young.”
“In the end it’ll be okay…and if it’s not okay, it’s not end.”