Sakhi Serves South Asian Women in Distress    


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 By Juginder and Dolly Luthra, Weirton, PA

Editor’s note: The Luthras recently attended the Sakhi Gala in New York City. They have three daughters who grew up in Weirton and the Greater Pittsburgh area. Two of their daughters, Rashmi and Namita, living in New York City, are involved with Sakhi. Rashmi Luthra is a Board Member and Namita Luthra was the MC of the program.

As the number of immigrants from South Asia to the United States increased over the years, so did the problems faced by the women who came. Do you know that two out of five South Asian women face some sort of domestic violence — verbal, physical, emotional, or financial?

Although the problems cut across the educational and financial strata, the majority of women affected belong to first-generation, low-income  women who have limited resources and are unaware of their rights. They are isolated from the local community and thousands of miles away from the families they left behind.

For addressing the problems faced by the victims, an organization, appropriately named Sakhi, was founded in 1989 in New York City by five South Asian women. Sakhi, in Sanksrit means “A Woman Friend.” Its mission is to serve the needs of victims in distress from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka as well as South Asians from the Caribbean, and to end the violence against them.  Over the years, the organization has grown in number, in its reach and financial strength. The organization helps the victims of domestic violence, with legal, emotional, educational, vocational and financial support and counseling. Scholarships are given to provide education.

The women in distress are provided with translation services by bilingual experts and access to attorneys for legal issue. Sakhi has a helpline (212 868 6741) for assistance. It has helped women in over 13,000 cases in New York City alone. However, women outside the city can and do contact Sakhi for help and guidance.

The Sakhi Economic Empowerment Program provides opportunities for survivors of domestic violence to develop job skills to obtain financial independence. The program offers computer classes and courses to start small businesses and learn their legal rights. Sakhi also reaches out to the local community to educate about domestic violence and make women  aware of the services provided by Sakhi. The outreach is partly done at religious organizations. Recently, attention is also being directed to reach out to men to decrease the occurrence of abuse in the first place.

Like any other nonprofit organization, Sakhi depends on grants and donations. It was our privilege to attend the 26th Annual Gala called “Building Bridges” held in New York on April 30, 2015. The event was sold out with about 400 supporters, raising $400,000 through selling tickets for the dinner, a silent auction and seeking pledges from the audience. The program’s master of ceremonies, Namita Luthra, said, “An authentic engagement by men to end gender violence is an evolutionary step in the women’s rights movement.”

The First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, the chief guest, announced in her address her whole-hearted support for Sakhi and commended them for their effective assistance for ending domestic violence. She quipped by saying that she told the Mayor of New York City, “If he is not for she, he won’t be for me,” referring to all the women.

One of the honorees of the evening was Penny Abeywardena, New York City’s Commissioner for International Affairs. She has been involved with the global gender justice movement for a number of years. The award was presented by First Lady, Chirlane  McCray.  The Nayar Family was the other honoree. They helped fund the Renuka Nayar Women’s Health Initiative Fellowship in honor of their wife and mother Renuka Nayar, a long-term Sakhi volunteer who died in 2013.

The current board of Sakhi includes women from diverse backgrounds working to eradicate a human tragedy affecting the South Asian women  that are victims of domestic violence.

 

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