For over 2,000 years, thousands of girls have been illegally forced into ritual sex slavery. Girls are dedicated to the goddess Yellamma in a marriage-like ceremony and thereafter known as Joginis.
They are dedicated and ‘initiated’ without their consent, and usually have no knowledge of what becoming a Jogini will involve. After reaching puberty she becomes the property of the village and can be used by any man, anywhere, anytime; trapped in a life of sexual servitude.
It is estimated that there are over 100,000 Joginis. Sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and ill-health are rife, mental health issues and depression are rampant and dignity is non-existent. They are stigmatised and abused physically, sexually, emotionally and financially. Most are illiterate, struggle with substance abuse and live in extreme poverty.
Watch the video below to hear about Nagamma, one of the many women whose life was changed and brought out of an abusive and threatening environment.
Jayamma* was 7 when her father told her she was to be a Jogini. He could not afford a dowry for her, and he needed someone to look after him in his old age. The solution was to dedicate Jayamma to the temple goddess.
The entire village attended the ceremony, yet Jayamma had no idea what was in store.
When she reached puberty, Jayamma found herself trapped in a horrendous cycle of systemic sexual abuse.
By the time Jayamma was thirteen years she was pregnant, but as she had been used by most of the men in her village she had no idea of the father’s identity.
In her 20s, Jayamma became sick, and as she approached thirty her health declined. Her uncle had died from AIDS, and had ‘used’ Jayamma for many years. Increasingly unhealthy and feeling worthless, life became unbearable.
We met Jayamma through our Prevention and Awareness Programme, helping her to understand her rights and entitlements, and arranged an HIV test where she was diagnosed as HIV positive. Our team helped her access treatment and provided tailoring training to enable her to earn a living.
It is early days, but Jayamma’s life is beginning to change for the better.
What we do:
We are currently active in 253 villages out of approximately 3,000 where the practice occurs.
Our staff connect with Joginis, providing healthcare, counselling and vocational training, and empowering them to leave the practice. Self-help groups provide the women with the support that they need.
Former Joginis become Jogini Village Leaders – advocating for the end of the practice, introducing practicing Joginis to our programme, and preventing further dedications.
In the villages where we are active we are seeing dedications decrease, and Joginis leaving the practice as they discover dignity and hope.
Jogini Village Leaders are former Joginis who live in a village and are our eyes and ears. They connect with other Joginis, prevent dedications and protect the most at-risk girls, and advocate for the abolition of the Jogini system in their village, and pursuing rights for these women and children.
Community Health Workers provide antenatal care, hygiene training, immunisations, public health initiatives, HIV and AIDS awareness and co-ordinate medical clinics.
They are on the front line of our programme as each one oversees the health work in two villages.
They are an amazing support to our Jogini Village Leaders and receive ongoing training so they can best serve these marginalised people.
Mandal Co-ordinators oversee 10 villages, providing support and advocating at regional levels, and providing a support structure for vulnerable women.
District Co-ordinators ensure the functionality and effectiveness of the project in 60 villages, while the Field Manager oversees the co-ordination of all aspects of the project.