A collective effort by a local organisation and an international organisation has led to adolescents in villages breaking taboos by openly discussing and spreading awareness about periods, sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Earlier, adolescent girls here would feel embarrassed and hesitant to speak about their health and challenges they face in day-to-day life. Photo: flickr
Over 70 kilometres from Jodhpur, a popular tourist destination in the Western Indian state of Rajasthan, adolescent girls and boys have started asking questions about menstruation, and this is making the traditional Indian society uncomfortable. Breaking the taboo around menstrual periods, these girls and boys are openly discussing their sexual and reproductive health rights and the importance of maintaining menstrual hygiene for a healthier life.
This small revolution is happening in 13 villages of five gram panchayats in Osian tehsil, thanks to the collective efforts of a local organisation, the Uttar Rajasthan Milk Union Limited (Urmul) Trust, and Save the Children, an international humanitarian organisation for kids. Through their project ‘Shaadi Bacchon Ka Khel Nahi’ (marriage isn’t a game for children), these organisations are taking small steps towards shattering the misconceptions around sexual and reproductive health rights deeply embedded in the patriarchal traditions, followed even more strictly in rural and remote regions of our country.
As part of the project, two years ago, a total of 224 adolescent girls and boys were selected and were educated about health rights and life skills. Through a rigorous training schedule, these 224 participants were prepared to become ‘Charcha Leaders’ (Discussion Leaders) and were given the responsibility of sharing the newly gained information with peers in their respective villages. These Charcha Leaders have been working with 3,032 adolescent girls and boys since 2018.
To empower these young minds, the organisation employed creative ways, the Lalitha-Babu model being the most successful one. Lalitha and Babu are two fictional characters modelled around a girl and a boy respectively from a handbook that helps Charcha Leaders enact real-life situations and address the queries related to child marriages including rights, gender, equality and justice raised by girls and boys.
This has turned out to be an effective strategy using which girls and boys are exploring their thoughts around identity and rights. They are now taking their rights more seriously than ever. The goal of this model is not just to mentally develop boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 19 but also to empower them with information about their legitimate rights.
“No one used to speak to us on issues of sexual and reproductive health rights, especially adolescent girls who feel embarrassed and hesitant to speak about their health and challenges they face in day-to-day life,” said Santosh Jiyani, a member of the Urmul Trust, while recalling the initial days of the project. “Through persistent efforts, the taboos around sexual, reproductive and menstrual health were addressed. Participants were explained the biological processes involved, and that there is nothing to be ashamed about periods or sexual and reproductive health,” he added.
Today, adolescent girls in these villages have not only started taking care of their menstrual hygiene but are no more reluctant to talk about condoms and other contraceptive methods.
Financial and social empowerment of women and adolescent girls in rural areas is the prime objective. “For centuries, they have been suppressed by the male-dominated society and were blatantly denied the right to equality. With no information and knowledge about prohibition of child marriages, and their sexual and reproductive rights, they unintendedly participated in traditions that oppressed them further,” said Arvind Ojha, the secretary of the Urmul Trust. This project is intended to transform the wrong practice by providing girls and boys the necessary tools to work towards a better future,” he added.
After attending just 13 sessions of the Lalitha–Babu module and eight sessions on sexual and reproductive health rights, the girls have now started expressing their concerns at much larger and effective platforms. Today, they are not hesitant to even reach out to the administration and request them to resolve their issues. During the nationwide lockdown, they wrote to a district magistrate requesting him to address the issue of lack of supply of sanitary pads in their region.
They are not only well aware of their rights but understand the responsibilities they have as a responsible individual. To contribute to the ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, girls from these 13 villages are making and distributing masks free of cost. So far, they have distributed 1,800 cloth masks in the Osian block. The Child Champions of these groups have also prepared posters and paintings to spread information about safe hygiene practices people must follow as they fight the pandemic.
In a state like Rajasthan, where literacy rate for women as per Census 2011 is just 52.1 per cent, and where girls and women are treated as subordinate, it becomes crucial to equip the younger generation, especially girls, with concepts of gender equality and legal rights. This project is certainly a positive step towards achieving the goal of a society where both girls and boys treated the same. The voices of girls and boys from these 13 villages has the potential to bring the much desired change.
This article has been sourced from Charkha Features.