by Meera Satpathy
On International Women’s Day in 2017, Sukarya launched its “Educate, Protect and Empower Adolescent Girls” programme for adolescent girls living in slums. Its primary goal was to ignite positive change in young girls so they could embark on a journey of learning and leading by understanding implications of early child marriage, sexual abuse, gender-based violence and discrimination.
Along the way several innovative ways have been pressed into action to reach messages to this target group so that they are aware of their sexual and reproductive rights and can make informed choices regarding family planning and contraception.
Suffering in silence and being petrified of approaching anyone lest they be ostracised or accused of betraying family trust and honours these girls shut themselves away and do not seek help. Also, they are unaware of where to go and who to approach for specific services.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet so many remarkable girls who have turned their lives around with barely a few words of encouragement and support. They have raised the bar, made a promise to themselves and steered their life agenda in ways that have transformed not just their futures but also their entire family’s prospects.
Each of their stories has been exemplary. It has taught me personally so much about perseverance, grace and dedication. Their simplicity shines through as they resolve to be the architects of their lives. Embarking on the journey with them has been so gratifying. It has in many ways helped me and the team to believe in miracles and turnarounds.
Working with this age group has proven to be strategic since girls under the age of 18, contribute to almost one third of India’s population. Giving them the confidence, self belief and the tools/skills to move forward has brought dramatic results. Girls have done what they earlier considered impossible. They have gone on to complete their education, go ahead with higher studies, say no to early marriage, negotiate with husbands and in-laws to delay motherhood and fight back situations that are exploitative, stigmatising and discriminatory.
As a result of their new-found confidence and ability to speak up for themselves they are beginning to overcome chronic issues like lack of access to basic education, nutrition and health.
We know for a fact and have seen with our eyes, that when we give girls a chance to lead, they shine effervescently. Each of our programmes is customised to suit the local context so that maximum benefit can be leveraged by promoting gender equality/justice by training adolescent girls in sexual/reproductive health, family life/planning, and self-defence. We are aligned with the national government’s “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao”, a Girl Child Empowerment Campaign, launched in 2015. Our approach is to work at local levels in slums and hard-to-reach villages in India, partnering local community groups, women self-help groups, community-based health workers, government staff, and schools.
Together, we hope to equip more girls with the critical skills they need to become leaders of their own lives. On the Day of the Girl and beyond, I hope that all of you will find a way to support education for adolescents everywhere. Each action will have huge impact. You can choose from a multitude of options—you can host a bake sale, organise a project with friends, get your family and office involved, and do so much more. Check out our “Give Her a Voice” campaign at http://givesukaryaus.org/ and make a pledge http://givesukaryaus.org/give-now/ because the future of our world is as bright as our girls and the chance we give them to express themselves fearlessly.