Breakthrough has been inspiring people to fight for the rights of women and girls by catalysing leadership in communities to change deep-rooted cultural norms that perpetuate gender-based discrimination and violence.
Published on December 20, 2020 at 3:53 am
Updated on March 20, 2021 at 06:48 am
Living in the town of Muri, located in the eastern state of Jharkhand, India, Tabu’s life was very similar to that of everyone else’s. She had many dreams but was unable to express them. Little did she know that one day, her luck would change and she would be the writer of her own fate. Tabu, at the age of 15, ensured that her elder sister would not be married off at a very young age. She is now supporting the education of her younger siblings through her job.
This journey of change began when Breakthrough’s team members performed a play about early marriage, titled ‘Chanda Pukare’ in Tabu’s school. The play was a part of Breakthrough’s campaign ‘Nation Against Early Marriage’. After essaying the role of Chanda in ‘Chanda Pukare’, Tabu’s resolve to chase her dreams was strengthened.
Tabu’s journey became a source of inspiration for the entire community and society. And now, her younger sister is the first girl from their village to be studying science. Besides, many girls in the village are stepping out of their houses and pursuing education and employment.
India is home to about 120 million adolescent girls, an astounding number of whom are still restrained by poor nutrition and health, lack of complete and quality education, early marriage, early and repeat pregnancies, susceptibility to domestic violence, little agency and compromised potential. If this picture does not change drastically, India will miss out on the unique opportunity of leveraging its greatest advantage globally – its demographic dividend. This means that the country needs to act urgently, comprehensively and at scale to meaningfully include adolescent girls in its growth narrative.
Breakthrough’s Adolescent Empowerment Programme aims to shape the gender attitudes and behaviours at a stage when their views are still malleable. An innovative life skills curriculum and youth club formation called Taaron ki Toli (Gang of Stars) in schools, and in communities is an initiative that empowers girls and boys to tackle harmful social and gender norms that contribute to girls facing discrimination or violence. The programme encourages them to be confident, develop their leadership skills and enables them to make decisions about their own lives. The organisation engages with parents, the government at the district, state and national levels, to ensure adolescents’ access to rights and entitlements and sustainability of its programmes.
Currently, Taaron Ki Toli (Gang of Stars) has reached over 3,50,000 adolescent girls and boys from the ages of 11 to 18 years across the four states of UP, Haryana, Bihar and Jharkhand; states with the worst gender indicators in the country. The programme aims to ensure rights and agency for adolescents; helping them demand equity in health, education and skills in their homes and community, for themselves and others.
“Just providing girls with education without building their agency and creating an eco-system that values them for who they are, and provides them with safer spaces at homes, communities and schools will continue to impact education status of girls negatively. Instead, forging alliances with parents, teachers, health workers, government officials and entire communities, to improve the way girls are valued and perceived, can actually work wonders for the entire communities,” says Sohini Bhattacharya, President and CEO of Breakthrough.
Just like 18-year-old Meera, who always aspired to go to college. But at home, she was not even allowed into the living room to meet visitors. When Meera met the Breakthrough trainers as part of Taaron Ki Toli, she shyly offered to help with the set-up. She learned about health, sanitation, and the services the government provides. She started speaking up at the women’s group meetings.
Her breakthrough moment came when she attended, as a peer educator, the Partners’ Forum, 2018 – India Day programme in December 2018 in Delhi. “I sat on a train! Till then, I had not even travelled as far as Lucknow,” she says. Her parents had their doubts, but Meera says, “They trusted the Breakthrough trainer. For five days, I travelled and stayed with other girls from across India. We exchanged our stories.” And best of all? “I got to take part in a play that we staged before the Prime Minister. I met the PM Narendra Modi!”
Curbing school dropouts: A major challenge
The most critical transition tends to occur between ages 15-17 and the drop-outs at this stage are always due to economic and gender-based expectations from the family and community. Study shows how post dropping out of school many girls are lost in transition. From childhood to adulthood, from school to work and for, some of them, an accelerated transition from childhood to parenthood. With the largest population of adolescents in the world – 120m girls and 133m boys aged 10-19 years – investing in this age group will help India reap the demographic dividend as well. If this large cohort of adolescents can reach their full potential, then no one can stop the country’s socio-economic growth.
In a recently concluded RCT (Randomised Control Trial) for the work done in 40 blocks of Jharkhand and Bihar on changing social norms around early marriage by Breakthrough, it recorded an increase of 8.7 months in the education of girls and the potential for girls completing secondary education went up from 17% at control to 89% at treatment. This was possible because the programme addressed multiple stakeholders in a social-ecological model that addressed harmful social norms. Building agency of girls was a significant focus in the intervention.