Do you know of Meena’s story? She is a young girl, growing up in one of the towns in Uttar Pradesh. She turned thirteen last year. She is an adolescent now. She goes to school and aspires to be a teacher one day. But, a few months back her parents told her that she is going to be married very soon. What will that mean for Meena? How does she understand marriage amongst several other things that are changing in her life? What happened in the last one year that her parents think it’s time for her to get married?
For those of us who have been through adolescence or are living through it, we know that it is not an easy phase to be in. The most evident changes that take place are in your body. Suddenly from being a child, your body becomes a marker of your sexuality. In a patriarchal society, for a girl child these changes become a marker of her suddenly becoming a body vested with a community’s honour. Her body becomes an entity the patriarchs must protect from being defiled by a male member belonging to a community (lower in the social hierarchy) other than theirs .
What does this translate into for a girl child who is already devalued and discriminated against because of her gender? It results in them being made to drop out of schools, their mobility being restricted and constantly being under someone’s watch. It results in them being married at an age when they don’t understand any of it. It results in them being subjected to marital rape. At an age, where they can barely come to terms with the changes happening in their body they grapple with pregnancies. These early pregnancies are very often fatal for these girl children. A stage in life which should be a phase where one’s self-acceptance and self esteem is built up, becomes a phase of extreme physical, social and psychological turmoil for them.
How are we going to address this? We, as an organisation working towards gender equality recognise the importance of improving the health, education and general well-being of adolescents, particularly girls. With a chunk of our population being in the age group of adolescence, it is important that this is addressed.
Breakthrough wants to scale up its work with adolescent girls and boys and engage diverse stakeholders in improving determinants across gender, health and education. Breakthrough will work in 7 districts of U.P. – Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur, Varanasi, Maharajganj, Siddharthnagar and Ghazipur to achieve this.
What do we hope to do? We are engaging with 200,000 young girls, young boys, parents, schools, health workers and entire communities to create an environment in which girls can thrive. Breakthrough is intervening through multiple ways. Some of them are:
- Work with boys and girls to build mutual trust and respect.
- Work with girls to build their confidence.
- Work with parents and community members to ensure girls have a safe and positive environment, one in which there is belief in the girl’s potential.
- Ensure access to sex education and health services.
- Ensure girls don’t drop out and have access to quality education.
As we begin our #BeMyStrength campaign today, we urge you to support this path that we as an organisation want to tread on, towards adolescent empowerment. Be a part of this initiative.