The Breakthrough Voice 21st December, 2014

Manat – An ASHA.

In Haryana, gender based discrimination is prevalent in different ways and results in violation of basic rights of women including the rights to education, mobility, food, ownership of assets and other immovable property, as well as their reproductive and health rights. The fundamental reason behind such types of discrimination, inequalities and violation of rights is the existence of socially constructed gender norms and stereotypes, cemented by male dominance or patriarchal mindset.

Women of many communities face discrimination in access to and quality of education, their mobility, choice of marriage and participation in decision making. One of the most significant forms of discrimination they face is what they undergo due to the societal preference for having a baby boy than a baby girl.

In many parts of the country, a baby boy is treated like a prince when he is a born – not only do parents generously tip medical staff on the birth of a son, but they also perform poojas and distribute sweets. On the other hand, if a baby girl is born – nothing happens. There are no tips, no pooja and no sweets. Many members of such communities will do whatever it takes to be able to have a son.

This type of gender-based discrimination has been going for decades and is so deep-rooted that awareness is not enough. Standing against deep rooted norms and gender biased, socially conceived norms needs more than just knowledge and reason – it also needs a determined will and commitment towards challenging social norms.

Very recently, Breakthrough started its intervention in four districts of Haryana to build knowledge, capacities and thereby resilience of communities towards this form of discrimination. Among the key stakeholders of Breakthrough’s capacity building program were the local frontline medical workers (ASHAs, ANMS, AWWs), working with women at village level. These frontline medical workers were given training about gender discrimination including gender stereotypes, issues related to mobility, education, and the key issue of sex-selection.

Given the depth of norms and heights of inequalities, Breakthrough expected to reap fruits of their labour only after years of trainings and community mobalisation activities. However, we found some born leaders who just needed someone to mentor them to use their leadership traits. Among these medical workers, one ASHA worker, Manat (name changed) had the chance to demonstrate her leadership traits and share her story. Manat had identified a family whose members and husband were planning to use medical procedures to ensure they did not have a baby girl. Manat, started meeting the family members of this lady and her husband with the intention of convincing them  of the value of girls and the lack of women in society. When asked about her experience, she said:

“Initially, it was difficult to even talk about such issues with community people and doing this would have been not less risky and without consequences. After attending Breakthrough’ one day training workshop, I became confident enough to work towards curbing sex selection and after having ‘natak’ (street play) community have also started being recipient to such information”.

A few meetings later, the to-be parents were not only convinced of the value of the girl child, they had also decided to follow the same practices rituals for their newborn baby daughter as for their son. They tipped hospital staff generously, holding poojas, and distributing sweets within their community.

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