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From candidly discussing child abuse to examining why children drop out of schools, these young people have many valuable ideas to share.
Even those of us from relatively broad-minded families, know that things are not all hunky-dory for many girls today in India. One just needs to look around to notice the many glaring inequalities that impact girls, from poor nourishing for infant girls to domestic abuse, street harassment, dowry deaths and the list goes on.
While the stories of well-known women make it to media and inspire us (and rightfully so!), the voices of women and girls in dire need rarely get heard, because they are not ‘sensational’ enough for society and media alike.
This is why it is refreshing when you have organizations like Plan India who work in the long-term for the most underprivileged girls, and that’s why I was excited about the opportunity to bring their work to the forefront on Women’s Web.
Launched in 2016, The Plan for Every Child – Leave No Girl Behind campaign is directly aligned to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) global agenda. In collaboration with their technical partner Pravah, Plan India recently conducted their 2nd annual Youth Debatathon in various cities including Mumbai, Patna, Guwahati, Hyderabad and Delhi. The focus theme for this debatathon was ‘Gender Vulnerability’.
Plan India has conducted in-depth research studies on the gender vulnerability of Indian women across the country. After first listing close to 1200 factors of Gender Vulnerability, they have narrowed it down to four major contributing factors – Poverty, Health and Hygiene, Education and Protection. Based on these four factors, Plan India has calculated the Gender Vulnerability Index (GVI) for young girls and women in the country.
The situation is even grimmer than expected. Even in the 21st century, the situation of women in several belts of the country is grave and leaves a lot to be desired. Let’s look at some of the findings!
Based on the findings of the Plan India study, the highest incidence of spousal violence is seen in Manipur (53%) followed by Andhra Pradesh (43.2%), Bihar (43.2%) and Telangana (43%). The states with the least spousal violence are Sikkim (2.6%), followed by Himachal Pradesh (5.9%), Jammu and Kashmir (9.4%).
The states where women have their own active bank accounts, which they use by themselves, are Goa (82.1%) followed by Tamil Nadu (77%), Kerala (70.6%)and Himachal Pradesh (66.5%). The states where the least women have their own bank accounts are Bihar (26.4%), Manipur (34.5%), Madhya Pradesh (37.3%) and Nagaland (38.9%).
The most shocking results have to be when it comes to tubectomies or sterilization. In almost all the cases, it is the women only who are being sterilized while the men literally escape scot-free. The states where the maximum tubectomies took place were in Mizoram (100%), Tamil Nadu (99.8%), Goa (99.6%), Meghalaya (99.4%) and Arunachal Pradesh (99.4%). The states where the least tubectomies took place were in Sikkim (82.7%), Manipur (86.8%), Assam (88.3%), and Chhattisgarh (89.8%).
In many ways, India is fighting its own battles riddled with unique gender roadblocks that are distinct from the rest of the world, such as the epidemic of sex-selective abortions.
If these findings startled you, learn more about how you can help create a more just world for all our girls; you too can be a part of the Plan India initiative and you can become a volunteer or donate to support Plan India’s valuable work.
Against such a grim backdrop of the state of Indian women, there was flickering hope seen in the participants of the Youth debatathon conducted by Plan India in Hyderabad on 14-16 October 2017. The participants were final year students of Masters Degree in Social Work (MSW) hailing from the Southern Indian states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.
The facilitators from Pravah and Plan India jointly conducted the sessions and were more like chargers igniting the young minds to get out of their comfort zone, debate, brainstorm and come up with innovative solutions. The youth participants were divided into three groups, each focusing on the topics of child dropouts from school, child labour and child abuse respectively.
When it came to the issue of school dropouts, the participants rued that most parents and community members did not see any real tangible benefit of sending their children, especially the girls to school. Even if they did send them to school, they discontinued their studies immediately after their menstruation or the 10th standard. They suggested that the school administration and the teachers play an active role in convincing parents and community members about the dire need of education.
Teachers should brief the parents about their ward’s strengths, weaknesses and interests and offer various career options that their child can pursue in the future. Travel logistics and safety are problems for most students as the schools are situated far away from their homes. Many girls are discouraged from traveling 8 miles one way to school by bicycle as their parents feared for their safety.
Some participants suggested building more schools nearer to villages and making the curriculum holistic, fun and innovative so that its spurs the students’ curiosity and interest, while others suggested giving self-defense training to young girls. Poor infrastructure including lack of toilets were listed as some of the reasons of school dropouts especially for adolescent girls.
When it came to the issue of child labour, participants suggested that there should be more stringent implementation of the child labour laws especially at the workplace. Poverty was listed as one of the prime causes for child labour. Improved income and revenue generating options by the Government was suggested as was greater ownership of land and property by women.
It was refreshing to hear many taboo words and topics being openly discussed when it came to the topic of child abuse. There were few female and male participants who did not shy away from mentioning and talking about the words ‘Sex’, ‘Sexuality’, ‘Menstruation’, ‘Vagina’and more. They reasoned that unless these words were normalised and openly discussed in the public spaces, young girls and women would shy away from reporting any form of abuse owing to fear and shame. The need for sex education was suggested from as early as 4-5 years starting with the difference between the good and bad touch. Some participants also suggested educating teachers about respecting their students’ personal space and privacy. Teacher abuse was also listed as one of the reasons for school dropouts. When it came to parental abuse or incest, participants suggested special counselling groups to visit homes of the victims and separate the girls from their fathers or the abuser in question. Participants also suggested educating the parents and community about sexuality and removing all kinds of taboo around it.
There was a definite method to the madness at the Hyderabad Youth Debatathon. The dream of a gender equal India was what unified the debating participants towards a common solution. The youth are far more aware today about gender inequality and are burning with a raging passion to do something about it.
As a reporter, it was a proud moment for me to see our youth being open, fierce and vocal about the cause they cared most about. I left the Osmania University venue that evening with the following words of Malala Yousafzai ringing so loud and true in my head,
“I raise my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”
This article is part of the #LeaveNoGirlBehind campaign supported by Plan India, of which Women’s Web is a proud media partner.
Top image is a still from the movie Dangal, that inspired many young girls