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15 year old Jasoda from Ashapura village of Jodhpur in Rajasthan is an inspiration as a teen leader for a better life for girls.
Western Rajasthan is known for its beautiful sand dunes. But harsh climate, formidable distances and water scarcity pose a lot of hardships and challenges for the people living in this part of the state.
The limitations, however, are not just limited to infrastructure deficiencies or climatic conditions alone. There are a lot of traditional barriers as well specially when it comes to girls’ rights.
The Osian block of Jodhpur district is no different from many other Rajasthan villages deeply steeped in old mindset. To cultivate a change is not easy but ‘if winter comes, can spring be far behind’?!
At least 13 villages of the five panchayats falling in the Osian block have started witnessing a breakthrough, thanks to an initiative launched by Save the Children in association with a local NGO the URMUL Trust. This initiative seeks to improve ‘Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) of young people enabling them to decide if and when to marry and pursue their SRHR rights in a supportive environment’.
15-year-old Jasoda, a resident of Ashapura village of this block is a perfect example of how their intervention has brought a change in the outlook of the entire village, community and children. Youngest of the three siblings, Jasoda is studying in Class 10. All the three siblings are engaged, which is not an unusual phenomenon in this part of the state.
Jasoda came in contact with the organization as an Adolescent Discussion Group member in May 2017. Her active participation in Life Skill Sessions led her to becoming the Discussion Leader of Life Skill Education Training in June 2018. She was also nominated as a member of the School Management Committee.
Jasoda says that talking about menstrual hygiene or adolescent health is not easy, let alone questioning the discrimination girls’ face in their homes.
Initially most parents would not allow girls to go for in-house training but gradually when they learnt more about the training and the model, the resistance gave way to acceptance. She took help of health service providers like ANM, ASHA and Anganwadi Workers for issues related to health of adolescent girls.
Jasoda, loves going to school but says what she could learn from her training as part of this initiative could not have been possible in school. “We don’t ‘openly’ discuss issues like child marriages, menstrual hygiene or adolescent health in school. But here, we have become aware about so many things through the Lalitha-Babu model. Not just about ‘me and my body’ but also about emotions, empathy and respect. I am more aware about gender challenges, violence and substance abuse, health, child marriage etc. The training has taught us to communicate better and learn how we can play a role in society,” shared Jasoda.
With her new found confidence, she was allowed to attend the government high school for which she had to board a bus to travel nearly 10 km distance every day.
She has been equally concerned about the education of her friends. When she learnt that her friend Swaroop’s parents were asking her to discontinue school due to safety concerns, Jasoda along with her 2-3 friends took the initiative of speaking to them. She not only assured them that her group of students would accompany Swaroop to school and back home but also managed to convince them to allow their daughter to finish her schooling before getting her married.
Later, she also became instrumental in motivating 127 girls to join school, many of them who were dropouts.
With her active participation, she could motivate other girls in her school and community to join the Adolescent Discussion Groups. She was elected as President of the village level Girl’s Federation, Ananya. She was later elected as Health Secretary in the Gram Panchayat level Girls Federation as well. “Main pahle kuch khas bol nahin sakti thi par ab lagta hai jaise har ladki har ek manzil par pahunch sakti hai. Ek anokhe aatm vishwas ka anubhav hota hai mujhe ab” (I could hardly speak anything earlier, but now I feel that all girls can scale greater heights. I feel so confident now), she said.
She is more alert and assertive now. Last year, when a boy tried to grope her in a crowded bus, she averted his attempt by slapping him and telling him to behave properly. She also openly shared the incident with other girls telling them not to silently suffer any mischief.
She has been a strong support to her friends in reporting other cases of ‘eve teasing’. When a girl was being molested in her school, Jasoda boldly went to the boys troubling the girl and warned them to stay away or she would report to the authorities.
“I see Jasoda as a highly confident and motivated discussion leader. After attending the Life skill training and taking sessions with girls at village level, she has emerged as a true child champion. She is positively influencing the community to make a supportive environment for children to realize their rights,” said Neeraj Juneja, Assistant Manager-Project, Save the Children.
The target villages having a mixed population have a trend of doing early engagements (almost 40 per cent), though a lot of awareness and change has been witnessed after the project. As per National Family Health Survey 2015-16 for Jodhpur district (Rural), the number of women (age 20-24 years) married before 18 years is 41.9 per cent.
Similarly, the female population in the age group above 6 years who attended school is 49.3 per cent. Literate women in the age group of 15-49 are 44.3 per cent.
Now villagers have become inclined to resist child marriages. As per Neeraj, at least 36 child marriages have been stopped since the project was introduced in the block.
Jasoda is fascinated by women police officers. She also dreams of donning the khaki one day, oozing with pride and confidence to serve the country in future. With her confident, bold and proactive approach, it certainly looks sky is the limit for her.
This article has been written by Dr Abha Sharma from Rajasthan and first published at Charkha Features.
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