The United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child on October 11 is a global opportunity for recognising both the value and power of girls and revisit the barriers and discrimination that girls face in the pursuit of their rights and happiness. The work and vision of the Population Foundation of India (PFI) has been guided by the principle of gender equality, and advocating a framework for policy that is empowering for women and girls.
The theme for this year is ‘The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030’. It calls upon all of us to think of our vision for girls and we see them grow into healthy, educated and empowered women. We envision the end of sex-selective abortions; we see equal opportunities, a future where every girl has access to education and healthcare. We want to see them gainfully employed, confident about their bodies and minds, women who set an example for future generations of young girls and boys to come. Therefore, it is critical that we take a hard look at the progress so far and address the gaps to ensure that our girls have equal opportunities.
PFI’s work has included a robust behaviour change campaign with the edutainment show Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (MKBKSH). The objective of MKBKSH was to show women that an alternative narrative was possible, that they deserve equal respect and opportunity as men. And given the chance, these girls challenged the status quo as we have seen in Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh. Ladkuwar Kushwaha, 21, is the first girl from her village to have gone to college. She did not let the threats or taunts of upper caste men faze her and uttered this powerful statement to her parents, “Invest in my education what you want to give for my dowry.”
Somewhere in a congested slum in Patna, Rita Devi and her daughter Shilpi are talking to women about family planning, health and nutrition. Rita Devi was married off at the age of 15 and has made it her parental responsibility to talk to her daughter about safe sex, menstruation, and contraception. Educating adolescents about their sexual and reproductive rights is a form of empowerment that allows them to own their bodies and take decisions about their health and nutrition. Influenced by her mother, Shilpi is a firebrand 18-year-old who refuses to get married at an early age and has made it her duty to counsel other girls on matters of nutrition, health and their sexual and reproductive rights.
It is a priority for civil society organisations, governments and elected representatives, to join hands – forge effective collaborations that help girls remain in school, break away from the shackles of early marriage and unwanted pregnancy. We have all seen how empowering girls and women enable improvements to their health, education, nutrition and employment. Girls can break the wheel of oppression, ensure that the possibilities are limitless, and change the narrative not only for them but for the generations to come; we just need to give them the chance.