As I reflect on my life, as a woman and a mother, I feel fortunate— fortunate to have had a supportive environment while growing up, the freedom to pursue an education of my choice, as well as to decide the course of my life. I am also aware that the ability to make these choices for ourselves is a rare luxury and many young people growing up in India lack these choices.
India is home to the largest number of adolescents in the world at 243 million, yet this group lacks a voice. As a mother of teenagers, I know how important this life stage is. I also know how difficult it can be. Adolescence ideally is a period in life when one express individuality and starts making informed decisions and choices. However, millions of adolescents today do not enjoy access to quality education, health and mobility. The school dropout rate is high. Over 80 million children in India have not completed the full cycle of elementary education (UNICEF, 2014). 60% girls in the age group 15-19 are anemic (Source: NFHS -3). These are critical to address to ensure that outcomes in adult life improve.
While health and education remain key, violence, unequal treatment based on gender and inability to access useful and relevant information leads to further disempowerment and young girls get further marginalised. 47.4% or one in two women became child brides in India (census 2011) which often pushes the girl into a cycle of violence and poverty.
Empowering adolescents can lead to far reaching transformation of the community as a whole and break the cycle of poverty. Increasing age of marriage can have direct impact on the health of a girl and increase the possibility of her finishing school while at the same time reducing fertility rate and enabling the girl to work and contribute to the economic well being of the family.
Breakthrough’s ‘Adolescent Empowerment Program’ in Uttar Pradesh is a school and community based awareness and sensitization program to change gender-related attitudes and behaviors that in turn, improve gender equity and has the potential to have a large impact on girls’ educational attainment as well as their reproductive health decisions in the near future. For implementing the program in Uttar Pradesh, in areas where Breakthrough does not work directly, we have partnered with organisation who will help us with the same. To facilitate this a toolkit has been created.
The ‘Adolescent Empowerment Toolkit’ provides a much needed resource for government service providers and civil society organizations to implement a comprehensive intervention on adolescent programming. The toolkit has interactive sessions, resources, multimedia and practical skill building modules to enable organizations to design and implement effective and sustainable projects for adolescents. The toolkit can also be used for integrating a gendered analysis and human rights approach into existing projects aiming at building adolescents agency to take key life decisions and prevent gender based violence.
If adolescents are not treated as a special group and services are not created for them, society will lose out on the potential of a generation that can be nurtured to transform society. Starting this week, we are running the #BeMyStrength campaign with the aim of introducing our ‘Adolescent Empowerment Program’ and gaining your support for the same. Join us as we aim to reach 200,000 adolescent girls in Uttar Pradesh.