Knowledge is Power: Helping Adolescent Girls Take Control
Know your rights, develop the skills and self-belief to assert them, and you can negotiate your future; a lesson brought to life by Indian girls navigating the perilous transition from childhood to adulthood.
When Apurna found out her father planned to marry off her younger sister, she knew what to do. “I had learnt that child marriage is illegal in India, and about the consequences of teenage pregnancy and didn’t want my sister to face those problems. I negotiated with my father and convinced him to cancel the wedding. My sister is now continuing her education.”
Like millions of teenage schoolgirls in India – home to 1 in 3 of the world’s child brides, 223 million girls according to UNICEF – Apurna and her sister faced an uphill struggle to control their futures. Adolescent girls are acutely vulnerable to being forced out of school and into work, child marriage and early childbirth. This increases the risk of violent abuse; more than 40% of Indian girls are sexually abused before turning 19, reports UNICEF, usually by their husbands or partners.
Unlike many of those girls, Apurna knew how to change her father’s mind. She knew the law, the risks to her sister and her rights. And she had the confidence and the skills to match. In short, she had a voice.
VOICE 4 Girls (VOICE) helped her discover it. Based in Hyderabad, VOICE educates and empowers adolescent schoolgirls through activity-based camps where they learn about and discuss their reproductive health, human rights, sexual relations, domestic violence, conflict resolution and negotiation.
By tackling taboo subjects like menstruation, domestic violence and sex, VOICE is filling knowledge gaps rarely filled by schools, families or communities, contributing to SDG5 on gender equality.
VOICE’s goal is that the girls take control of their bodies, their education and their futures. In addition, these girls can inform and influence their peers, families and communities in a ripple effect that contributes to sustained change in attitudes and behaviours.
Girls like Shweta, who grew up watching her father beat her mother. She had thought this was normal until attending VOICE camps. Afterwards, she told her father it was a crime and likewise educated her mother and other female relatives. Ultimately, her father stopped beating her mother.
VOICE uses peer learning to enable sustained change in the schools where it works. Some VOICE girls participate in ‘Sakhi’ leadership camps, go back to their schools, teach and mentor younger girls. In this way critical knowledge and life skills cycle through successive generations.
Scottish Love in Action (SLA) has partnered with VOICE for the last three years, enabling them to run camps for more than 6,000 adolescent girls. And we are thrilled to be presenting VOICE’s work for the BBC Radio 4 Appeal on International Women’s Day March 8, 2020.
Evidence from India and around the world shows that educating and empowering adolescent girls reduces rates of early marriage, childbearing, exploitation and domestic violence. VOICE ‘campers’ reinforce this evidence with deeply moving personal testimonies like those of Apurna and Shweta.
This blog was written by James Tulloch, Trustee at Scottish Love in Action.
Want to know more about this work? SLA Chief Executive Michelle Davitt will be will be joining us at our annual conference on 25 September 2019 as a panelist at the breakout session entitled 'Improving education outcomes for girls: sharing practice from across the network' . See also www.sla-india.org.