Those years of blossoming and dreaming, on the threshold of youth, remember those teenage years? When we were filled with enthusiasm, a keen desire for new experiences, all set to work hard to get ahead. But when it came to girls, it was all about ‘16 years old – danger ahead!’ and a host of prohibitions and restrictions. Many young women were ticked off with words like “Are you still a child, laughing giddily like that?” “Keep away from menfolk!” “Don’t wear such revealing clothes”. “Stop going to the playground and hanging around with boys.” Multiple admonitions of this type continue to make young women feel insecure and take the joy out of everything they want to do spontaneously
In large sections of society, we can see how girls are deprived of spaces to play, the right to study what they wish to and to be self-reliant. But what happens when these gaps are bridged and encouragement is brought right into the classroom? In 2012, Suman Rawat, CEO of Zilla Parishad (ZP) Osmanabad, started a programme called ‘Urja’ (‘Energy’) for students between the ages of 11 and 19, under which the ‘Kishori Utkarsh Manch’ (‘Forum for Young Women to Grow’) was created, as part of gender education in school.
Among other activities, students interact with a doctor about their menstrual cycles, and personal hygiene. The Manch provides young girls with crucial information on health and nutrition. Discussions are held on topics such as the declining female sex ratio and how to tackle such problems. The student participants learn about their rights as women, their human rights, the right to health and the right to education. From time to time, debates are organised on diverse topics, including traditional beliefs and practices. Competitions are held in essay-writing, public speaking, general knowledge, dramatics, singing – all of which become means for the participants to engage with and raise awareness about social issues.
To teach them the importance of physical fitness, free workshops are held on martial arts like judo and karate. The school also provides them with nutritious food and milk, essential for their growth and maintaining their haemoglobin levels, which are regularly checked. A helpline is being run, where the girls can report any experiences or instances of sexual harassment or abuse, and domestic violence. It is compulsory for every school in the district to prominently display the helpline number – 180023322688. ‘Urja’ also works to ensure that every school has a separate and clean toilet for girls.
A range of cultural programmes encourages students to enjoy the arts and to cultivate their own artistic skills. The girls are addressed by their first names instead of their last names, so as to enhance their sense of selfhood and to underline their right to make their own decisions. Their birthdays are celebrated in school, which also reinforces their self-esteem. They receive skill training in different fields, through various institutes and workshops. Each school appoints a female or male teacher as ‘Urja’ coordinator for the programme.
Approximately 180 schools from the district are currently part of the programme. Over the last four years, many students have benefited tremendously through ‘Urja’. Even after CEO Suman Rawat was transferred to another district, the programme continues to be supported by the newly appointed officers, with ever more enthusiastic young girls participating.
May this ‘Urja’ or ‘energy’ never be exhausted!
Blog: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
With inputs from Ramesh Kamble & Shehnazbano Osekar, Osmanabad
Photos: Ramesh Kamble
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team