"We once had a participant’s daughter approach us and tell us how her mother was talking about sending her outside the village for further education; something that had been denied to her earlier. Because of the sessions, women had started talking to their daughters, leading to more enlightened women and girls." (Kumari, Block Mobiliser, Umang Project)
The Self-Help Group (SHG) structures in Nala (District Jamtara) and Godda Sadar (District Godda) in Jharkhand are talking about education and young girls in these villages are starting to benefit from it!
The UMANG project seeks to impact the lives of young girls and sees completion of schooling as one of the factors through which girls can lead independent and empowered lives. It is a partnership between Project Concern International (PCI) and Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS). UMANG works with the self-help group structures to support mothers to become champions for their young daughters.
An SBCC Approach for UMANG
Education of young people like many issues that our society faces is a complex and layered problem. Gender linked norms like early marriages, combined with systemic limitations make it difficult, and often challenging for young girls to complete schooling. The SHG structure lends itself well to work across the individual, community and local governance levels and thereby holds potential for a decentralised social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) intervention.
This was the core belief that anchored the PCI and StratComm collaboration in developing a an SBCC package for the UMANG project!
The UMANG SBCC package development uses the insights from the socio ecological model, to examine the barriers and facilitators linked to education at the levels of individuals, communities and systems or organisations. The mothers were reached through SHGs, the immediate community through Village Organisations and the block administration though the Cluster-Level Federations (CLFs). PCI’s partner ICRW was working directly with girls at the level of schools too. The SBCC process thus designed had 3 tiers with a distinct but related focus at each level.
A significant pillar for UMANGs’ work at the household level is to strengthen mother-daughter relationships. The process of achieving this builds on the lived experiences of the mother to help dream of a better future for her daughter. It acknowledges the strengths and challenges as experienced by mothers and helps them find allies and role models within their networks and leverage them for their own welfare as well as that of their daughters.
Built into the programme also is the understanding that there are strong normative and systemic factors at play in these blocks. As per NHFS-4 (2015-16), in Godda district only 16.7% women have 10 or more years of schooling and 65.2% women aged 20-24 years were married before 18 years of age. Jamtara district tells an even bleaker story with only 11.6% women who have had 10 or more years of schooling.
Merely household level discussions and reflections may not impact the lives of girls unless there was an attempt to influence the community level discourse. The project worked with Village Organisations to ensure that local leaders and influencer as well as communities initiated and sustained conversation around concerns of young girls. For instance Village Organisations would lead campaigns for enrolment and bringing children back to school. Similarly at the block level the Cluster-Level Federations were mobilised to ensure that the governance machinery was aware of the interventions, supported it by ensuring that education-linked schemes were available at the village level.
This laddering and phased approach ensures that the by the time women and girls initiate difficult conversations around girl’s education, the issue has gained salience in the public sphere, thereby limiting the chances of backlash or resistance.
Interaction with SHG structures from village to block level were through structured sessions and at the end of the sessions participants were left with suggestions for post-session activities which provide real life applications of reflections of the current session or in preparation of the upcoming one. This ensured that there was a sense of connectedness and a praxis of action, reflection and action that helped the group forward in their goals.
"The Umang Geet (Umang Song) has spread amongst women like wildfire. They enjoy dancing to it; some of them have even saved it as their ringtones.” (Sanjiv Singh, Block Mobilizer, Godda, PCI)
First round of trainings of Active Women (JSLPS frontline workers) and seven field level sessions with linked activities like street plays, discussions in the community, etc. were rolled out when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The Umang project was put on hold, but the SHG networks were mobilised to take on prevention communication and were pivotal in reaching the last mile. Women frontline workers and health workers everywhere worked hard to keep communities safe.
During one of the first UMANG sessions, an SHG member, Mitali had a surprising realization.
Mitali had always seen her daughter Pampa disinterested in studies and the school. Observing this disinterest, she assumed her daughter should be shepherded into marriage as there was no point sitting idle at home. When challenged she realized that she had never really asked her daughter if all was well at school or tried to understand if she was facing any challenges. Not having completed schooling themselves, Mitali and her husband were not always comfortable discussing their child’s education.
She returned home and gradually began a conversation with her daughter and soon realized that she was finding it difficult to keep up in class and therefore discouraged and not really disinterested. Pampa too came to some of the UMANG sessions with Mitali and soon asked if she could go to a tutor.
Pampa’s renewed interest in schooling, motivated the family enough to find her a tutor and keep aside talks about marriage.
“Our daughters are our pride, but we never talk to them to understand their dreams and aspirations. UMANG taught us the skills on how to understand our daughters and support them”.
As the waves on the pandemic ebb and flow, it is already evident from national and international experiences that girls’ education and rights will be severely impacted.
Now more than ever there is a need for a project like Umang to renew its efforts in strengthening mother-daughter bonds and help the duty-bearers recommit to the cause of girls’ education and rights.