"Many factors push girls to drop out of school: can a multi-layered programme overcome these barriers?"

Launched by Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT) in July 2012, the 5-year Samata programme in northern Karnataka, south India, seeks to keep adolescent girls in school, delay their marriage, and reduce entry into sex work by working with girls, their families, boys, teachers, and local government authorities. Evidence has shown that completing high school protects girls against HIV and other health risks, as well as improving their economic and social options in life. Samata intervenes with scheduled caste and scheduled tribe (SC/ST) girls aged between 12 to 16 years of age. Specifically, Samata works to reach 3,600 adolescent girls in 119 villages and in 69 high schools in Bijapur and Bagalkot districts, to:

  • provide special tuition, career counselling, and leadership training;
  • establish reflection sessions to build girls’ solidarity and confidence;
  • initiate measures to increase girls' safety and academic success;
  • sensitise parents to the importance of educating girls;
  • link families to government incentives for educating girls;
  • use sports to encourage boys to respect girls and their rights;
  • support community action for girls education; and
  • train schools to be gender sensitive and create safe environment for girls.

The project is designed for a range of stakeholders, from adolescent girls and boys, their parents, schools and teachers, to the wider community, state and district officials, and local media. It focuses on the most proximate structural issues impeding girls' access to education and academic performance, including: family poverty, gender discrimination, the traditions of early marriage and dedication of girls as devadasi (where young girls are dedicated into sex work as part of a religious tradition), boys' misbehaviour and attitudes towards girls, inadequate measures to meet girls' needs at schools, and inadequate measures by community authorities and education officials to enforce girls' right to education.

Communication Strategies: 

Samata is structured in 3 phases: i) planning and piloting, ii) implementation, and iii) evaluation, consolidation, and dissemination. Samata's design is informed by i) assessments and trials conducted during Samata's planning phase, ii) published findings of studies on girls' education, iii) features of successful projects with adolescent girls, and iv) recommendations of experts in this field. Samata's Theory of Change assumes that adolescent girls who complete 10th standard are more likely to marry later, delay or avoid sex work, and have sexual debut later, thus reducing their vulnerability to HIV and improving their quality of life. Because of the need for better understanding of causality within the relationship between girls' education and age at marriage, organisers have designed Samata so that the monitoring and evaluation of its process, outcomes, and impact will contribute to evidence that strengthens such understanding.

On the basis of the multiple barriers that girls encounter and strategies recommended in the literature, Samata organisers have worked to create an enabling environment by intervening with all relevant stakeholders - girls, boys, parents, school teachers and principals, School Development and Monitoring Committees (SDMCs), local governing officials, education department officials, and male students - to increase both demand for and supply of secondary education for girls.

At the heart of the Samata intervention is the development of a cadre of adolescent girl leaders who work to sustain changes in favour of girls' education and gender equality in their villages. The programme mentors girls to become confident and vocal young feminists, active in their communities and schools. Samata aims to equip them with the knowledge and skills to effectively negotiate a space that is hostile to women.

More specifically, interventions with schools, teachers, and SDMCs include:

  • Skills and capacities of school staff and SDMCs built to conduct gender analysis and prepare school development plans towards girls' entry and retention in school - activities include: developing a 2-day curriculum for training the teachers and SDMCs; developing a team of master trainers from the education departments and regular training institutes; conducting gender training for teachers and SDMCs members using the curriculum; training SDMCs; and developing an action plan by end of the training to initiate activities in school to promote gender equity.
  • Simple tools and job aids are available with school staff and SDMC for tracking entry and retention - activities include: assessing existing methods of tracking students; developing tools for teachers to annually map and track vulnerable girls by using classes 7 and 8 enrolment lists from the area's upper primary schools, and piloting the tools in selected schools; advocating with schools to introduce the tool; training teachers to use the tool for profiling and tracking; and monitoring and supporting teachers to conduct gap analysis and use the tool to improve entry and retention.
  • Schools have policies that ensure a safe environment and participation of girls in school - activities include: assisting schools to institute safety measures for girls supported by a buddy system that includes peers and teachers to enable reporting and redressal of harassment of girls; and initiating girl-friendly services in the schools like separate toilets for girls, special events for promoting girls' leadership, etc.
  • Schools have leadership and career counselling programmes for adolescent girls - activities include: organising career counselling sessions through schools on career options; supporting schools in establishing links for schemes meant for adolescent girls; collaborating with the school to organise intra- and inter-school sports and cultural meetings for adolescent girls that build their confidence and leadership skills, and challenge gender norms; and organising special leadership and personality development programmes for the adolescent girls.

With regard to SC/ST girls (Classes 7 to 10) from intervention schools and villages, Samata works to strengthen the self-esteem and awareness of the girls to enable them to make informed choices and empower them to collectively confront and overcome the issues they face. "Champions of change" are being identified and assisted to form support groups for adolescents living in their village's vicinity. These groups will be strengthened to engage with families and others in the community and negotiate necessary changes in attitudes, behaviours, actions, and services at the community and district level. Group sessions with adolescent girls use Parivartan modules (a curriculum to shift gender norms among adolescent girls and boys) to recognise and examine manifestations of gender disparity and gender-based violence and to empower girls to call for equality and their rights, especially their rights to education and freedom from discrimination. Safe spaces are arranged for the girls to meet regularly and to nurture their networks. Through these group sessions, mentoring focuses on issues of violence against girls, sexual and reproductive health education, and life skills such as interpersonal negotiation and leadership.

Intervention at the family level intends to help families to understand the importance of educating girls and gender equity, as well as the consequences of early marriage and child bearing, and to assist families to find ways to afford to educate their daughters. This is being done by identifying the most marginalised and vulnerable families, counselling them on the key issues they are facing, helping them solve their problems, initiating dialogue about secondary education for daughters, and linking them to livelihood schemes. These activities are carried out by the outreach workers through meeting with the parents, village- and community-level meetings, samvaada programmes (street plays and folk shows on the issues of early marriage, school dropouts, etc., followed by discussions and conversations with the community members), village-level campaigns, and so on. Intervention with families also promotes their active participation in SDMCs.

The project is also working with boys aged 13-18 years from the SC/ST community to transform their attitudes towards gender, emphasising the right of adolescent girls to a life free of violence and abuse. Popular sports are being used as a channel for communicating positive messages on masculinity and respect for women. Samata uses Parivartan modules (referenced above) to engage local athletic coaches to deliver violence prevention scripts and tools to adolescent boys from the same locality to alter norms that foster aggression and violence, to promote bystander intervention, and to reduce physical and sexual assault. Parivartan uses athletic coaches because they are often seen by boys as role models.

Interventions with the community include:

  • Community awareness is raised about consequences of girls discontinuing education - activities include: selecting folk media troupes to develop and perform folk shows in the community to initiate dialogue about secondary education for adolescent girls, the hazards of early marriage, teenage pregnancy, early child-bearing, and early sexual debut; and conducting regular meetings with existing groups in the villages.
  • Community members take action against girl child drop-out from schools - activities include: meeting regularly with Dalit Sangarsh Samithi (DSS), youth groups, and self-help groups (SHGs) to share evidence, progress, and outcomes of the intervention; meeting regularly with Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) to help them understand their role in girl child education; developing vigilance committees to increase entry and retention; supporting campaigns related to transition and retention started by the local community/SDMC/schools; and advocating with PRIs on the importance of the issue and the need for monitoring the activities undertaken by schools.

Samata also involves intervention with State-, District-, and Block-Level Department of Education officials and the media. Interventions with Education Department officials are of two types: i) interventions that form and strengthen collaboration between the officials, Samata, and civil society, and ii) advocacy. The ultimate purpose of collaboration with the Education Department is to prepare the government to continue Samata's activities after KPHT exits. The existence of many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) that work for the cause of adolescent girls and vulnerable women in Samata's project area will strengthen Samata's implementation is expected to provide allies for advocacy. Another important ally in advocacy is adolescent girls themselves. One key strategy is to hold events that enable girls to voice their needs, concerns, and aspirations directly to key stakeholders. Broadly, the advocacy process includes many activities, including forming contacts at different levels, collaboration activities, joint meetings and conferences, facilitating exposure to programmes, sharing best practices, research and assessment findings, networking with organisations at different levels, media sensitisation, and direct engagement with policymakers to translate Samata's learnings into guidelines and schemes.

The process of Samata's implementation will be monitored. The project uses a mixed method community randomised trial design, and has three main components: i) a quantitative assessment involving two sequential cohort studies, one initiated in year one and another initiated in year two, of a sample of SC/ST girls and their families at baseline and following the intervention; ii) a qualitative assessment documenting the process of implementation and change using qualitative methods with SC/ST girls, families, teachers, and boys; and iii) a robust monitoring system to monitor the intervention activities at school and community levels.

Full details about the project are available in the resources available Samata page on the STRIVE website, such as the Project Implementation Design [PDF] document (see especially chapter 6 on the monitoring and evaluation plan).

Development Issues: 

Education, Girls, HIV/AIDS, Gender Equality

Key Points: 

India's commitment to realising universal education has been demonstrated through its Right to Education Act and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme. Yet serious challenges remain in terms of retention, quality, and equity in education. Aggregate indications of progress conceal disparities in education quality and attainment that are compounded by gender, geography, caste, and class. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of adolescent girls belonging to SC/ST families in Bijapur and Bagalkot (where, in 2006, 89% of households from SC/ST in Bagalkot and 42% of all households in Bijapur lived below the poverty line). The likelihood of SC/ST girls in these districts completing secondary school is sharply diminished by poverty, stigma, and traditions of early marriage or dedication as devadasi before they turn 18. In 2006, among SC/ST girls, 53% in Bagalkot and 38% in Bijapur married before the age of 18. Over 70% of female sex workers from northern Karnataka are from SC/ST communities and enter into sex work before 18 years of age. By terminating girls' education and initiating them to high-volume sex work at an early age in districts where rates of HIV prevalence are among the highest in the nation, the devadasi tradition increases girls' HIV vulnerability.

According to organisers, a girl who drops out of school can: be more vulnerable to HIV infection and other health problems; have a larger, less healthy family; earn less than better educated girls; lack voice and agency; and be disengaged from larger community issues. Forcing girls to drop out or marrying them early is seen by the organisers as violence and right violation against adolescent girls. A girl who completes high school: is three times less likely to contract HIV; will have fewer, healthier and better educated children; earns better and reinvests 90% of what she earns into her family; is better prepared for decision making; is more involved in her community; and increases the economic growth of the country.

On the basis of a series of intensive assessments of the situation of adolescent girls and their families in Bagalkot and Bijapur, KHPT felt that it will be very constructive to intervene with girls to strengthen their confidence; improve their skills in communication, leadership, and problem solving; improve their academic performance; strengthen their solidarity; create support structures at family and community levels; and link them to schemes related to education, health, and skill development. Creating safe spaces for girls, working with parents and adolescent boys, and involving schools and mobilising community support have been found to positively impact on girls' education.

Partner Text: 

The Samata programme is implemented by the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust (KHPT) in partnership with the Government of Karnataka, ViiV Healthcare, and the University of Manitoba. The evaluation component of Samata is implemented by the KHPT and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), with funding from UKAid from the Department for International Development (DFID) through the STRIVE research programme consortium.

See video

STRIVE website, Samata page on the STRIVE website, Samata intervention briefs, Samata poster [PDF] - all accessed on June 1 2017; and email from Parinita Bhattacharjee to The Communication Initiative on June 2 2017.