"With an entire programme focusing on adolescent empowerment, girls who have been raised in a culture of silence are getting the courage to raise and voice their concerns and opinions." - Supriya Tewari of Breakthrough
Launched in 2016, De Taali is the Indian organisation Breakthrough's adolescent empowerment initiative. Running in the districts of Lucknow, Varanasi, Jaunpur, Gazipur, Gorakhpur, Siddharthnagar, and Maharajganj in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the programme assists communities to recognise and provide for adolescent needs like education, health (including sanitation and menstrual hygiene), life-skills, and protection from violence. Through De Taali, Breakthrough is reaching out to 500,000 adolescents in UP - especially girls - to help them voice their aspirations, to teach them how to have a say in the choices that are being made for them, and to give them a better shot at life.
"De Taali" (hashtag #DeTaali) means "Give me 5", and it invites entire communities in with a simple message: "Banegi Baat Saath-Saath" ("We can achieve this together."). The programme reaches out to communities through its overarching ecological model so as to make them not only aware about the health and educational rights of adolescents but also to motivate them to support adolescents in accessing their rights and health and educational entitlements. In addition to working within the school environment, De Taali is engaging all key community stakeholders, gatekeepers, and duty bearers so as to create a conducive, safe, and enabling environment in villages, with the intention that all adolescents have suitable opportunities for leading an empowered life based on their rights and choice.
A specially designed curriculum called "Taron Ki Toli" is being delivered to adolescents in school and in the community. The curriculum consists of a collection of games and activities that take the young people on a journey of self-discovery and development. Kishori Mela (school-level fair) is focused on the value of education of girls, reducing gender discrimination, gender-biased sex selection, and prevention of early marriage. As part of Kishori Mela, there are fun-filled activities that happen during the day like 'Thank You' letters from students to their parents for sending them to school, drawing competitions, and poster competitions and theatre competitions focused on career choices of girls and boys. These games and activities encourage the users to consider viewpoints and perceptions that are different from their own. It also creates a safe space and provides them with skills to explore opportunities of, and influence change towards, a gender-equitable family, community, and society.
Teachers are also being oriented to promote their key role as gatekeepers and facilitators in bringing about a change in mindsets and gender norms amidst parents and adolescents. They are also being trained to make students aware of ills of early marriage and importance of education. Teachers are to be oriented on child safeguarding issues, too, so that safer environment is created for adolescents.
The outreach of the Breakthrough programme extends beyond school. Breakthrough is conducting intensive training modules with parents (especially fathers) and community leaders to build awareness on how practices of early marriage, early motherhood and lack of access to education and health for adolescents are barriers to social and economic progress for the entire community. Breakthrough is engaging men and boys through farmers' clubs and open meetings in villages so as to promote healthier gender norms and create safer environments for girls. Duty bearers such as local government representatives and community leaders are also being engaged through this process. The purpose is to make adolescent-specific issues part of their agenda.
Noting that frontline health workers play crucial role in enabling access of adolescents to public health system and promoting adolescents' health rights, these workers are being engaged through rapport building, regular follow-ups, and special training programmes. They are also being trained so that they become aware of gender-based discrimination and are sensitive to cases of gender-based violence. It is hoped that sensitisation on such issues will help them better understand the needs of the adolescents. In addition, Village Health and Nutrition Day (VHND) is being used as a platform to promote health access of adolescents.
Peer educators are emerging as an important component of De Taali. They are being groomed through special training programmes so that they are able to play a leading role in catalysing change towards more equitable gender norms in family and community.
The programme uses a range of community mobilisation strategies, including video van runs, theatre of oppressed, public hearings, and intergenerational dialogues to disseminate messaging on the campaign's issues so that adolescent issues and problems gain greater acknowledgement and that the community has positive attitudes towards empowerment of girls, becomes aware about gender-based discrimination issues, and provides greater support to safety of girls. Open village meetings are also being used as opportunities for meaningful interactions to promote adolescent-specific issues and to create a safer, adolescent-friendly environment in villages.
To explore one such strategy in more depth, theatre of oppressed is staged at the various spots where the De Taali video van stops. The theme of the play is centred around locally relevant issues so that spectators are able to identify with the issue. Theatre of oppressed is a distinct interactive theatrical form in which the audience become active participants. The play is paused at a particular point - usually, the climax or a moment of decision - and people from the spectators are invited to continue the role of the protagonist. As actors, they are encouraged to explore, display, contemplate, and transform the reality in which they are living. Thus, by reacting to the locally pertinent situation in the play, the community members get the opportunity to reflect on their problems and arrive at solutions.
Specifically, the shows begin with the title song "De Taali", which invites all to join in clapping and singing to celebrate the participation and excellence of girls in different domains of life, to celebrate their laughter, to celebrate their sense of self-respect, and to celebrate their achievements. The song also appeals to all to collaborate to help girls grow, progress, and achieve what they aspire for. One show, "Chanda Pukaare", is a daughter's plea to her father to not force her into an early marriage but instead to allow her to pursue her education and her dreams. According to Breakthrough, girls from even socially and economically marginalised communities in the villages have come forward to play Chanda's role and made bold statements, indicating they are becoming conscious about their rights and confident in expressing them. They have also actively participated in games and had successful turns at tongue twisters, for which they were rewarded with momentos.
When a video van run was initiated in his block, Gosainganj, the Pradhan of Churahiya village, spent his own resources for organising a small inaugural ceremony of video van run. He also positively used his political clout and rapport to encourage several block level government officials to be present for this event. "Please also write the helpline numbers on the walls of my shop," requested the owner of a village shop, in Mohanlaganj Block. The video van run influenced him, too, leading him to seek to make his contribution to De Taali's social messaging.
Breakthrough is creating a 360-degree campaign across various mediums (film, radio spots, interactive voice response (IVR), and digital/social media) to disseminate and simultaneously to create awareness on key messages under De Taali programme. For example, those adolescents who are familiar with the internet are encouraged to support their families to use technology to access government schemes and entitlements, and also to make use of helpline numbers, when required.
Adolescence, Gender, Health, Rights, Education
Breakthrough points out that one-fifth of Indians are adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19. These millions of young people could potentially power social reform and economic progress. However, with nearly 80 million early marriages, children being born to children, and escalating crimes against women, Indian communities are holding back the very generation that could lead them forward. UP ranks first in terms of adolescent population in the country. Many of these adolescents live in poverty with restricted rights, opportunities, and choices, as well as inadequate access to quality education, health services, and employment opportunities. Due to traditional norms, there is little discussion on issues like menstrual hygiene and sexual and reproductive health, and girls are vulnerable to violence because of the low value they have in the eyes of their families and the larger society. Early marriage affects a large number of adolescent girls, often leading them to bear children early despite the risks to their lives and health, and thus to drop out of school. Such inequalities early in life can contribute to poor health, economic insecurity, and diminished quality of life - impacting an entire generation of people.
Supported by the IKEA Foundation.
The Breakthrough Bulletin, October 15 2017; emails from Urvashi Gandhi to The Communication Initiative on November 15 2017 and December 13 2017; and "Capturing Stories of Change", by Supriya Tewari, March 29 2017, and "Increasing Participation From The Community", by Supriya Tewari, April 6 2017 - both accessed on December 13 2017. Image credit: Breatkthrough