"Guaranteeing universal access to equitable and good quality reproductive health information and services free from coercion and discrimination is critical for achieving gender equality and ensuring that women and young people can participate as full members of society."
Central to this trans-media storytelling initiative for social change in India is a family drama series challenging the discrimination that women face every day. Beginning March 8 2014 (International Women's Day), it airs at 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on Doordarshan (DD) with simultaneous broadcast on All India Radio. Created by Population Foundation of India (PFI), this entertainment education (EE) initiative is an effort to increase women's agency, enhance knowledge, and change perceptions and attitudes on social determinants of health to eventually contribute to improving demand, access, and quality of reproductive health services in India.
"A woman is a full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform. To bring this notion to life, meet protagonist Sneha Mathur from Mumbai, a spirited, independent young woman, modern in her thoughts but deeply rooted in her culture. She stands up for what she believes is right, raises her voice against all that is wrong, and negotiates the space in-between with poise and grace." Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon is the story of every girl who struggles through her day-to-day life fighting for her rights. It challenges deep-rooted social issues like child marriage, early pregnancies, and sex selection in India society - dealing with topics of women's safety, health, and rights.
Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon is built upon lessons from past experiences and successes of EE to encourage behaviour and perception change. Messages and themes seek to foster changes in individual behavior, collective action, and policy behaviour. The creative content of the soap opera was shaped by formative research, which included a positive deviance (PD) enquiry conducted to identify those uncommon but successful behaviours or strategies which enable certain individuals to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite facing similar challenges and having no extra resources. These behaviours are then creatively modelled in the television serial, providing guides to viewers for action. The aim is to encourage access to voluntary family planning by breaking down social and cultural barriers. Dr. Arvind Singhal, Professor and Director, Social Justice Initiative, Department of Communication, University of Texas (United States), a thought leader in the field of PD and EE, worked closely with PFI since the inception of the programme, from guiding the overall programme design to supporting the development of the research plan and script writing.
Supported by the Department of International Development, Government of the United Kingdom (DFID), the first 52 episodes of will be aired on DD and will be preceded by a series of communication events and publicity to promote the serial at the national level and in selected Hindi-speaking states. While each episode will represent a piece in the longer storyline, the script will be such that different theme-based episodes could be used beyond the life of the serial. PFI will also produce a radio adaptation, funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This has been planned keeping in mind that in rural areas of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh (MP), almost 20 million households do not have access to regular electricity, which limits access to information via television. PFI will collaborate with Gram Vaani, a social technology company that will be working to develop an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system for the serial and adapt messages for a community radio platform to reach the intended audience in their local languages. The IVR will seek to improve listener engagement and reach to inform and inspire positive behavioural changes in rural Bihar and MP. Furthermore, PFI and DD have discussed and agreed on the importance of dubbing the programme into regional languages for a wider reach.
The series will use a variety of media to increase its outreach and recall, including the internet, mobile phones, mobile video vans, Nukkad Natak (street theatre), games and quizzes, leaflets and posters, and use of social media to reach out to young population in urban areas in India.
To complement and extend the messaging of the serial, PFI plans to collaborate with non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners, the government, and networks working on women's empowerment, health and development issues for outreach activities at the community level in selected high-focus districts/villages of Bihar and MP. These outreach activities will include the development of audio-visual and print materials, group meetings with adolescents and young couples, community events, and Hum Kuch Bhi Kar Sakte Hain Awards at the community and block level. Partnerships with mobile communication companies will also be initiated to provide information on family planning and social determinants of health through a SO-LO-MO (social > local > mobile) approach.
Women, Rights, Family Planning, Youth
According to PFI, more attention needs to be given to the importance of changing gender norms and practices within families, communities, and the health system in areas such as preventing early marriages, early and repeated pregnancies, under-nutrition of girls, and domestic violence, as well as sensitisation of boys. "Myths and misconceptions around family planning and socio-cultural barriers need to be addressed through a communication strategy that uses multiple media for optimum reach and impact."
The Hindi speaking belt was selected for this initiative, as data show that over 42% of Indians live in 5 states in this region (Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh), which also record high unmet need for family planning. Specifically, unmet need for spacing in Bihar is as high as 21%; this figure is 14% in MP. Unmet need for contraception is as high as 21.2% in Uttar Pradesh. According to PFI, although recent trends in population indices in India have been very encouraging, India's growing population continues to be a cause for concern. "There are several myths and misconceptions about the nature of the population 'problem' and what needs to be done to achieve rapid population stabilization. While it is theoretically accepted that family planning cannot be treated as a vertical program, in practice in India it continues to be so with sterilization as the dominant method of contraception available to people. This is also reflected in the data on contraceptive use. The use of modern contraceptives in Bihar is 34%, of which 29% is female sterilization; in Madhya Pradesh total modern contraceptive use is 57% with 48% being female sterilization and in Odisha the figures are 44% and 30% for overall use and female sterilization. The projected population growth can be slowed down mainly by delaying age at marriage and childbearing in women. A shocking 47.4% of Indian women aged 20-24 years were married by the age of 18; the proportion was 68% in Bihar, 54% in Madhya Pradesh and 37.5% in Odisha."
PFI reports that the reach of television in India has been increasing rapidly over the years. The number of households owning a television increased from 32% in 2001 to 47% in 2011. Television soap operas have been the most watched programmes since the mid-1980s, and their popularity has been growing rapidly ever since. Due to its non-dependency on electricity, radio is an effective mass communication medium, according to PFI. In Bihar and MP, 15% people listen to radio, of which 68% listen to All India Radio. Share of radio listenership on mobile phones increased from 20% in 2009 to 25% in 2011. Forty percent of mobile phones have in-built FM radio.
There is evidence that soap operas impact behaviours and attitudes on issues related to family planning. For example, evaluations of television serials like Hum Log, Jasoos Vijay, and Kyunki Jeena Isi ka Naam Hai have shown an impact on self-efficacy and collective efficacy, which resulted in changes in social norms. EE telenovelas produced in Mexico between 1975 and 1982 showed a visible impact on adult education, family planning, and gender equality. "Taru", an Indian radio soap opera, has - according to PFI - inspired collective efficacy and community action to solve social problems. In Abirpur village, young female and male members of Taru listeners' groups, after seven months of discussion and deliberation, started an open-air school for underprivileged children, inspired by the character of Neha in the serial. Some 50 children regularly attended school, meeting six days a week, from 4 to 6 p.m. by the village well.
DFID, DD, UNFPA, Soul City, and Gram Vaani
Emails from Arvind Singhal on February 5 2014 and February 24 2014, and from Sona Sharma on February 7 2014, to The Communication Initiative; and communication from Arvind Singhal on March 18 2016.