Empowering Children for Change
By Naina Jha
Curated by Vandita Morarka
You’ve gotten to know our team, we’re bringing you this series so that you can get to know our work better too. We explore the different verticals of our work through the lens of the people leading them.
Children are the budding future of society, giving them the opportunity of a safe childhood is key to their development. I’ve been working with children since 2005 on a multitude of issues. However, when I started working with Safecity, I got a chance to work with children more closely. I’ve organized awareness workshops for them on a host of topics, including, Puberty and Menstruation; Prevention of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO); and Cyber bullying. These workshops have given me insight into the severe lack of awareness of such issues and related rights amongst children.
During one of my workshops, a girl shared her experience as follows, ”When I started menstruating I was not prepared for it. No one had talked to me about menstrual blood, at home or in school. When I told my mother that I had blood stains on my underwear, I was advised to use cloth, and not enter the temple or touch pickle. I usually miss a day or two of school during my period” – this is almost every third girl’s story. Similarly boys find menstruation a humorous or uncomfortable topic. There is a deep insensitivity towards such an important bodily process. Our society makes menstruation a topic of shame. The onset of menstruation, and the practices associated with it, are areas shrouded in silence across India; yet they bring many challenges. On the one hand, puberty is a period of rapid transition for adolescent girls, and a critical time for identity formation; on the other, prevailing patriarchal ideologies, cultural taboos, and traditional practices exclude women and girls from various activities, including school attendance, reinforcing gender inequalities. I’m highlighting some experiences shared by young girls with me through one format of our workshops, these experiences bring to light the need, importance and impact of empowering young children for change.
“I had no information regarding menstruation before I started my periods. I had only observed that on certain days, my mother did not enter the kitchen and cook. When I asked my mother about this, she did not given any reason or explanation”.
All girls agreed that when they started their periods, the first person they went to was their mother. The role of schools in providing information (which could happen via teachers, media, or books) was negligible. Media outside school also had a negligible role. The lack of school attempts to discuss menstruation, including how to cope with periods in terms of hygiene, was a serious concern. During workshops in schools, typical comments were:
“The teachers themselves are inhibited and do not discuss the topic openly”.
“When I started menstruating in the school, I was scared and embarrassed to see blood spots on my clothes and boys make fun of it and that is more humiliating.”
“The teacher asked me to go home and talk to my mother”.
The taboos and myths associated with menstruation are pervasive, and continue to restrict women’s and girls’ participation in private and public spheres. Since menarche indicates puberty, sexual maturation, and consequent ability to reproduce, there is an anxiety around the sexuality of girls, and various restrictions are placed on their mobility.
It is important for boys as well to know about puberty and menstruation so that the process gets normalized amongst them. These workshops help us build sensitivity amongst boys towards girls and towards themselves, it helps us breakdown typical notions of masculinity and eradicate toxic gender roles and stereotypes.
The girls that have no embarrassment are well in the minority… and we have to ask ourselves, ‘Where does this come from?’ You know, they don’t arrive at that by themselves. My concern is that young girls still experience shame, embarrassment and in some cases disgust about menstruation. I want to see such conversations normalized.
Awareness about Child Sex Abuse (CSA) is another focus area that I work on. According to reports, mostly children are abused by someone known and these issues never come up because children don’t understand what is happening with them or they hold feelings of guilt or shame and many a times parents do not provide adequate support because of notions of societal and family prestige. Through our workshops, these children now know what action to take if they are experiencing CSA; they say almost in unison that they will pass this information to their friends and siblings so that they can also stay safe.
I’ve also dealt with cyber bullying through workshops. Children shared their experience of being trolled on Facebook and on other social media sites. For instance, one girl said that one of her classmates often shares her picture on Instagram and gets scolded at home. Her parents once asked her to drop out from school because of this. Another one shared how her photo was used to create an account on Facebook and inappropriate messages were being sent to boys from that account. Our workshops work with children on developing preventive measures, assessing how they can stay safe online; from whom they can seek help and legal redressal etc.
Alongside, I do community meet ups with teachers and youth on ensuring safer schools and safe streets. I get to learn so much from them, hear amazing ideas. They share how can we go ahead and sensitize communities on women issues.
Violence against women and girls is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence. Given the devastating effect violence has on women, efforts have mainly focused on responses and services for survivors. However, we, at Safecity, believe that the best way to end violence against women and girls is to prevent it from happening in the first place by addressing its root and structural causes. Our app is another tool to empower communities to take action themselves, we hope you use it to organize and educate.
I believe that prevention should start early in life, by educating and working with young boys and girls promoting respectful relationships and gender equality. Working with schools, youth, communities and other stakeholders is the best way for sustained progress on preventing and eradicating gender based violence.
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