In India girls and boys experience adolescence differently. While boys tend to experience greater freedom, girls tend to face extensive limitations on their ability to move freely and to make decisions affecting their work, education, marriage and social relationships*.
CARE India’s Be the Change program is trying to bring gender equality through various forums. One such forum is Ballika Manch which is a unique platform created by the state government to equip girls with leadership skills and raise awareness amongst them on gender issues. CARE India has played an important role in uplifting school-based platforms in upper primary schools to promote girls’ leadership. Ballika Manch is a platform for girls to express their long-suppressed voices and to identify how some age-long customs did not let their opinions and ideas reach society. It motivates girls to speak up against the injustices towards them, to develop their leadership skills, to identify themselves and to raise their voice and opinion. Ballika Manch has created numerous success stories. The lives of Neetu, Afiya and Muntija have transformed by being active participants in Balika Manch and stood up against various social injustices by raising their voices and motivating girls around them.
Neetu comes from a family with domestic violence episodes. Her mentally challenged father abused her mother. Her father’s health deteriorated since her formative years. At a young age, she understood that her uneducated and rigid brother won’t take up family responsibility. Neetu and her sister support her mother who is the only stable bread earner in the family. Ballika Manch has boosted her confidence. She now understands how certain people discriminate against others in terms of caste, thus she makes sure to eat with all the girls no matter which background they belong to. Her leadership skills are better and do not shy away to stand up and speak her mind. Now, Neetu is sure that she doesn’t need to rely on any man. She moves confidently with a motto: padhenge toh badhenge i.e. we’ll grow if we study.
From a story about a hostile home environment, we come to another success story of a girl who was supported by her parents but questioned by society. Afiya is the only daughter in her family. She has been raised no different than her brothers. Her neighborhoods taunt and question Afiya’s parents for letting her study. These constant gossips and ridicules made her demure. With the help of Ballika Manch, Afiya has gained confidence and developed leadership skills. She understands that a true leader not only improves herself but also the surroundings. Afiya became a role model in her village and encouraged other families to let their daughters study and break the tradition of early marriage. Ballika Manch also made her understand about maintaining health during menstruation with sanitary pads and other issues which any adolescent girls face. Today, Afiya isn’t scared of any stranger, teachers or the entire village. She aspires to become a teacher someday so that she can educate girls outside her village to develop their leadership skills as she did.
From Afiya’s success story, we now proceed to another story wherein the patriarchs dictated their customs on women. This is Muntija’s story. Muntija comes from a family where the male child is given the first preference over daughters. Muntija’s homemaker mother doesn’t want her daughter to pursue her higher studies and objects to studying in a co-education school as they are considered taboo. After enrolling in Ballika Manch, Muntija was made a part of the morning assembly committee. The monthly meetings helped her understand how these discriminative customs were against her bright future. She realised why child marriage is immoral not only socially, but also physically and mentally. She became a voice for other girls and asked their parents to let their daughter study further as she did. Muntija now comes across as an independent and confident girl who dares to stand up against eve-teasers.
Ballika Manch became a platform that gave strength to these young girls. They made sure that whenever they look themselves in the mirror, they see a strong independent girl who is not scared of the customs which suppressed her voice. Ballika Manch has now achieved many success stories. Their background and journey might be different, but the destination is the same: making her heard.
Be The Change program provides leadership skills to adolescent girls of marginalized groups and promotes a safe and secure environment for education.