Fifteen-year-old Sabrina is a class VIII student in the government middle school at Bawla, Haryana. She studies all subjects diligently, with her favourite being Hindi. During the COVID pandemic, she missed school for two years due to the lockdown restrictions, a time she spent burdened with household chores.

Following the lifting of the lockdown restrictions, Sabrina’s enthusiasm for school has only increased. She wishes to successfully complete her studies and become a police officer. Sabrina hopes to be a pillar of support for girls who find themselves in challenging circumstances and unable to voice their concerns or give life to their dreams. “I want to help girls in any way I can. If they have any trouble, I want to be there for them. This is what I will do when I join the police force.”

Till last year, Sabrina would not have been so sure about being able to pursue her dreams. Like most girls in her village, she too faced the risk of dropping out after completing middle school, as the government secondary school is a long way from her village. Due to existing gender discriminatory social and cultural norms as well as the absence of a safe means of conveyance for girls to travel to school, the drop out rate in the region is huge. During the last year, however, Sabrina has gained a new confidence and desire to complete her studies till class XII and pursue her dream of a future where she is able to help other girls overcome these barriers to girls education in India.

She is looking to enrol into secondary school, as her father has agreed to drop her at school to enable her to complete her studies. Sabrina attributes the newfound faith in herself to the Ballika Manch, a unique weekly forum created by the government to equip girls with leadership skills and raise awareness about gender issues and the importance of girls’ education. The weekly forum was initiated at her school a year ago with the support CARE India, a NGO working for girls’ education, as part of its ‘Be the Change’ program.

The coordinators of the program involve girls in a variety of activities such as Kanafoosi (Chinese Whispers), Good Touch-Bad Touch and Darpan (Mirror game) that are aimed at encouraging them to speak up about their challenges, desires, and opinions. Sabrina appreciates the non-discriminatory approach of the forum and says that it has given her and her schoolmates the confidence and courage to freely raise their voices against gender discrimination and eve-teasing. Sabrina feels that this has enabled the students to actively participate in bringing change in the community’s attitudes towards girls and have given them the opportunity to look ahead to a bright future. While Ballika Manch is currently organised for girls till class VIII, Sabrina hopes the sessions can be extended to cover higher classes.

About the Programme: CARE India is a NGO working for girls and women’s education in India. The Ballika Manch programme for girls is a CARE India initiative aimed at empowering young girls and promoting gender equality in India. The programme offers a safe and supportive space for girls to learn, share their experiences, and develop essential life skills. Through various activities such as leadership training, health education, and community mobilization, the programme helps girls become confident, informed, and engaged members of their communities. The Ballika Manch programme contributes to gender equality and a brighter future for girls in India by providing them with the tools and resources they need to succeed.