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Soccer Is Emerging As A Tool To Address Child Rights Issues In Chennai

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Here are the excerpts from the interview with Suma Ravi, Regional Director (South), Child Rights and You (CRY).

Can You Explain The Event-Soccer For Child Rights?

SR: Children are at the core of Child Rights and You- CRY’s existence. We work with on-ground NGOs and collaborate with them to address child rights. One such project, the Vyasarpadi Children’s Empowerment Project working with the children from Vyasarpadi had an ambitious idea to address child rights issues through football, which laid the foundation for ‘Soccer for Child Rights’.

Vyasarpadi is the oldest and largest slum in Chennai with over 1.5 lakh people who call it home. The community was troubled by violations towards children who faced a lot of societal challenges such as rampant instances of Child Marriage and Child Labor. However, since the inception of the tournament and sustained effort to track and intervene on the above-mentioned issues has shown a remarkable change in the community.

CRY in association with Vyasarpadi Children Empowerment introduced the tournament-‘Soccer for Child Rights’ with a humble beginning at Chennai in 2014. The event saw the confluence of two strata from the society as employees from corporate participates to play against the players of Vyasarpadi, to raise awareness and motivate each other in working for child rights. Today this has gained momentum to become one of the biggest events which CRY organises.

How Has Soccer Helped In Motivating Children To Take Up Education?

SR: We along with our project partner track children who are at the high risk of dropping out of school. We bridge conversations with several stakeholders, like parents, teachers, peers and other community members to bring about a system where the child is supported and encouraged to continue education.

Soccer or any sport gives the child an edge to channelise their energy constructively while giving exposure to their talent needed in an environment where the same can be continued along with education. Peer examples and opportunity are the main factors that propel children to continue studies along with sports.

Today the Vyasarpadi Children Empowerment project areas cover covers six slums and 2061 children. This year 212 number of children from class 10 appeared for the board exams and all of them passed and moved to the 11th standard, whereas for class 12, 76 children appeared for the exams and 74 of them passed, and a large number of them have been associated with soccer or has been motivated and encouraged by their peers and friends who have taken serious liking towards the sports.

How Impactful Such An Event Has Been For The Girl Child?

SR: Change is a journey. Today, an increasing number of girls are playing soccer and thereby breaking the notion of soccer being a male-dominated sport. These girls are not just playing but excelling at the highest level and thus becoming a role model and a positive example of a change in the community and within the peers. This, in turn, is inspiring other children of following their footsteps in continuing education along with sports.

For example, Bheemabhai who won the Ashoka youth Venture award this year and Shakthi who has represented the Indian team in the International Match for Slum children in Paris (France) and is also a trained referee having recognized by the Tamil Nadu Football Association are few of the role models who have come up from this model of intervention.

Every passing year there is an increased interest of the sport within girls. Today the parents of these girls are not only supportive but are also proud that their daughters chose to be different.

 What Role Do You Think An Event Like This Plays?

SR: The event provides a great opportunity for corporate teams and children from the marginalized sector to come together on a same platform, united by sports and help each other learn, motivate and be aware of life in all its shades.

For aspiring players this event gives them a great exposure to follow their passion and get recognised. From Vyasarpadi Empowerment Project there have been multiple examples of children playing in the team, excelling at a competitive level of the sport.

An event like this also provides awareness about the systems required for a child’s growth and development. For eg, we work at strengthening government systems like the anganwadis, schools, and primary health centers thereby creating a protective environment for children. Many from the corporate world are not aware of that what the government provides forms the only safety net for the child. This is a space that allows for such conversations

Also, for corporates who have been supporting us for a long time and believing in the cause, this event gives them a great platform to conduct employee engagement activities and generate more awareness around the sensitive issues of child rights and for Shankara Build Pro, who has been our sponsors for the last 4 years, it’s about showing solidarity for the cause of children.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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