Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC) is a youth-led program initiated by the Martha Farrell Foundation to end violence against women and girls (VAWG). The program calls young boys and girls to identify issues of VAWG in their communities and collectively work with stakeholders to bring change in the attitude of people.
In doing so, these young boys and girls gain the confidence of taking up leadership roles and influence their homes, communities and other youths to join them. The program has been implemented in 30 locations in 14 states over the last three years, engaging more than 30,000 youth, and reaching out to close to three million people in the process.
Upadrasta Neeharika, an 18-year old college student from Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, is a prime example of a youth taking the initiative in their own community. Born in Kurnool, Neeharika has grown up in Hyderabad and is now studying at the AV College of Arts, Science and Commerce.
Neeharika has always had a curious side to her, and her need to explore led to her joining the women’s empowerment cell at her college. This proved to be a turning point in her development. “Joining the women’s empowerment cell opened up a lot of interesting opportunities for me. Through them, I have managed to learn a lot of new skills, meet different people and explore,” she said.
Rubaroo, a local implementation partner for the KBC program in Hyderabad, were the ones who introduced Neeharika to the project when they’d visited her college. Rubaroo is a youth development organisation based in Hyderabad that works with adolescents and youth on issues of gender, interfaith, and youth development. Rubaroo encourages young people to not only straighten their understanding of social issues, but also to take up action to bring change in the world.
R. Srilatha, a professor at the college, and mentor for the women’s empowerment cell, too believes that she has seen a lot of change in Neeharika once she joined the cell. “She was just like any other college student before, but since enrolling in the women’s empowerment cell, Neeharika has given her best at every session and her commitment, especially towards social projects like KBC, has been tremendous. She is regularly seen motivating her own peer group around college,” she said.
The KBC Program engages boys and girls, and helps them break gender norms and identify the various stereotypes and issues relating to gender around them.
“KBC changed my behavior and the way I think in terms of my ideology. Earlier, I was extremely judgmental. I had a very stereotypical personality and I used to judge others based on age-old gender norms. However, once I completed my KBC sessions with Rubaroo, I started seeing the world differently,” said Neeharika, when discussing the change that she has seen in herself since she joined KBC. She continued, “I stopped following certain gender norms and also explained the same to my family and friends. Moreover, the KBC program has helped me develop a lot of life skills. It has helped me get rid of my stage fright and improve my communication skills.”
Participating in the KBC program, along with her involvement in her college’s women’s empowerment cell, has helped Neeharika to not just identify issues relating to VAWG around her, but also take the lead to go one step further and influence change.
One of the key aspects of the KBC training is learning how to use the Participatory Safety Assessment tool (PSAs). Here, youth leaders are capacitated to conduct PSAs of their communities, schools, colleges and public spaces to analyse how safe they are for women and girls. With this in mind, Neeharika and other participants decided to conduct a PSA at her college. She felt that it was the best place for her to start to identify problems and find solutions.
The PSA led to a number of findings, some of which included the fact that there were no menstrual pads available at the college, and that only men cleaned the ladies washroom. Additionally, it identified a number of unsafe and unsanitary areas around campus. The PSA also highlighted the fact that the college had no internal complaints or sexual harassment committees.
These issues represent a number of problems for students at the college, women in particular. The PSA has brought about a remarkable change at the college, with lecturers helping students conduct the audit, and the management, who has promised to provide and implement solutions for all the identified problems.
Hema Khatri, co-founder, and director of Rubaroo, has hailed Neeharika’s development, initiative and passion for social justice,
“Neeharika joined Rubaroo’s community through KBC one year ago. Since joining the KBC program, Neeharika’s understanding and perspective on Gender and Inclusion has grown tremendously. She had not only successfully implemented her social action projects and PSA but has also become very passionate to work towards Gender issues. She is now successfully leading and implementing a 6-month long Gender Campaign Initiative in two schools in Hyderabad. Her inquisitiveness, leadership and keenness to learn have been her biggest strengths and we hope that she continues to work towards a gender-equal society through her commitment and work.”
Neeharika herself is extremely proud of the PSA conducted at her college and is confident that she can continue to make a difference at the campus and beyond. “I felt very happy to have been recognized for my efforts and it has inspired me to work harder!”
All images have been provided by the author.