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No Phones, Internet: Here’s How I’m Fighting To Make Sure Girls Go #BackToSchool!

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This post is a part of Back To School, a global movement to ensure that access to education for girls in India does not suffer post COVID-19. Click here to find out more.

The COVID-19-induced lockdown impacted all walks of life, but the most important impact has been on education. Education is fundamental for society, for social development. Our young ones have the potential to become the voice of the nation. As someone educating others, it has been a ‘striking’ journey for me!

Many students are the daughters of migrant workers who might not come back to the cities, so it will be difficult for them to continue their education. The impact of the pandemic on girls’ education is has been worse as compared to boys, and the picture is worse in rural areas.

It is true that after the lockdown millions of teenage girls will not come back to school and they just might be forced to get married. According to a UNESCO estimate, nearly 321 million Indian children were asked to stay home.

Not being in school increases the risk of early marriage, gender-based violence and trafficking. There are already reports on the rising cases of domestic violence in the country.  Representational image.

According to a National Statistical Organisation (NSO) survey, just 20% of Indians above the age of 5 had the digital literacy skills to use the internet, and only 24% of families had access to the internet. How we can cope with online education and classes without arranging smartphones and spreading awareness among their parents?

Prof Amita Rampal, Educationist, Delhi University, said, “It is estimated that about 20% of girls are not going to come back to school after lockdown….most of the girls from families of migrant workers are in the vulnerable age where they are likely to get married.”

Parents’ support plays a substantial role in the journey of education, but because of a lack of awareness, early marriage might take precedence over education for many young girls.

The second difficulty is there is a huge number of economically disadvantaged families who do not have smartphones. How will their children continue with online classes?

Its good that some private school are conducting online classes, but it would be better if government schools can also continue online class, but in a ‘smart’ way. Many government schools have not been able to maintain virtual classes due to issues like financial problems, lack of accessibility, but I feel that there are certain steps that can be implemented so that every student can take the part in the learning process. These measures include:

  • Teleconferencing.
  • Ways to regularly message teachers to clear doubts.
  • Organizing the classes with social distancing measures.
  • Use of masks and sanitisers.
  • Sitting arrangement with some precautions.
  • Printed self-study materials for the students.

There is an urgent need to assure parents that they must prioritise education over marriage, and also make them understand the trouble that is child marriage.

Way Forward

We can also do our bit to help. Everyone can help expand the horizon of dreams. The saying ‘Each one, teach one‘, I feel, is the best way to carry on with the exercise of nation-building. I am currently teaching 15 girls who belong to economically weaker sections.

According to a National Statistical Organisation (NSO) survey, just 20% of Indians above the age of 5 had the digital literacy skills to use the internet, and only 24% of families had access to the internet. Representational image.

As a teacher, tutor, and a mentor, during the lockdown, I worked to spread knowledge and awareness in my locality. I developed various tools to fulfil the need for disadvantaged girl students. I wondered, since we’ve been living with our family members rather comfortably, why shouldn’t we take some time and arrange classes for those girls who don’t have access to online classes? I helped provide counselling sessions to girls and parents from my locality, as spoke to them about reasons they should continue their education during the lockdown.

While arranging classes I conduct, here are some rules I have strictly followed:

  • Distribution of washable mask which I made for my students.
  • A distance of 5-feet between the students.
  • Conducting classes in batches of three students each, and allowing one hour for each batch.
  • Distributing handouts, written by me, to help retain all the points.

We worked on improving the reading, writing, and listening skills of many young girls.

I have been working to bridge the learning gap. I have faith in each of us to continue such initiatives and work through all such situations and challenges!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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