Social Accountability for Adolescents’ Rights and Citizenship
Renu Khanna (SAHAJ Team Vadodara, Gujarat, India)
Manisha – an adivasi girl from Mahisagar District
I am Manisha Parsing living in Dotawada Village, Santrampur Taluka, District Mahisagar. I am 17 years old, and have passed Class 10.
Before the Kishori Group (Adolescent Girls’ Group around which the SABLA programme is organised) started in our village, we did not get our Take Home Ration, nor iron tablets regularly. After the group was formed - we are only ten girls in our group - we started having regular meetings in the anganwadi. SAHAJ arranged leadership training for us. I have attended all the training workshops after I joined as a peer leader. After learning about Body Mass Index (BMI), I started measuring height and weight of girls in our group. The anganwadi worker found it difficult to calculate BMI, so we decided to do it ourselves.
The nurse was not giving us Iron tablets regularly, we talked to her over the phone and now she gives us the tablets regularly. We started getting our Iron (Haemoglobin) levels checked. Kishori Divas (Adolescent Girls’ Day) was organised by us in our anganwadi.
I feel a lot of change in myself. Initially I used to feel scared to talk to anyone, especially in front of a group. But now I can talk anywhere, in front of any one!
Manisha is one of the 100 peer leaders nurtured by a collaborative project ‘Adolescents as Citizens and Change Agents for Social Accountability’ being implemented by SAHAJ and partners in four backward districts of Gujarat in western India. The goal of the project is to create a model of leadership and citizenship amongst adolescent girls and boys (11 to 18 years) based on a gender and rights perspective.
Main activities of the project are to: increase awareness about gender, sexuality, and rights; promote collective action by local groups of girls and boys; and, advocate with stakeholders – like parents, government functionaries, and village leaders - on adolescent rights. The project is anchored on entitlements related to three government programmes – SABLA (adolescent girls’ empowerment and nutrition programme implemented through the anganwadi centres and the Department of Women and Child Development), ARSH (Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health Programmes implemented by the Health Department) and NYKS (Nehru Yuvak Kendra Scheme implemented by the Youth Department).
Relevance for building citizenship and rights awareness among the adolescents and marked increase in awareness among the adolescents about their entitlements (As reported in Review). The skills imparted equipped them to claim these entitlements.
Successful mobilisation of other youth and member of the community to get new school building, improvements in the anganwadi centres, regular water supply, bus service to their remote villages, computer classes for the youth in the villages and so on, also using the instrument of Right to Information (RTI).
Increased self-expression and ‘voice’ amongst the girls and boys. They have been able to negotiate for their rights and freedoms within their families, represented their collective issues in public fora like the Jan Samvaads (Public Dialogues).
2. As part of YuvaManch (Youth Platform), they have gone to the state level to ask why the programmes are not working well in their districts. Participation of the young people in public affairs is also beginning to increase going beyond the three select programmes.
Lessons learnt: The adolescents as a group are effective change makers. The impact of inputs given to this group gets amplified once they acquire the necessary skills and information to claim their rights. However, there is also a need to take a differential approach considering the age group, educational levels, and socio economic and cultural contexts of the children.
Where adolescents are central actors in programme implementation, it is necessary that the parents and community members - such as local elected representatives or members of the Village Health and Development Committees- also be involved. This lends greater seriousness – and credibility - to the adolescents’ efforts to demand accountability of service providers. Since adolescents are a vulnerable group, there is a need to undertake additional measures to safeguard them from a backlash.
The poor implementation of NYKS scheme and the ARSH programme resulted in non-response towards peer leaders’ efforts to claim entitlements – led to frustration among children.
It was especially difficult to involve school going adolescents in the community based programme. Initially it was difficult for the girls to get permission from their families to attend the group meetings. It took repeated visits and discussions and trust building by the NGO field staff before the girls were allowed to come for the project activities.
It was difficult to have a continued intervention with the adolescents due to seasonal migration.
Confrontation with the duty bearers after the rights and entitlement awareness, followed by threats and intimidation.
Reluctance amongst the ICDS officers to admit the need for external monitoring of the SABLA scheme.
About the author:
Renu Khanna is a feminist women’s health and rights activist. She is a founder trustee of SAHAJ-Society for Health Alternatives based in Vadodara (Gujarat) and also Steering Committee member of COPASAH. For more information on SAHAJ please visit: http://www.sahaj.org.in/