Meera Satpathy, founder and CEO of Sukarya (an NGO that empowers young women living in slums), said, “When impressionable adolescent daughters see their parents invested into their welfare and betterment they are more likely to do so for their own daughters.”
She did something unexpected. She reported the incident to her parents and persuaded them to file an arrest warrant. Priya, who wants to join the Army, claims, “Duniya what Hazar baat kame, par hume, na-rukna hai, na.”
Priya’s protest is even more significant because she lives in a slum where such crimes are almost taken as a given, and it is not common for young women to speak out. Her uniqueness is that she was empowered, empowered, and encouraged by NGOs working with young girls (10-19 years old) living in slums. It all started with her parents.
Parenting teenagers requires patience and skills. Contrary to their better-off counterparts, those living in slums or rural areas are subject to double the burden of poverty, and cultural, religious, and social conventions perpetuate patriarchal prejudices.
Therefore, a girl child is viewed as a liability and denied the rights and opportunities guaranteed by our constitution. Many of these girls are chronically malnourished and end up marrying young. This creates a vicious circle: A young mother in poor health is less likely to have healthy children. The problem will not be solved if the girls of those children are also malnourished and get married too soon. UNICEF’s report emphasizes the importance of focusing on teenage girls before becoming mothers to end India’s intergenerational malnutrition cycle.
Further complicating the situation is the fact no government dares to directly challenge patriarchal biases, despite their well-intentioned programs and schemes to promote gender equality.
This explains why, despite six ministries and many government departments being tasked with improving the lives of young mothers and their children, little has changed.
NGOs working with slum girls to educate and empower them must begin their interventions with their parents. Parents often change their minds when they see the value of educating and supporting their daughters. Getting the parents’ support is crucial, as empowering an adolescent girl can often lead to conflict and counterproductive friction at home.
When adolescent girls are shown that their parents care about their well-being and happiness, they will be more likely to do the same for their daughters. Many girls become change agents and inspire others, which helps accelerate the empowerment process.
Although such transformations are not possible overnight, there are many success stories. Take Shaista, a 19-year-old girl affectionately known as Period-wali Didi. Shaista, a 19-year-old openly discussing menstruation in a society that is considered indecent and frowned upon, is a tireless advocate for change. She talks to young girls about safe and healthy menstrual practices.
It was difficult to convince Shaista’s parents that she should join the Gender Equality Program. It was worth the effort. Today, Shaista, a shy and self-deprecating woman, has made a comeback. She freely advises on menstrual hygiene to young girls and encourages them to speak up. The Periodwali Didi is a title that shows how taboo topics are now front and centre in public discourse about the health of women living in the slums.
Although initially sceptical, her parents are now proud of their daughter and have become evangelists to help other parents understand the benefits of giving their daughters the power they deserve.
Her transformations are inspiring and motivating. Each Shaista, each Priya, reinforces our belief that we can make a big difference with the right combination of education, training, handholding, and instruction.
India’s power lies in its well-meaning citizens. Suppose we, the Indian people, continue to think of creating new opportunities for girls from such communities. In that case, we help them by teaching them their rights and responsibilities and by training them to get jobs that allow them to be financially independent. And last but certainly not least, convincing their parents that their daughters are worthy of better. Together, we can make many Priyas and Shaistas blossom and flourish. All this can be done if we can emphasize the importance of good Parenting for all our girls, whether you were born with privileges.