A few days ago I attended a conference on `Emotional Resilience in Adolescent Girls in Bihar’.
Yes, just the title had my attention.
Having covered health as a journalist for over a decade, this story was like a breath of fresh air from the otherwise usual talking points of low birth rate for girls, high illiteracy figures and under-age marriages.
We were no longer talking about SAVING the girl child.
We were now talking about making her strong….making her resilient.
We were now going to give her the skills to tackle adversities.
And, this signifies the start of a new phase in education and healthcare for girls, one that will now be seen in both government and private efforts.
At the conference, health officials and those from the education department spoke about the plan to create this support structure that can help optimise a girl child’s potential.
A teacher from Bihar also narrated how attendance spikes greatly on the days that these sessions on emotional resilience are held.
I also met 14 year-old Saba Reyaz, a student from a government secondary school outside Patna, at the conference. Eldest of five sisters, Saba’s father is an alcoholic and her mother is a daily wage worker. Her youngest sister is two years old.
Saba has been a part of this intervention program for six months. Brought up in a society where girls are not expected to express their opinions, Saba said the program gave her the courage to speak openly against issues such as early marriage.
She said she was always told that her place was in the kitchen and that she would marry early but now she expressed her dreams and aspirations confidently.
The confidence burst was evident when I asked her what she wants to be once older.
Her reply: “I will be a banker’’.
The unblinking response suggested that through such new forms of intervention we may slowly but successfully be helping Saba and many others like her to remove barriers: From gender barriers to an equal opportunities barrier and enabling them to feel that it is a level playing field.
And more changes vis-à-vis the girl child and societal mind sets are now being documented pan India. Figures released last month show that Haryana, which accounts for 12 of the 100 worst districts in India for sex ratio, has shown an upward trend after a decade and crossed the 900 mark with 903 girls per 1,000 boys.
From the government machinery to NGOs and other private efforts, it is heartening to see India work hard to empower its girls and to see that girls like Saba reach their full potential and become agents of change.
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