Aug 18, 2021

Re-imagination of SELF Academy 2020 during COVID19

Girls talking about Safe space
Girls talking about Safe space

In August, 2021, CREA released an animated video series named 'SELF expression' using girls' voices from interviews and the comics they created as part of the SELF academy. The videos give valuable insight into the various topics the girls discussed during the academies, what information they gained, conversations and debates they had for the first time, taboo topics that were spoken about openly, their reflection of these learnings to negotiate in their everyday lives, the creation of a safe space of sharing and non-judgemental learning along with fun and sports! 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the academy could neither be organised in-person nor virtually because of the lack of digital access and literacy. CREA used this time to develop SELF stories such as these videos, using comics made by girls in the academy, and recorded audio monologues of girls in their own voices. The videos were created on the most crucial themes in girls' lives that were addressed in-depth in the academy. 

The videos showcase strong narratives of how the participants became aware of their rights and how gender-based role expectations restrict and influence their lives, how they worked through these in the academy, often taking the process back home with them and creating ripple effects at home/community spaces. Girls have pushed back against power structures of family and community and negotiated access to technology, spoken out against violence, right to their sexual identity, mobility, bodily integrity and well-being. These videos can also be valuable resources for work and advocacy with adolescent girls, going forward.

You can find the series, as illustrated by Vidushy Yadav, on CREA’s YouTube channel. CREA is currently in the process of disseminating the video through social media, all videos have been uploaded and shared across platforms which were followed by a live session on Instagram to share the process.

Girls and Tech SELF video(Illustrated by Vidushi)
Girls and Tech SELF video(Illustrated by Vidushi)
Girl at SELF academy : Breaking barrier to play
Girl at SELF academy : Breaking barrier to play
Girls on negotiating and challenging obstacles
Girls on negotiating and challenging obstacles
Girls at SELF academy on accessing public spaces
Girls at SELF academy on accessing public spaces

Links:

Jul 8, 2021

Building young leaders through 'Action Project'

Women writing a pro-menstruation slogan
Women writing a pro-menstruation slogan

CREA has been co-implementing the It’s My Body program in Uttar Pradesh Bihar and Jharkhand in India for the past ten years. Over the years, the program has not only capacitated girls in terms of refining their understanding around body, sexuality, and bodily rights, but has also built their leadership largely. Girls, who had been part of the program back from 2012-17, had important roles in the current phase of the program that is being implemented since 2019 with five partner organizations in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. These girls aged 17-19 years, whom we are also addressing as young women, are not only integrating the lens of intersectionality in their understanding of gender and sexuality but also taking up small action projects around gender-based issues and creating ways to advocate for and strategically resolve them as well.

Planning and designing the action projects

Post the pandemic the trainers connected with the young women cohort (17-19-year-old girls) to recap sessions and identify how they can translate the knowledge gained over years of learning into action within their community. At locations where young women are not considered as decision-makers and right bearers, 880 of them were engaged through 40 collectives in translating issues of early and forced marriage, the right to choice, gender-based discrimination, gender-based violence (GBV), and sexual and reproductive health and rights into action projects.

As a part of their engagement, these young women along with the trainers identified some of these underlying issues according to their respective Panchayats. As second steps, in their collectives, they planned ways of how to bring these issues to the attention of the community, stakeholders, and major decision-makers. The collectives adopted various methods some of which were conducting surveys, organising rallies, wall painting, performing street theatre, organising signature campaigns. They included younger girls, mothers, elected women representatives, health service providers, men, young men and boys, teachers to understand, question, and receive opinions about all the previously mentioned issues. These processes not only helped in amplifying the need to articulate the existing issues faced by women and girls but also foresee how young women collectives can play a major role in challenging the regressive social norms.

Advocacy and impact as a part of the action project-

Apart from planning, designing, and executing the action projects, the collectives of young women played great roles in advocating for their rights associated with these issues mentioned above. Some of them advocated for the need for regular sexual and reproductive health services with health service providers. A group of young women raised concerns in front of Panchayat representatives about early and forced marriage and gender-based violence and asked leaders for their support. Another group of young women, who had identified issues of gender-based violence in certain households, strategically painted helpline numbers on their adjacent walls with the help of elected women representatives. Some of the other collectives also saw the results of the action project and its advocacy immediately.

A collective from Gramonnati Sansthan in Mahoba Uttar Pradesh surveyed two groups, one being part of IMB (200 girls) and another (200 girls) not part of the program, and compared the results. They developed survey questions on the right to choice, understanding of gender, gender-based discrimination, and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). They asked whether girls have a right to choose their partner, to decide their marriageable age and other choices they can exercise. The study showed that 85% of girls exposed to the IMB showed assertiveness and confidence in making their choices, knowing about sexual and reproductive health rights, and accessing the same. Amongst the ones not exposed to the program, only 12.5% followed their choice. The rest had no idea about gender, sexuality, gender discrimination, or SRHR. The cohort of young women, who did this study gave out a statement of the results to the district administration, asserting the need for intervention of programs like It's My Body for girls. The district administration promised to support them where they needed, such as encouraging them to seek legal support against incidences of gender-based violence through help desks set up by the district administration (to address GBV) in the police stations.

Usha, the trainer, who was supporting these young women to conduct the action project said, “It was a process where these young women were clearly building their networks, they were examples to the non-IMB girls of how the program had impacted their knowledge, confidence, and decision-making capacity. Also, there are instances, when the chairperson (district administration) has been regularly asking us if these young women are doing fine and if she could support them in any manner. It’s all because of the action project that they have received so much recognition.”

Similarly, a collective of young women in one of the villages of Chatra district, Jharkhand began talking to the girls in the community about their knowledge and access to SRHR. These conversations revealed that a number of girls and women did not always seek medical attention on sexual and reproductive health issues as they felt uncomfortable talking to a male doctor. The young women then advocated for a female doctor, specifically for SRHR issues. The district hospital then appointed a female doctor. Since then, there has been a major increase in the number of girls and women going for consultation visits to the doctor.   

Rani, the trainer of Lok Prerna Kendra, who was supporting these young women said, “The change was visible right from the time the doctor started sitting in the PHC twice a week. Imagine the number of women not seeking medical attention on their menstruation issues, pregnant women not being able to travel to the district hospital for check-ups, our young women resolved all of this by bringing a female doctor so close to the village.”

Leadership and movement building to challenge norms around bodies and sexuality

The impact of action projects was not only visible through the actions taken because of the advocacy work that the young women were doing, but also through various other mediums. It acted like a huge movement that was strengthened through networks. The collectives of young women used their right to express their inner thoughts on the issues of inequality and supported arguments with facts and information, when they questioned the social norms around early and forced marriage, restriction on their mobility, and right to choice. This was also an opportunity to refine their problem-solving skills, enhance their feminist leadership, and take strong steps of advocacy by making the decision-makers accountable. CREA strongly focuses on strengthening feminist leadership. Empowering young women’s leadership through these action projects has proved to be one step closer to ensuring change that is sustainable and consistent. At a time when girls and young women are denied their sexual and reproductive health rights and agency over their own bodies, it is also important to continue building their leadership in more strategic and innovative ways. These leaders will not only increase the assertion towards their own rights and create better channels of accessing them, but also build strong collectives for greater societal change. 

Young women in Gramonnati Sansthan in Mahoba
Young women in Gramonnati Sansthan in Mahoba
Young women in East Singhbhum from YUVA
Young women in East Singhbhum from YUVA
A young woman in Mahoba during survey
A young woman in Mahoba during survey
Apr 20, 2021

Resilient Siya

Exercises on strength of collective power
Exercises on strength of collective power

CREA’s Sports Expressions Leadership and Freedom (SELF) Academy uses sports, art, media, and technology to equip a cohort of girls and young women leaders from diverse socio-economic and religious backgrounds with information, skills, and confidence in areas that are traditionally associated with boys and men. The academy allows young girls to share their lived realities of social norms and restrictions creatively and encourages them to take leadership roles in their respective lives and communities. The following story is about Siya (pseudonym), a young woman who attended two SELF Academies and her journey to expression, leadership, and freedom.

“The only thing that came to mind at that time was the session on Sexuality, Love, Pleasure, and Consent in the SELF Academy. I thought the changed lens and the idea of relationship and love built by SELF Academy is so strong; I won’t let that get ruined by the people in the community”- Siya.

Siya’s expression above is based on the context of her conceiving out of marriage. She had to face a lot of flak from the community for her situation. However, when some of her teammates also started belittling her for her choice, Siya was taken aback.

“I could have faced the community single-headedly, but how to face people who act like friends and feminists but are not?”- Siya

Siya’s Journey to Expression, Leadership, and Freedom The news of Siya being pregnant spread like wildfire. She had to endure mental torture and pressure by her surroundings to abort the child against her will. Her organization even told her to leave her job, claiming that her pregnancy would distort its image. She was beaten up and thrown out of her house by her family members. Amidst all of these severe challenges, she was firm and secure about her decision to give birth. The only support that she got was from her partner.

When things in the organization became very hard for her, she decided to deal with the situation strategically. The organization that she works in has a practice where once in 15 days, team members share learnings of programs they work on innovatively. Siya took this opportunity and organized a meeting. She mobilized 7 girls who had attended the Academy from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and briefed them on what the meeting would look like. The meeting started, and the girls started speaking about learnings from the Academy. All of them had one thing in common, and that was about feminist leadership and sexual and reproductive health rights and choices.

The meeting was very triggering for those who were causing difficulties for Siya in the organization. After the meeting, she posed her questions: why she was being asked to leave, why her choices were not being considered, and why they wanted her to abort. As none of them had any answers to her questions, she continued to emphasize that the work the organization is doing is meaningless if it fails to support its internal issues and challenges that Siya has been dealing with.

The organization and people working there eventually understood what she was trying to express. It took Siya a whole month to convince the people working in the organization and empathize with her situation. After 4 months of pregnancy, Siya married her partner and the baby is now 5 months old. She is still working in the same organization and continuing to challenge prejudiced conduct and when she sees the organization is not upholding the values it promotes.

“Mobilizing girls and building capacity of the organization with them on sex, choices, consent, and pleasure was the best thing and an aha moment for me. I did not realize the impact of the Academy was so immense. I thank CREA for leading the way.”- Siya.

SELF Academy catalyzes broader change that leads to all women being able to enjoy freedom and opportunities by accessing and asserting their rights to public spaces and resources. The academy aims to strengthen voices and connect communities of all women to challenge norms, values, and power structures and push back against violence against them.

Collective Strength
Collective Strength
Discussion on priorities among the participants
Discussion on priorities among the participants
 
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