Support A Young Girls Leadership Academy in India

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It is September 2018 and we are ready to conduct CREA’s Fourth SELF Academy in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand! Starting on 24 September 2018, the revised version of the SELF Academy will bring together 48 young women from Jharkhand, over a period of fifteen days to learn, play, lead and decide!

From 24 September – 8 October 2018, the SELF academy (Self-confidence, Expression, Leadership and Freedom), using sports, arts and media and technology, will work with girls to build their understanding on issues of gender, leadership, consent and gender-based violence; strengthen their self-confidence and leadership capacities; and equip them with skills and tools to reflect, express and articulate their issues, opinions and aspirations. The academy aims to build capacities of girls for having greater control over their bodies and lives, challenge discriminatory norms and practices and negotiate for equal rights.

The lead up to this academy, in the last three months has included – alumni meetings with girls from the SELF Academy 2015, 2016 and 2017 and internal review meetings at CREA to assess the value and impact of its current design, course content and methodology.

Based on this process, the model of the upcoming academy has been revised in the following ways:

  • Age-group: In order to ensure that all girls attending the SELF Academy are able to pursue higher education, training and employment opportunities as per their interest and background – girls 18 years and above have been only invited to attend the fourth academy. Building capacities of girls in this age-group, enables them to take on leadership roles in their families and communities, strengthens their ability to negotiate, assert and make decisions over their bodies and lives. CREA along with its partner organisations* has conducted meetings with the girls and their families before the academy.
  • 15 Days at the academy: the first academy was designed as a 15 day long intervention which later on based on feedback from the girls and their families was reduced to ten days. However, during the alumni meetings, many girls and faculty of the academy shared that ten days were not enough to ensure that the content is effectively and comprehensively shared.
  • Comprehensive learning: equal time and weightage has been given to perspective building and skills building at the academy. Girls participating in this academy, are part of CREA’s ongoing program –It’s My Body : Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Girls through Sports (IMB program).The program over a period of 10-12 months works with the girls at the village level using football as a strategy, medium and pathway to increase their awareness and build their understanding on issues of gender, sexuality, bodily autonomy, health and rights. Keeping this in mind, the SELF Academy has been designed as the next step for a select cohort of girls from the IMB program, where they are exposed to knowledge and skills of sports, arts, media and technology to enhance their potential for education, training, leadership and employability. However, during the alumni and review meetings, it was assessed that the SELF Academy by itself must revisit and refocus issues of consent, autonomy, leadership, gender, sexuality, violence and rights to be able to provide a more complete and unique learning experience during those 15 days.

The fourth SELF Academy will particularly strengthen and build knowledge, understanding and skills on the idea of ‘space’ and the interface and interaction young girls and women have with its various aspects and forms - Public spaces, personal spaces, online and digital spaces etc. through a feminist lens. What does mobility, accessibility and visibility mean to young girls and women in rural areas? In what ways and forms is this controlled, monitored and supervised through norms, deep seated beliefs, customs and practices in families, schools, workplace and communities? How can this be challenged without a threat to their lives? How can we collectively support each other to resist this? How does this impact the decisions I make about my education, work, health and life? SELF Academy will explore the myriad ways in which these intersect with gender, caste, sexuality, religion and more in lives of young girls through courses designed by CREA, in collaboration with Agents of Ishq, Blank Noise, Point of View, Soccer Foundation, CEQUIN, Digital Empowerment Foundation. Classes on computers, social media, leadership and campaigning, spoken English, football, arts etc. will further sharpen their skills. Girls at the SELF Academy will also work towards creating messages, campaigns and interventions they could initiate, share and lead with other girls and women in their community during the 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Based Violence from 25 November – 10 December 2018.

All of us at CREA and our partner organisations are extremely excited to be at the upcoming SELF Academy! Do follow us on Instagram, Facebbok and Twitter.



*Community- based partner organisation in Jharkhand:

Lok Prerana Kendra, Chatra, Jharkhand

Mahila Mukti Sansthan, Hazaribagh, Jharkhand

Srijan Foundation, Hazaribagh, Jharkhand

Nurture Trust, East Singhbhum, Jharkhand

Launched in 2015, we have organised three SELF academies in Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. We thought it was a good time to reflect on the model and curriculum and assess their usefulness and value to the girls. As part of this process, CREA has organised a series of meetings with SELF alumni girls from Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.

Alumni Meeting with Girls, Uttar Pradesh

In April 2018, girls from Uttar Pradesh participated in a two-day meeting organised by CREA. The meeting was very insightful because the girls shared their feedback on the skills that they learned. Please see below some of the highlights from the meeting:

SELF Academy as a space for learning - Girls see a great value in learning skills at the SELF Academy such as computer, football, videography, grassroots comics making etc. As a learning space, girls commented that they really appreciate that all girls are treated equally and the focus is not only on the ones who are “smartest” or the most vocal. They also appreciated that girls are not required to pay a fee. Girls also remarked that they liked that most of the resource persons are women, which makes them feel more comfortable to learn and reflect.

“In the academy, I enjoyed playing football, because no one in my house says that I can play football.” – Participant, SELF 2017, Uttar Pradesh

The sessions on football and computer were ranked as the girl’s favourite sessions. The majority of girls are continuing to learn and practice these skills even after the SELF Academy in their own terms. They also shared that learning these skills were crucial because girls do not often get opportunities, resources and motivation to learn these skills. 

A group of girls shared how they have come together to demand for their rights: 

“There was no electricity in our village from last 6 months and our exams were approaching. So, we got together and decided to do something about it – we wrote an application to the officials and then went to meet him. He was shocked to see so many girls in his office. We spoke to him, put pressure on him and then finallywe were able to get the electricity. Everyone in the village appreciated it a lot and we were able to prove that girls can also do everything, and this was not just a boy’s job. We felt confident, strong to do this as a collective.” - Participants, SELF 2017

Participation in SELF academy has increased the confidence of girls and has built their aspirations to do something in life. Many of them are negotiating with their families to delay their marriage, pursue higher studies and continue to learn football or computers. Out of 28 girls, 20 girls shared that they are teaching football to other girls in their villages. A few girls are working as football coach. Many girls have started doing regular practice in a stadium. They are also using the skills of operating computers and Internet in their day to day life.

“We don’t get the chance to work on a computer, usually our brothers have access to this and we don’t. At school also, teachers don’t explain everything properly, so we can use the phone to understand things better, access more information. Having the knowledge of this has helped us convince our families, our brothers, our teachers that we can also use it and know how to use it and can be independent.”- Participant, SELF 2017, Uttar Pradesh

Many girls did not select the skills of spoken English, video and film making as their favourite skills because of a lack of resources, opportunities to use them and learn more after SELF. Those girls who selected these skills do see a value in learning them but shared challenges related to not having access to the equipment necessary to practice these skills. They do not have basic cameras to record videos and make films. Few girls also shared that people make fun of them or taunt them when they try to speak in English or make videos. 

SELF Review Meeting at CREA

Followed by the alumni meetings, CREA organised a two-day review meeting. Based on all the feedback received from the girls, the following decisions were taken to make SELF more relevant to girls’ lives:    

  • Duration of the academy will be increased from 10 days to 15 days, as this will give more time to girls to learn and practice skills.
  • More perspective building sessions will be included for building a comprehensive understanding on body, gender and sexuality and SRHR
  • Elements of Reflection and Analysis will be integrated more strongly into how components of SELF curriculum is implemented.
  • Age of participants should be 18 years and above so that girls are better placed to negotiate and take decisions.   
  • CREA to explore new collaborations to redesign training sessions especially video and filmmaking, grassroots comics and spoken English, as identified by the girls.

Upcoming SELF academy – This year CREA will be conducting two SELF academies in Bihar and Jharkhand in September and December 2018 respectively.

"Right now I am studying. Earlier, my mother wanted me to drop out of my studies. One day, without informing me, she asked me to go meet a man [who was interested in marriage]. I told him that I want to study further and do something with my life. I also told him that I will get married only on the condition that I continue with my studies. I also told him that if he doesn't agree to this, I don't want to get married to him and that he can leave. So I stopped my marriage.

I try and convince other girls by engaging them in conversations. One of the girls in my village was getting married. She was only 13 years old. I told her parents, 'Let her turn 18 and after that, she can get married.' I also really tried to convince her. They eventually agreed with me that she was too young, and that she should be studying. I made an effort and I stopped that marriage."

“When I met Didi (SELF Academy Facilitator), she told me that I had to focus on my studies and continue going to school. But I told her that we were facing a shortage of electricity in my village, which makes it difficult to focus on studies. I also told her that we tried complaining to the Pradhan (Head of the local governance system), but he doesn’t listen to me. She suggested that all the girls should write a letter and submit it to the electricity department. I went back to my village and gathered 9 girls and shared this news with them. I also told them that if we file this letter, we will make everyone proud - it [the electricity problem] is something that even boys couldn’t do much about. I told them that the following day we will go and buy a DP/Transformer so that we can focus on our education.

After that we (9 girls) took an auto and walked 1.5 kms to the Electricity Department. Once I reached the department, they told me that the office for Shahpahadi (my village) was at a different place. We again walked for 1.5 kms and reached the electricity department (of Shahpahadi). Everyone in that office was extremely shocked to see 9 girls in their office. On being asked, we told them that we came here to collect the DP. They were really surprised. All the girls from my group spoke but I spoke the most. When they expressed their surprise I confronted them and told them that girls can also come to collect DP. Then we went to meet Mahesh-ji, who was the main person in that office and told him that there’s no transformer in my village and that we were there to collect a DP. We also told him that our exams were approaching and for the last 6 months the transformer had been missing. He assured us that we will get the DP in the next 2-3 days but we insisted and told him to provide a vehicle and a DP. He told us that no vehicle was available at the moment and that the following day, he will make sure that a DP is delivered to our village. Then I asked for his contact number but he refused. I threatened him that if he doesn’t deliver DP by the next day, then 9 girls will again come to his office and protest. In that moment another colleague of his offered to share Mahesh-ji’s number. I refused and told him that Mahesh-ji himself will have to share his number. Following this Mahesh-ji shared his number and we went back to our village. We waited for almost a day but he didn’t get the DP delivered to our village. I again called him and spoke to him. He told me that the vehicle wasn’t available. Then the day after that, the DP was delivered to our village. Everybody in the village started praising us and said that no man or boy from the village could do it and girls managed to get this work done. Then I told Pradhanji that he couldn’t get this work done but instead 9 girls from the village could do it. He praised us.

We all became really famous after this. In fact I went to the leadership camp that was organized in Banaras. I learnt how to use computers, speak English, do photography and about KhabarLahariya <> (women run rural news project). Through the session that focused on KhabarLahariya, I got to know that if we want to publish news then we have to collate information about incidents, witnesses and facts related to the event. You know earlier I had never gotten an opportunity to touch a computer, but at SELF I even got that opportunity to work on a computer. This has brought about a lot of change within me. Earlier I used to feel really scared and couldn’t even step out of my house. But the moment didi called me up and asked me to come to office, then I told my mother and she allowed me to come here. She has a lot of faith in me and didi”

Gayatri was on her way home when she caught the eye of a woman in an auto, looking at her curiously but intently. She was rushing home - she lived far from the city - but somehow she felt compelled towards the woman, who had a warm and benevolent face. Didi (SELF Academy facilitator) came over and asked her, “How old are you?” Gayatri was only 15. “I am running a program that is for girls and will teach them football and also about their rights,” replied Didi. “You have such strength in your eyes. Is this something that would interest you? And other girls in your community?”

Gayatri remembers feeling shocked, but flattered and trusting. When she returned home, she went to every home in her village, spoke to the mothers of all the girls and created a list of girls. Didi ji came over her house shortly afterwards, and they went through the list, talking about who was more interested, and explained to her what Gramonnati Sansthan was. When Gayatri returned to discuss this newer information with the other girls in her village, the interested ones decided to call themselves Kiran Balika Samooh (Girl’s Collective).

SELF Academy was the first opportunity that Gayatri and all of these girls had to live away from their homes and learn skills that they did not imagine they could do. However, besides teaching all of them new skills and creating novel experiences, SELF Academy also reinforced Gayatri’s strong belief in herself and her natural inclination towards leading her community.

She regularly speaks out on behalf of girls in her community about different injustices, and her conviction is rooted by knowledge and information about gender inequality and social injustice. “I also told them that it is we who have to change the society, because if we won’t then who else will bring about a change. I told them that we must unite and work together and that’s how the society will progress,” she says about her discussions with her neighbors and friends in the community. These conversations occur informally, but also in very visible spaces, such as meetings of women’s groups in her village. “Whenever it is a matter related to girls, I stand up and express my viewpoints,” she smiles and says.

That is not to say that there have not been open acceptance and a lack of reservations about her bold behavior. People in her village have pointed out that she is Hindu, implying that she should not ally herself and advocate so much for girls from other castes and religions. However, she responds by telling them that such connections are not to be drawn; all girls are equal and have equal rights. “I am just like your daughter,” she says, ignoring differences drawn by caste or religion. “The color of our blood is the same as other human beings.” In silence, her community listened to her.


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Location: New York - USA
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Twitter: @officialcrea
Project Leader:
Anuradha Chatterji
Delhi, New Delhi India

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