Adolescent girls we work with are most vulnerable and under-represented. They are especially being left behind in their access to resources and opportunities -- from nutritious food to safe water to healthcare services to mobile phones to the internet to financial support to education. Till today, their struggles rooted in poverty, gender inequality and systemic exclusion have been normalized for them. With CoVid-19 deepening existing inequities, the realities of these adolescent girls are only skewed further with their dreams, needs and priorities getting further pushed in the face of school closures, uncertainty and financial burdens their families are facing.
Their challenges are further amplified by lack of access to support systems and learning opportunities during the lockdown. Not only do more than 65% of the girls we work with don’t have access to smartphones or the internet; in many cases even when they do have access to mobile phones, they are unable to access learning due to the gender divide (for example: they are expected to take on more household chores, they aren’t trusted with a mobile phone, preference is given to their brothers). All these make it extremely hard to establish a connection with them and ensure their continuity with learning, positioning them as extremely vulnerable. They are directly at-risk of dropping out of schooling, at-risk of domestic violence and at-risk of early, child marriages. If we don’t ensure that adolescent girls from marginalized communities are reached out to and supported immediately then they, who are already at the margins, will be further left unheard and unsupported.
Our experiences in working together with the girls have taught us that they greatly value their education, are interested and invested, despite all the challenges. They aren’t easily discouraged by the strength and prevalence of patriarchal norms and practices in our communities -- they dream big and challenge the status quo, just like Lavanya and Yasmeen. Their courage, strength and determination gives them and us hope. But the truth is that they are opportunities away from feeling valued, supported and encouraged.
We believe that we need to do more than connecting with girls, reopening schools and continuing with the existing curriculum that focus on only academics and reinforce gender stereotypes. We have to reimagine their education and learning, if we have to truly support the most marginalized girls become self-reliant. At SwaTaleem Foundation, we are trying to address this chronic but under-discussed problem of gender divide in education in the current times: How do we ensure support and learning continuity for adolescent girls from rural, marginalized communities who don’t have access to technology?
Establishing low-tech and context appropriate platforms; creating safe spaces; providing opportunities for girls to express themselves, to meaningfully connect with their peers and teachers; access multi-lingual, gender-sensitive and contextually relevant learning content and exposure to socio-emotional life skills are all critically needed to engage with and retain the girls in school. Else the disconnect they experience with what they study and the pressure of ‘completing the syllabus’ will push them away from schools.
While we have been working towards facilitating such spaces and educational practices across 6 KGBV schools over the last 2 years, continuing this work and adapting to change, with and through the girls and teachers, assumes greater significance now. To connect with, to ensure learning continuity and to prevent drop-outs of all 900 adolescent girls, we are working on a 2-pronged approach:-
Everyone can support our girls' dreams. Here's the impact you can create.
We believe in the collective voice and power of many to bring about change. Indeed, this is needed now more than ever.
Your support will help us directly support 900 adolescent girls from rural, marginalized communities -- keeping them engaged through the lockdown, minimizing their drop-outs and ensuring their retainment once schools re-open.
- At INR 1500 / USD 20 per year you can support an adolescent girl have access to resources and appropriate technology platform (example: IVR System, mobile recharge) to stay connected during and after the lockdown.
- At INR 3600 / USD 50 per year you can support an adolescent girl have access to support spaces, gender-sensitive and contextually relevant learning content and activities. Such engagements will enable us to prevent girls from dropping out of schooling.
- At INR 4000 / USD 75 per month you can support a teacher access learning opportunities to build her capacity and practices, in the process making the learning process engaging and meaningful for the girls.
- At INR 5000 / USD 71 per month you can support a young, women leader from the community, our field coordinator, mobilize local communities to support girls’ education and directly work with the girls at the village level.
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Youth Ki Awaaz | Indian Development Review | Fox Illinois | Illinois College of Education | The Public