By: Pratik Phadkule, Michael Matheke-Fischer and Casey Mixter, Real Medicine Foundation
Girls in rural India are given little information about the physical, emotional, and social changes that go along with puberty and adolescence, yet proper education and guidance during this developmental phase has critical implications that affect individuals, families and entire communities; Real Medicine Foundation (RMF) has developed a series of workshops to empower adolescent Indian girls and turn them into community leaders, breaking the cycle of poverty and establishing a model for women’s rights in India.
The secondary treatment of girls and women in rural communities affects their livelihood and health. Girls are not served adequate, nutritious food in comparison to their male counterparts. Health literacy, specifically information about adequate nutrition, is lacking; as a result 53% of non-pregnant women and 59% of pregnant women from severe or moderate anemia. Menstruation is considered taboo so there is nowhere for girls to seek support and guidance when they reach puberty, roughly the same time parents typically stop schooling their daughters and force them into marriage.
Early marriage, too, has serious consequences on reproductive health. There is little access to contraception and limited education encourages early child bearing, which posing additional risks to both infant and mother. Only 17% of women aged 15-24 practice family planning. Furthermore young mothers do not have the experience, skills and resources needed to raise children, perpetuating the cycles of poverty, malnutrition, and large families that plague many rural communities.
RMF’s Community Nutrition Educators (CNEs) cover 600 villages, where they counsel pregnant and lactating women on diet and reproductive health, and provide care for malnourished children. Unfortunately, there is a critical lack of adolescent education for girls. Providing these girls with a safe place to ask questions, find their voice, and understand their feelings empowers them to reach their full potential and become strong leaders and contributors to their families and communities.
Over the past year, RMF has developed a successful format for implementing an adolescent education curriculum through a close working partnership with district administrators and community leaders. RMF began working in the Madhya Pradesh area of India in 2009, achieving remarkable success combating malnutrition by empowering local women as educators and leaders.
RMF has found interactive workshops that reinforce the normalcy of puberty and help create a positive cycle of education from generation to generation can ultimately transform young women into community health leaders. On September 1, 2012, the first workshop was conducted in the community hall in Bhagyapur Village with 44 girls from the 10th grade attending.
RMF’s adolescent girl education program will conduct workshops at 50 schools, reaching approximately 1,500 students. Brochures and pamphlets on adolescence, nutrition and maternal health will reach an additional 1,5000 adolescent girls and training for 50 RMF staff members will affect countless others.
You can make a difference for adolescent girls in India. Please support RMF’s Adolescent Indian Girl Education Program on Catapult.
Photo via Real Medicine Foundation