Fulmoni Soren’s father believed that a woman’s place is at home and girls’ views were not important. It was a struggle for Fulmoni to overcome discrimination at her own home and be heard by her own father. When she was about to be married off at a very young age, Fulmoni summoned the courage to defy her father because she wanted to study further.
This story was shared by one of the participants in a youth congress held last December in Ranchi, Jharkland, co-organised by SRHR alliance partners, CINI, NEEDS and RestLess Development. In the event, many participants joined that were worging with several state level partners in Jharkhand.
In rural India, it takes a lot of courage from young people to defy convention especially on the issue of SRHR. In the case of Fulmoni, she used the help of people closest to her—her relatives and brother—to convince her father that delaying marriage to pursue education was the better option. She continued her studies from home while her brother helped her with house chores during study period. She will be in college and has promised her father that she will get a good job. Her father realised his daughter was right and started believing in her capabilities.
Fulmoni is one of the Adolescent Research investigators (ARI) tapped by NEEDS in a programme called Mobisodes, where the youth are encouraged via a mobile application to share their stories on SRHR and other issues concerning them. (Read more about Mobisodes here.)
During the conference, the youth activists and NEEDS staff exchanged experiences and innovative ideas to reach out to more youth in Jharkland. They agreed on four topics that are important for adolescents, namely: child marriage, migration, adolescents and general health and violence against adolescents and children.
A number of participants said physical and mental violence against the youth and children are prevalent. They added that the youth have the right to correct information even when it is difficult for social workers to reach rural areas. They added that one way of curbing violence is through correct information. The Mobisodes programme can help in this area.
The conference also had a panel discussion on child marriage where the chairperson of the women commission and the deputy director of adolescent health in Jharkland were present. The participants advocated for creating inter-sectoral coordination committee for child marriage which was agreed in principle.
Meanwhile in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, Simavi partners Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) and Restless Development also organised a year-end youth congress where cross learning, best practices, success stories and new interventions were discussed. The participants also talked of the need to amplify the voice of the youth on SRHR by directly involving them in consultations.
VHAI and Restless Development are working on SRHR concerns of adolescents and youths by creating adolescent-friendly enabling environment in the community through front line health care providers, community groups/mobilisers, youths/adolescents/volunteers and through school and non-school going adolescents.
The youth from Orissa discussed issues and how to address them, particularly on child marriage, menstrual hygiene, anaemia and gender based violence in schools.
Many participants also shared their experiences on becoming youth ambassadors for SRHR. They said there were times that even their families and communities would restrict them from becoming volunteers. Sumitra Bhuyan from Jagatsinghpur village said it was tough to convince her parents to allow her to work as a youth volunteer because discussion of SRHR issues is still considered private and confidential. To create an enabling environment for SRHR youth volunteers and their peers, they organised events like community, stakeholders and parents meeting, parents counseling, formation of youth and adolescent club and education session for adolescents.
For a few of the participants in the state-level congresses, it was their first time to step out of their villages. It was indeed a leap of faith to be out of their comfort zones to reach out and talk in front of about 200 people.