‘I will talk to my Ma about giving me the same food as my bhai (brother)’, said Rani. ‘We will protest against the daily harassment that we face on our way to the centre’, chorused the girls but not before I heard a small voice, ‘I will eat more vegetable and fruits for better health’. These are the small but significant desires to bring about change from participants in Baladbandh and Kumrogodi, on the English and Digital for Girls’ Education (EDGE) pilot project with Rasik Bhita, an organisation working with women in West Bengal’s Hoogly district.
The change agent
EDGE aims to improve the life prospects of adolescent girls in socio-economically marginalised communities in Bangladesh, India and Nepal where digital and gender divides are significant, and opportunities are limited. The programme focuses on providing participants with training and resources to develop their English proficiency, digital skills, 21st century skills and awareness of social issues in peer-led after-school clubs. The programme also aims to build trust within the communities to change and develop the perception of the value of girls within those communities. To date the programme has reached over 17,000 girls in 750 clubs across the region.
A pilot project with Rasik Bhita, a group of adolescent girls recently met over a two-week period to trial the materials and Peer Group Leader model. The girls supported each other’s learning in this informal yet structured input sessions on English, digital and social skills. Eight British Council trained PGLs facilitated sessions and the participants benefited from a relaxed and an enjoyable approach in the centre. ‘I did not know that learning was fun!’ said a PGL, a thought echoed by the participants after a round of a memory game aimed to practise greetings and small talk in English.
Girls in South Asia continue to face innumerable challenges in their lives, many of which are due to unequal perceptions of gender equality. According to the UN’s Economic and Social Council, as many as 19 per cent of women experience violence at home. Although instances are reducing, early marriage is a common obstacle in the education and employment of women. Poor hygiene, lack of sanitation and poor nutrition are also daily concerns. Women also work as much as three times more than men in domestic chores which can prohibit or delay their educational and professional development.
A UNESCO report form 2013 (UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2013) shows that educated rural women can bring about a host of changes in their lives and in the lives of people around them. For example, educated women are less likely to marry early and consequently early child-bearing risks can be reduced, leading to lower infant mortality rates. Educated women value hygiene and health which leads to better nutrition of their children. Also, an educated woman is more likely to find work and gain financial stability.
In 2018, the British Council is undertaking a detailed study to explore livelihood opportunities for women in South Asia, ensuring that the EDGE programme develops the most appropriate skills for these young people.
A way forward
Everyone can work closely to empower girls and support their education. We can strengthen learning, boost confidence, celebrate role models. Here are some of the practical ways that we seek to address these issues through the EDGE programme and our wider work relating to gender:
- Hold open dialogues with learners about challenges and involve boys as well in looking for solutions
- Invite working women professionals to counsel learners on career choices
- Introduce vocational skills
- Make learners aware of successful women and their achievements
- Celebrate International Women’s Day to share the success of your learners
- Create student council bodies which include both boys and girls
- Organise competitions and programmes to showcase the talents of learners
- Teach more than the typical syllabus – address real-life issues such as early marriage or the importance of a balanced diet
- Foster 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.
For more information, read about the British Council’s approach to promoting gender equality and the EDGE project.