Will you join and support FPAI campaign of INR 1080 and send these girls back to school
On September 16, it was revealed through an RTI report, citing Unified District Information System for Education data that 140 government schools in Haryana do not have toilet facilities for girls, which is responsible for a majority of dropouts in the state.
The girl dropout rate is not a problem exclusive to Haryana. As per research collated by the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), India’s oldest NGO, 53% of girls across India drop out of schools regularly. Of these, 27% have no access to menstrual hygiene products in schools. “20% also drop out due to periods and lack of information around this normal biological function ,” explains Dr Kalpana Apte, Secretary General FPAI.
Dr Apte explains that girls once they attain puberty, require adequate nutrition and balanced meals, along with access to information on growing up. However, most adolescent girls end up with anaemia, lack of information on changes during puberty and societal restrictions. This is largely due to gender bias and lack of information. “The lack of haemoglobin makes them lose concentration, which becomes another reason for them dropping out of school,” she adds.
FPAI has a solution. A Rs 1080 donation that ensures one of the following: sanitary pads for one girl for a full year; curing a girl of anaemia completely through iron supplements; and empowering a girl with critical life skills”. We plan on raising money through the Mumbai Marathon this January. We did our inaugural charity run during the January 2017 race, but we want to escalate it more this year. A number of corporates did participate through various initiatives. If they didn’t run, they donated through the marathon website for our cause,” adds Dr Apte.
Dr Apte’s concerns in the need to prevent girls from dropping out are understandable. Data suggests that by 2020, in India alone, there will be more than 45 million women of reproductive age – more than all the women of this age in the United Kingdom, France and Germany combined. “There is a strong correlation between high incidence of child marriage and early school drop outs” she says.
Educating the girls and their parents is something FPAI has been doing for nearly two decades now. “Each society has its own set of rules. For most, there is a belief that a girl having her periods cannot meet anyone outside. We have slowly made them understand that this isn’t the case, and that as long as there are healthy and hygienic practices followed,” explains Dr Apte.
It’s not just the girls that are educated. FPAI also speaks to boys, and the parents. “When we address the girl dropout rate, we speak to the mother. And then along with her, speak to the father. However, in the case of boys and their needs for information, we interact with the father directly also,” she adds.
Are the stories successful? Dr Apte says that it’s a slow, but steady process. There is a trust factor that FPAI has established with villages and talukas across the country in the past 68 years. This has helped the NGO in good stead. “Of course there is resistance, but we don’t force our opinions on the families. We rationally explain everything without taking a religious or political stance. Our approach is health and development centred. We also involved the village elders when we have to. Eventually, they come around and this is seen in girls going to school,” she explains.
In one of the successful strategies that has resulted in delaying child marriages and empowering young people to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive rights, FPA India facilitates both the girls and boys taking a pledge in front of their families, relatives, and in some cases the village elders where they promise that they will master a skill set, and that they will not marry until they are of legal age to do so.
“There have been cases that due to the pledge, children, particularly from migrant families, choose not to go back to their village during summer months knowing that marriages often get fixed in villages.
Thus, the marriage is delayed for yet another year. Thus they develop their own ways to delay and continue their education. Young people across the country have aspirations to a better life. If we are able to provide them with critical skills, information and opportunities, they can take charge of their own lives.
While the results won’t be delivered overnight, FPAI’s initiative to raise money to ensure girls don’t drop out of school is a start towards ensuring gender equality in the country.
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