Mana Bidda – Towards eliminating worst form of discrimination against girl children

In India, the deep-seated belief that women cannot make significant financial contributions or add to the family’s honor in society or in matters of religion perpetuate female infanticide and feticide, resulting in a low female infant sex ratio, currently at 914 girl children for every 1000 boy children. As in many parts of India, the female sex ratio of Kadapa district continues to fall: 951 in 2001 to 919 in 2011. Kadapa is a rural area where traditions like dowry and discriminatory gender roles are still practised. These traditions contribute to perception that the female child is a burden to the family and less desirable than sons. These include societal notions about women and gender roles, lack of awareness of protective legislation and government schemes, and lack of the emotional and social support required to stand up for the rights of helpless infants. The objective of the intervention is to reduce gender-based discrimination and improve quality of life for girls and women in Kadapa District. This objective will in-turn diminish the occurrence of female infanticide in the region by improving attitudes towards girls, changing entrenched mindsets behind gender roles, sensitizing professionals on the topic of discrimination and female infanticide, and the creation of women’s and children’s help workshops, centers, and groups. We are addressing surrounding factors that have allowed continued gender discrimination to exist and have planned our activities such that they involve engagement with both sexes, all age groups, citizens, professionals, and religious leaders – all ranging from the village to the district level. The combined training of village health workers (including Anganwadi and ASHA workers) in legal awareness and leadership will not only sensitize them and give them the confidence and legal knowledge that is crucial in their fight for gender equality, but will also enable them to educate and mentor others to do the same, effectively compounding the benefits of the training by indirectly touching the lives of girls and women in the attendees’ family and community. Creating greater social and legal awareness through community support groups will help prevent infanticide by making the issue a common talking point in the villages. Addressing the more cultural side of female discrimination, religious and cultural leaders will be trained and sensitized towards this issue not only to spread the message of the unjust practices, but also to show that all religions condemn acts like infanticide. The school-based program will allow children to realize the importance of equality among the genders at a young age. Education that challenges discriminatory gender roles, beliefs, and mindsets will be delivered through a school curriculum. This will lead to greater gender equality and reduced female infanticide in future generations. In addition to increasing awareness among citizens, it is crucial that area professionals, such as doctors, nurses, law enforcement officials, and those in the media get training to understand the law and current situation surrounding the girl child. Their training and sensitization will improve the way in which female infanticide and feticide cases are handled and prioritize the issue of raising the female sex ratio in the region.

To improve the female sex ratio, it is imperative to empower those who are victims of gender discrimination. We will train girls in skills such as tailoring, organic farming, etc. while teaching them about finance and money management. This will allow for financial independence, a greater voice in the family and community, and the eventual increase in the self-worth of women.  Partnerships with the media will, through advertising and/or editorials, improve societal perceptions of women and raise awareness of female infanticide and feticide.  Partnerships with the government and other NGOs will allow for better law enforcement and stricter consequences for breaching the law.  The Interactive voice response (IVR) and SMS platform will allow for better management of emergency situations and in addition will provide a better picture of what type of help is needed to prevent female infanticide in the villages. In addition to this platform, a women’s/children’s support center will be set up where those falling victim to discrimination can take shelter, learn of their rights, and get legal, psychological, and medical support.  These programs will all be monitored via a rigorous data collection and monitoring program that feeds into a central Management Information System (MIS), which will not only make data collection and sharing easier, but it will also give more accurate estimates of where each village stands in the effort to end female infanticide. Lastly, the data collected from the above programs will be used to influence law and policy makers to fill the gaps in the system that have allowed the practice of female infanticide.