We recently provided support for implementation of a life skills program at RBANMS Girls High School, with Enfold Trust. Life skills education empowers young people with a vocabulary and skills to navigate life as an adult.
Artist and photographer Christine Rogers took photos of the girls during their first session.
At the request of the principal at the girls high school at RBANMS trust, myself and Baneen Karachiwala worked to implement a Life Skills program for the 10th standard girls. This was for a number of reasons. The principal wanted to ensure all the girls had the skills they needed to flourish after they finished the 10th standard and went on to PUC or work. She also wanted to complement iron tablet and sanitary napkin distribution with some basic health education messages, so they understood why they were given tablets. Nutrition is an urgent priority for RBANMS as there are girls who are underweight, anaemic and fainting in class – most drink untreated water. After the recent publicity around violence against women, we also wanted to ensure they had skills and vocabulary to deal with safety issues. Working from the recommendations of a number of local public health professionals, we decided to work with Enfold Trust.
Enfold Proactive Health Trust has been working in Bangalore since 2002, in the areas of gender equity and child safety. They conduct sessions on Responsible Sexuality, Life Skills and Personal Safety in schools, colleges, institutions and corporates for children, adolescents and adults. They train doctors, lawyers, police personnel, social workers and counsellors to support and empower children and adults who have suffered abuse. Enfold have been a great partner for us, providing us with a trainer – Lishya Jennifer - who communicates with the girls from very diverse economic and linguistic backgrounds with ease.
Half way through the program, the Vibgyor High incident hit the news. At a school in the Bangalore suburbs, a girl was sent to a cupboard as punishment for misbehavior. While she was in there, she was raped by two gym instructors. The heart breaking part of the story is that the girl did not report, no-one knew what happened until she complained of abdominal pain to her mother some days later. She had no vocabulary to describe what had happened to her, and thought the abuse was part of her punishment.
This incident illustrates so well the imperative of giving all young people a language to describe their bodies, sexuality and what is right and wrong. Silence and stigma around this creates an environment where abuse can be perpetuated with impunity. After this incident, we were all filled with gratitude to Principal Noor Zeba for her wisdom and foresight in introducing this program.
However, this program was challenging for the girls. They were initially mortified to hear words such as “penis” and “vagina” said aloud, and confused that the menstrual taboos passed on by their mothers and grandmothers were dismissed. Most of them bravely embraced the content, and questions came up around “sex where you don’t have a baby” (birth control); “age at which it is okay to have sex”, “the gay” and sex workers. Despite some typical classroom misbehavior, the girls impressed me each session with their curiosity and wonder. They were thrilled to learn that the baby lives in amniotic fluid in the mothers’ uterus before birth, and enchanted by understanding how fertility worked.
We now hope we can scale this program up for the boys, and among the younger classes at the RBANMS group of institutions.