India Interior

Diplomat, MD, RJ and sarpanch for a day!

Preeti Mehra | Updated on October 18, 2019 Published on October 18, 2019

The changemakers

Plan India nurtures girls into community leaders through a novel ‘takeover’

October 11 was an unusual day for Manisha, from Muzaffarpur, Bihar. She was tasked to take over the duties of Hans Jacob Frydenlund, the Norwegian Ambassador to India, for the day, and get to experience what it means to be a decision maker.

“It felt very good and I got to learn a lot,” she says, being one of the 300 ‘girl changemakers’ who, in a symbolic gesture, took over 21 diplomatic missions, seven companies, a radio station, and a national statutory government body as part of Plan India’s ‘Girls get Equal’ annual campaign on International Day of the Girl.

Simultaneously in the hinterland, the not-for-profit organisation arranged for young school and college-going girls to ‘take over’ 270 gram panchayats and block, district and State-level government bodies for one day.

Growing up in 10 States — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh — the girls, who have been working in small leadership roles in their communities, showed their elders and peers the heights that women can rise to if given the right opportunities.

“I am one of five sisters and have faced difficult circumstances at home. But once I got exposure and training and started working on gender and youth issues, my life became different. At first, the family would not allow me to go for meetings, but today, after they saw what we do, they have no objection. I work on several issues, especially bringing young people in my village together and helping young girls understand menstrual hygiene,” says Manisha.

She had also taken over as the sarpanch in her village a few years ago and says that she and other young people now make it a point to go for panchayat meetings and put across their point of view. “In jest, the sarpanch still calls me mukhiyaji (head of the panchayat),” she says.

Taking the neighbourhood boys too along

At the takeovers, the girl changemakers discussed crucial issues of gender equality with their counterparts, putting across their own views on how women need greater representation in decision making and governance in the global development agenda. They also spoke about their own circumstances and how they were striving to bring change in their own lives and as youth leaders in their communities. Some of them were keen that the age of marriage for a woman be raised to 21, equal with the law for men.

Ruby, who took over as radio jockey for Radio City from well-known RJ, Ginnie, recounts the battle for street lights in her shanty in south Delhi. “I got involved in the safer cities programme. There were no lights in our street and girls had a bad time moving around after dark. The boys in our neighbourhood would follow them or tease them. We decided to do something about it and wrote to the local leaders to fix the lights. We followed it up with visits and made them come and see the situation. It worked and made the area safer for women,” recalls Ruby, who has just finished Class 12.

A more heartening aspect of her story is that, going forward, she along with the others managed to convey to the boys how they were going wrong. “I started with my brother and his friends and it spread. Today, many of the boys have understood what it is to treat girls as equals and are part of our programmes,” she says.

Street lighting was an issue that 15-year-old Ritika also had to contend with. From Rajasthan and living in challenging circumstances in a congested area of Delhi, she says that they now have a group of 70 girls in their area and focus on spreading the word on issues such as child marriage, child abuse and gender equality. She is also part of Plan India’s youth advisory panel. During the takeover, she became the MD of Edelman for a day.

Anuja Bansal, Executive Director, Plan India, explains how the project was conceived. “Every year, on October 11, the International Day of the Girl recognises and celebrates girls as the leaders and trailblazers of tomorrow. It began in 2011, when Plan led the global effort to build a coalition of support behind the Day of the Girl, securing backing from the Canadian government and taking our call all the way to the United Nations.”

She points out that today, “the IDG has become a robust platform to rally opportunities for girls and awareness of the gender discrimination they endure worldwide. Over the years, Plan India has continued its effort to ensure that girls everywhere can learn, lead, decide and thrive. Partnering with girls, boys, young people, their families, communities and stakeholders across the country, we drive action for girls’ rights, at every level.”

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Published on October 18, 2019

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