UMANG: Towards Empowering Girls & Ending Child Marriage

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

ICRW conceptualized UMANG, a comprehensive, multi-layered girls’ empowerment program, to increase their school retention and reduce child marriage in Godda and Jamtara district of Jharkhand, India. The program is supported by the IKEA Foundation and implemented in partnership with SATHEE, Badlao Foundation and Project Concern International, and in close association with the Government of Jharkhand. 

The program uses a socio-ecological framework & gender-transformative approaches for multi-layered intervention at individual (adolescent girls), family (parents, siblings), community (men and boys, women, and other community members), & system (schools, local governance structures, child protection mechanisms, etc.) levels.

We interviewed Amajit Mukherjee, Director of Operations, ICRW Asia, and Dr. Nasreen Jamal, Chief of Project, UMANG, ICRW Asia for this interview. Ravi Verma, Sakti Ghosh, and Parasnath Verma from ICRW Asia have also added their insights. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

How does the UMANG program address the underlying gender stereotypes in schools? How does it foster critical self-reflection among both girls and boys through group education activities?

The UMANG program addresses the underlying gender stereotypes perpetuated in schools by engaging directly with the school authorities, teachers, students and their parents and creating opportunities of critical thinking and debate. Critical ‘self-reflections’ are facilitated in safe spaces sometimes in same-sex groups and sometimes in mixed-gender groups. The program communicates gender equity messages through multiple platforms like school curriculum, community sessions, street theatre, adolescent workshops, and men/boys sessions, which aim to shift knowledge, attitude, and social norms. We remember watching a street theatre showing the gendered division of work at home, and during the show, a few women and girls pointed out the collection of water being done by women at nearby handpump and how the show provided the impetus to call all those women to come and watch the show, and it generated a discussion about the same.

How are schools integrated into the UMANG program? What strategies are employed to empower the teachers to promote gender equality and prevent child marriage?

The UMANG program organized and facilitated several training sessions with teachers and headteachers on gender-related issues, bringing many ideological and behavioural changes in their personal and professional lives. Our team worked very closely with the Nodal Teachers nominated by the government for embedding the program within the school system. We created a gender-enabling environment in schools, which resulted in several new practices  in classroom setups. Earlier boys and girls used to sit separately in different rows in the class, but now they have started sitting together. Boys have started cleaning along with girls, and students, especially girls, have started expressing their views on gender issues at the school through different cultural activities like drama, recitation and painting. Prior to the program, girls were not able to talk on the issues related to sanitary pads or the menstruation cycle freely in schools. Now, they are expressing their health and sanitary needs in schools, and even talking with male teachers without any hesitation.

What are some results that you can you share?

Our team conducted sessions and shared informative videos with school students and community-based adolescents, about physical changes during adolescence. Initially, girls were hesitant to participate, but under the supportive guidance of the UMANG program field team and nodal teachers, they have enthusiastically started participating and completing the entire curriculum on time. The sessions improved their self-confidence to convey their demands, dreams, and needs in public forums or participate in outdoor events with boys or community members. Several girls’ community level football teams formed and with some girls participating in district and state level football tournaments/

The program has strengthened adolescents’ desire to continue their studies, descreased the school dropout rate, and encouraged many adolescent girls to pursue  higher studies at state and block levels. Adolescent girls are now sharing their views with their parents regarding their higher education, marriage timings, and future, which has led to increased school retention and reduced rate of child marriage.

Could you share some insights into the mechanisms in place to monitor the effectiveness and impact of the UMANG program in terms of retention of girls in schools and creation of gender-enabling environments, and challenging social norms related to child marriage?

The program has strengthened community level institutions like Village Level Child Protection Committees (VLCPC), which is a beautiful convergence platform for adolescent issues. VLCPCs have the responsibility and accountability for ensuring that girls do not drop out of school for various reasons by linking different departmental schemes to support the girls with resources like scholarships and other opportunities. UMANG has not only brought the departmental stakeholders together for VLCPC meetings but also integrated the participation of adolescent girls in these meetings as per the goverment mandate. There are numerous examples where VLCPCs provided an opportunity for adolescent girls to raise their issues and their friends’ issues, including those who were at risk of getting married after dropping out from school. The platform has provided the opportunity to collectivize and respond to these  situations by speaking to the parents and providing resources through government schemes, links to scholarships, and more. By investing in and strengthening these community-level structures, the work can continue beyond this project, help monitor and prevent the dropout of girls from schools, and build a case for future interventions.