Gender bias, menstrual hygiene and child abuse discussed

An Adolescent Girls Education Programme (AGEP), conducted for 1,600 students of standard seven and eight in the district, has evoked a positive response from the students as well as their teachers, according to K. Parvathi, Additional Chief Educational Officer in charge of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a programme implemented by the Centre for promoting school education.

The AGEP was conducted through OASIS, a Gujarat-based public trust, which has been conducting various educational programmes, including the popular Adolescent Students’ Health Alternative (ASHA), a health education project, across the country. Neha Vakharia, Trustee Secretary of Oasis and leader of project ASHA, had taken the lead in educating Madurai school girls on issues related to adolescence.

Conducted at the instance of Collector Anshul Mishra, the AGEP covered topics such as good touch and bad touch; physical, mental and emotional changes faced by children during adolescence; gender bias; menstruation and its hygiene; and child sexual abuse. It utilised audio-visual presentations and games to teach students the ways to handle adolescence-related issues.

According to Ms. Parvathi, the programme was conducted in batches at different locations on March 7 and 8. On the first day, 400 girls from schools in urban areas participated in the programme, conducted at Lady Doak College here. Another 200 children participated at Melur Girls Higher Secondary School and an equal number at Thaniyamangalam near here.

On the second day, the programme was conducted at Mannar Thirumalai Naicker College at Pasumalai in the city and Pasumpon Muthuramalingam College at Usilampatti with 400 girls participating in each of the two locations. Teachers were involved in the programme in order to help them carry forward the message to students who could not make it to the venue.

In a preliminary report submitted to the Collector recently, Ms. Vakharia said that the programme helped girl children open up and discuss discriminatory attitudes faced by them at home. While one of the students said that her family killed a baby girl, another felt that her brother was loved more than her at home. “My father speaks only to my brother,” a girl student complained.

A participant in the AGEP conducted at Thaniyamangalam had reportedly stated that she was not being allowed to play ‘kabbadi,’ her favourite sport. Other complaints focussed on families not letting girls out of their houses without being accompanied by male members, and girls having to complete household chores as a pre-condition to being allowed to with friends.

The students also spoke about sexual abuse. One of them said that an old man in her village made sexual advances towards her. She complained about this to his son and the latter chided the old man. Another girl said a group of boys tried to misbehave with her. She threw stones at them, escaped from their clutches and complained to her mother.

Ms. Parvathi said that it was a first of its kind programme to help girl children. “We are planning to continue this programme in the ensuing academic year,” she added.

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