Equal rights for men and women starts with the children

Did you know that 35-40 million girls and women are missing from the Indian population?
In India there were 940 females per 1,000 males in 2011. Haryana and Punjab have the lowest sex ratio in the country with 879 females per 1,000 males in Haryana and 895 females per 1,000 males in Punjab.

The child sex ratio describing the situation for children up to five years it is even worse. In Haryana there are 834 girls per 1,000 boys and in Punjab there are 846 girls per 1,000 boys. How can these terrible figures be true?

If there are so many more men than women maybe women will be better treated in India, I think. But from Save the Children and Breakthrough (an organisation working on gender-based discrimination in India), I hear the opposite. Discrimination against women starts before the girl is born by feticide of girl children. The birth of a son is celebrated but not often the birth of a daughter.

It happens that girls that are born in their homes don’t get registered. That means that they officially don’t exist. Many girls don’t get the same nutritious food as the boys, fewer girls go to school and finish their education. If the family can afford it they send their sons to a private school but more seldom their daughters. And 30% of girls in India marry before the legal age of 18 years. I am totally shocked by this information!

Of course I have heard about it before, but the fact that so many women are missing in the country and that discrimination against women is happening on so many levels during a woman’s life is new to me. But thanks to passionate people burning for the rights of children and women there is hope for a change for children and women in India!

In the village of Kheri Barkhi, I get the opportunity to meet 20 children attending a children’s group meeting. In groups the children are looking at posters they have made on the topic of discrimination against girls and children’s rights. The children are discussing basic values as equal rights for boys and girls and for children. They learn what rights they actually have and are encouraged to express their rights and wishes. They learn that all children have the right to an education and that child marriage is forbidden. They have a place and a platform where they can talk about topics that are important for them and receive support from the Child Protection Committee in the village, where teachers, health and social workers, village members and other children support them.

What does an equal society look like?
Based on this question children have painted what everyday would look like:

Girls and boys are eating together and they get the same food - by Paul Barendregt
Girls and boys are eating together and they get the same food – by Paul Barendregt
In an equal society boys and girls can be friends and play and do sports together – by Paul Barendregt
In an equal society boys and girls, men and women share the household chores - by Paul Barendregt
In an equal society boys and girls, men and women share the household chores – by Paul Barendregt

In Haryana and Punjab there are 833 children’s groups with 20 children in each group. That means there are more than 16,000 children who learn about basic values as equal rights for men and women, and children’s rights, thanks to Save the Children and their partner organisations Pratham and Breakthrough.

The Child Protection Committee in Kheri Barkhi has facilitated getting birth certificates for three children. Five children have been brought back to school from child labour and, today, all boys and girls go to school up to the age of 18 years. One hundred and fifteen households have received social welfare help.

In the village of Rohtak, all children in the local school are gathered on the yard outside the school to participate in a video van campaign organised by Breakthrough. In a very fun, enthusiastic and involving way, children sing songs, read poems, show drawings and look at a theatre. Everything focuses on the topic of gender-based discrimination.

“I must study; since the right to study is denied for me, because I have to give wings to my dreams to fight, because I too have dream to do what I would like to do.” This is part of a poem where a daughter explains to her father why she wants to study.

Despite the challenges, I see a lot of happiness and joy among the children. I am impressed by their awareness of both discrimination and rights and I see their drawings showing boys and girls, men and women, being happy together.

“How can the basic value of equal rights really change in India?” I ask Jatin Mondar, Project Director, Save the Children India. He answers me: “By teaching children when they are young that boys and girls are equal you can change the mindset long term.”