The change agent
Speak Mantra aims to improve the life prospects of adolescent girls in socio-economically marginalized communities in Bangladesh, India and Nepal where digital and gender divides are significant, and opportunities are limited. The programme focuses on providing participants with training and resources to develop their English proficiency, digital skills, 21st century skills and awareness of social issues in peer-led after-school clubs. The programme also aims to build trust within the communities to change and develop the perception of the value of girls within those communities. To date the programme has reached over 17,000 girls in 750 clubs across the region.
In a pilot project with Rasik Bhita, a group of adolescent girls recently met over a two-week period to trial the materials and Peer Group Leader model. The girls supported each other’s learning in these informal yet structured input sessions on English, digital and social skills. Eight British Council trained PGLs facilitated sessions and the participants benefited from a relaxed and enjoyable approach in the centre. ‘I did not know that learning was fun!’ said a PGL, a thought echoed by the participants after a round of a memory game aiming to practice greetings and small talk in English.
Girls in South Asia continue to face innumerable challenges in their lives, many of which are due to unequal perceptions of gender equality. According to the Social Council as many as 19 per cent of women experience violence at home. Although instances are reducing, early marriage is a common obstacle in the education and employment of women. Poor hygiene, lack of sanitation and poor nutrition are also daily concerns. Women also work as much as three times more than men in domestic chores which can prohibit or delay their educational and professional development.
A UNESCO report from 2013 (UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2013) shows that educated rural women can bring about a host of changes in their lives and in the lives of people around them. For example, educated women are less likely to marry early and consequently early child-bearing risks can be reduced, leading to lower infant mortality rates. Educated women value hygiene and health which leads to better nutrition of their children. Also, an educated woman is more likely to find work and gain financial stability.
In 2018, the British Council is undertaking a detailed study to explore livelihood opportunities for women in South Asia, ensuring that Speak Mantra programme develops the most appropriate skills for these young people.
A way forward
everyone can work closely to empower girls and support their education. We can strengthen learning, boost confidence and celebrate role models. Here are some of the practical ways that we seek to address these issues through Speak Mantra programme and our wider work relating to gender:
- Holding open dialogues with learners about challenges and involving boys as well in looking for solutions
- Inviting working women professionals to counsel learners on career choices
- Introducing vocational skills
- Making learners aware of successful women and their achievements
- Celebrating International Women’s Day, sharing the success of our learners
- Creating student council bodies which include both boys and girls
- Organising competitions and programmes to showcase the talents of our learners
- Teaching more than the typical syllabus – addressing real-life issues such as early marriage or the importance of a balanced diet
- Fostering 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.