Manat – An Asha (A hope)

In Haryana, gender based discrimination is prevalent in different ways – leading to violation of basic rights of women. Be it the right to education, their mobility, food, ownership of assets and other immovable property, reproductive and health rights. The fundamental reason of such types of discriminations, inequalities and violation of rights is the existence of socially constructed gender norms and stereotypes, cemented by male dominance or patriarchal mindset. Women of these communities face discrimination in access to and quality of education, mobility, choice of marriage and participation in decision making. One of the key discriminations includes the issue of sex selection – preference for having a baby boy than a baby girl, former considered superior to latter. This issue of sex selection has gone into depths of discrimination, where a baby boy is given a princely treatment when he is a born, includes not only paying good tips to medical staff who helped at natal time and also doing pooja (religious thanks giving)and distribution of sweets. Contrary if a baby girl is born, unlike a baby boy nothing is practiced – no tips, pooja or sweets. Challenging biological reasons and logic, community people ensure that sons are born and engage in mal practices of sex selection – be it visiting local faith healers, consuming herbs to conceive sons only or opting for abortion to purge detected girl foetus. In every case, these communities opt for all available practices to be selective about sex of their babies.

This has been going for decades, so deep rooted that making them understand would turn to be not only futile and also have social consequences. One cannot stand against deep rooted norms and gender biased, socially conceived norms and beyond knowledge and reason also needs a determined will and commitment towards challenging social norms. Very recently, Breakthrough started its intervention in four districts of Haryana to build knowledge, capacities thereby resilience of communities towards sex selection. One of key stakeholders of Breakthrough’ capacity building program were the local frontline medical workers (ASHAs, ANMS, AWWs), working with women at village level. These frontline medical workers were given training about gender discrimination including gender stereotypes, issues related to mobility, education, and key issue of sex selection.

Given the depth of norms and heights of inequalities, Breakthrough expected to reap fruits of their labour only after years of training’s and community mobalisation activities for awareness building. However, as we know leaders are born they need someone to mentor them to use their leadership traits – get an elevator pitch to start like entrepreneurs. Among these medical workers, one ASHA worker, Manat (name changed) got the pitch to demonstrate her leadership traits, had identified a family where in its members and husband were planning to go for an abortion as their daughter-in-law was pregnant, having foetus of a baby girl. Manat, started meeting the family members of this lady and her husband with an intention of convincing them not to abort the child and with all efforts and her strong will power, was able to let the family quit idea of abortion. She mentioned, “initially, it was difficult to even talk about such issues with community people and doing this would have been not less risky and without consequences.  After attending Breakthrough’ one day training workshop, I became confident enough to work towards curbing sex selection and after having ‘natak’ (street play) community have also started being recipient to such information”. She further mentioned that, after repeatedly meeting family members of the pregnant lady, they decided to quit the idea of abortion and also decided to follow same practices as done at the time of birth of a baby boy – giving a tip, holding Pooj, distributing sweets.

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