Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I, a woman, can achieve anything

The media is often condemned for perpetuating stereotypes and portraying women and communities in a stereotypical way. Between the many “item numbers” from the film industry and the constant portrayal of women as either the “vamp or the do-gooder” on television, the media’s way of portraying women has been far from appreciable. Therefore, the arrival of Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (MKBKSH) on television with its real life characters and a strong woman as the lead was highly appreciated.

Launched in 2014 by Population Foundation of India, MKBKSH is a trans-media initiative that uses television, radio, the internet and mobile platforms to build women’s agency and steer the perception of people on social determinants of health. Using a rather captivating storyline, the programme is a cultural drama series that challenges age-old social norms and mores that hold women back, while inspiring audiences to stand up for their empowerment.

The series is conceptualised under the guidance of Dr Arvind Singhal, a renowned communication and social change scholar. MKBKSH has used the positive deviance approach, which identifies positive behaviours of individuals within the community and amplifies them through an inspiring storyline. The approach enables communities to discover the best practices and local wisdom they already have, and then to act on it.

Communication media is leveraged and used to ensure reach, recall and result. While the television and the radio series carry knowledge to the community, the mobile forum presents an interactive space to encourage exchange, promotions, contests and interaction. The community radio helps reiterate some of these key messages to keep the community engagement quotient alive.

Season One looks at the inspiring journey of Dr Sneha Mathur, a young doctor who leaves a lucrative  career behind in Mumbai, to move to the village of Pratappur. She works with a sense of commitment and responsibility, and responds to challenges that come her way, becoming a sound role model for many young Indian women who find themselves in similar predicaments. The season touches upon the themes of sex selection, child marriage, age at the first pregnancy, spacing between pregnancies, the quality of healthcare and domestic violence.

Season Two addresses Dr Sneha’s continued crusade to ensure access to quality healthcare for all women. With her leadership, the women in the village gain traction through collective action. The season focuses on the youth, and addresses issues such as nutrition, mental health, substance abuse, gender-based violence, physical changes during adolescence and the need for appropriate peer educators for youth empowerment.

The success of the show was assessed by an external evaluation in the states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. The ensuing results revealed an increased awareness on child marriage in terms of legal provisions and consequences, and an understanding that child marriage results in a loss of opportunity. It also positively shifted attitudes, and more married women, married men and mothers-in-law, the three groups that were interviewed, felt that girls should complete their education, be 18 years old before marrying, and the ideal age for first pregnancy is 21 to 25 years. More of them were against domestic violence now.  The proportion of men and women who were confident of accessing family planning services rose too.

On ground, there many impactful stories that emerged as a result of the series. For instance, Raju Rainkwar in Salaiya, Madhya Pradesh, consults his wife on the preferred choice of contraception, and educates his peers by answering their queries on family planning methods. Two girls, Vidya Gwala and Priya Meena, in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, have convinced their families to continue their education and not force them into an early marriage. Today, they have turned into champions in their community fighting for the rights of other girls to study and marry at an appropriate age.