The Action Project empowers youth by educating them about issues that are important to them and discussing subjects that no one has talked to them about before. In conservative areas such as Allahabad where speaking about sexual, reproductive or health rights (SRHR) is considered taboo, discussing these issues openly, especially by youth, is a concept that took a while to be accepted. However, the difficulty or novelty of this situation did not prevent youth from working as peer leaders with the Action Project in order to pass on information about contraception, HIV prevention and care, STIs, hygiene, pregnancy or nutrition to other youth in their village.
Peer leaders are integral to the work that the Action Project does. The project’s partner NGOs in Allahabad and Manipur train youth peer leaders on how to create groups that they go on to mentor, and teaches them how to lobby for district and state-wide policy changes on issues related to youth and sexual reproductive health.
Savera (name changed), a 20-year-old peer leader, says, ”I was completely unaware about hygiene and nutrition during menstruation, safe sex, condom use or consensual sex. I also learned so much about HIV prevention and care here.” Remembering when she first started working as a peer leader, she recalls, “the village people used to call me ‘characterless’ because I spoke openly about sexual reproductive rights which was something ‘nice, conservative girls’ aren’t allowed to talk about. Now, however, my uncles and other village elders ask me to get their daughters involved in the project.”
And more and more girls are doing just that. Another peer leader who joined the Action Project, Divya (name changed) found the information she received from the Action Project to be helpful on a very personal level. The 19-year-old explains, “I met this boy in college three years ago and we began to like each other and he asked me to have sex with him. After everything I had learnt from this project, I knew that I didn’t want to have sex with him and I had the right to say ‘No’, and so I refused. I’m happy that I had the right information and was able to protect myself from potentially ruining my life.”
It is important to note that having the right information isn’t enough if it isn’t coupled with the confidence to share the information or to quest for more information. While speaking about her exposure to health camps and information sharing meetings with doctors, Savera said, “I would never have dreamed of speaking to a doctor even about my own health problems. Now I can openly ask doctors questions about HIV and other issues and I can see how amazed they are that I, being a village girl, am able to confidently ask these things.” Kavita added, “I used to be ashamed when they taught us about SRHR but now there is no shame and our perspectives have changed. Now I feel confident and at ease sharing information about SRHR.”
With the right type of support and access to information, the Action Project is building the capacity of these young leaders and offering them a sense of confidence they never had before, while also empowering them to change the social landscape of their villages one peer group at a time.
The Action Project is funded by the European Commission and endeavours to strengthen and empower civil society organisations and youth groups to advocate for more responsive policies addressing the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of young people. The project focuses on the most marginalised young people—MSM and transgender community members, drug users, sex workers and those living with HIV. The project is being implemented in partnership with MAMTA and SASO in India and by HASAB in Bangladesh. By 2013, the Action project will have contributed to shaping SRHR policies and their implementation in India and Bangladesh by supporting the meaningful participation of young people in relevant processes and programmes.