© UNICEF India/2010/Angela Walker
By Angela Walker
LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh, India, 15 March 2010 – Mountaineer Santosh Yadav, who climbed the world’s tallest mountain peak twice, was on hand to inaugurate Meena Radio, an entertainment education radio program inspiring young girls to stay in school in order to achieve their own dreams.
“I was just like you – from a small village with a lot of difficulties. I just wanted to study,” the Uttar Pradesh native told a packed auditorium made up hundreds of young people, their parents and teachers. “I come from a very traditional background, a traditional family. … It was more difficult for me to cross those cultural taboos than it was for me to climb Everest. ”
Meet Meena's Young Fans
Growing up, Yadav attended a small village school in Haryana where the dirt floors turned to mud during the monsoon. At 14, there was pressure for her to marry, but her mother argued that she was too young. She earned honors in economics and eventually continued her studies at mountaineering school.
“All girls should have equal access to education,” she told the rapt crowd. “We have to lead a good life, not just exist.”
Like Yadav, Meena is a role model for young girls. She lives in a biased world where boys are sent to school and given a larger share of food. Girls stay home, tend to cattle, fetch water and perform other household chores.
When Meena’s younger brother Raju goes to school, Meena is told by her father to stay at home. But gradually she wins over her village community and changes her family’s opinion about not sending her to school.
“This nine-year-old spirited girl has been the voice of the voiceless for more than a decade now. She wants to study. She asks questions to a society that has not been fair to the girl child. She is a role model and solves problems in a positive and participatory manner,” said Adele Khudr, the chief of UNICEF’s UP office. “Nothing would give us greater pleasure than to see every girl chid in India emulate Meena and grow up healthy, confident and empowered.”
Meena Radio is being broadcasting for the first time in Hindi in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state with a population of 191 million comparable to that of Brazil. Each 15-minute program has a story, a song and a game designed to entertain school children while encouraging them to think.
Meena's Young Fans
Student discussions after the broadcast reinforce messages on education, nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, health, child marriage and child labor.
Funded through the generous support of the IKEA Social Initiative, Meena Radio is a partnership between UNICEF, the UP Government and All India Radio to promote child rights, gender equity and child- friendly schools.
One hundred and sixty radio episodes are currently under production. In addition, the state has 36,000 Meena Manch, or forums to undertake social activities fighting for girls’ education and against child marriage.
Students tune in afternoons Monday through Saturday to the broadcast on radio sets provided by the government. The government also trained teachers on how to use Meena Radio as a teaching aid and has issued a directive to schools to facilitate radio-listening at the prescribed time.
The pilot program was launched on International Women’s Day 8 March in the districts of Lucknow and Lalitpur. The program will be implemented in seven more districts starting in July.
|© UNICEF India/2010/Angela Walker|
|School children presenting Meena stories using human puppets at the launch of Meena Radio in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.|
Meena has existed as a popular cartoon character for decades throughout the region and is recognized in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan as well as India.
The radio program targets young people between the ages of 11 and 14, an age where they are prone to drop out of the school. In UP, the dropout rate in primary school is 25 per cent, but rises to 55 per cent in upper primary school, with more girls dropping out of school than boys.
“This is a very exciting partnership. For the past 20 years, UP has adopted Meena like our own baby. Girls in school, parents, and teachers are taking up Meena,” said Lalita Pradeep, Deputy Director of UP’s Department of Education.
“Talking in Hindi will ensure they reach and attract the community and parents to take in the message properly and clearly. Radio is very cost-efficient and available everywhere.”
Meena's positive behavior messages sticks, because they are presented in a funny and appealing way that attracts children, their parents and teachers. Students recognize themselves in Meena as well as her friends and the village and school life she inhabits.
“All girls identify with Meena. They are so enthusiastic. They want to be like Meena, to behave like Meena,” Pradeep says. “I have also seen boys taking an interest in Meena. It’s a learning for both girls and boys.”