By Bhumiraj Pithatoli, Bajhang, March 14: Pashupati Mahat of Biththadchir Rural Municipality-4 is 16 years old now. Most of her friends her age married this year and she is without her close friends these days.
The villagers thought that Mahat would also marry and there were those who used to say that she will also elope with some boy with the consent of her family members. But Mahat proved her detractors wrong. Instead, she started counselling the rest of the teenage girls in her village not to marry without reaching 20 years of age. She even campaigned against stopping violence again women and children. She was able to convince people of all age groups in her village to fight against child marriage and violence.
Mahat, who reads in Class 12, now sits in important decision-making meetings and discussions in the community. She is invited to many such meetings and forums. "In the beginning, many people disliked my ideas. It was difficult to convince even the younger sisters of my community. I gathered the courage to talk against violence with adults and older people after the younger sisters gradually started to buy my ideas," said Mahat.
Thanks to Mahat's relentless initiatives, the campaign against violence has reached every household in the community and people now listen to girls of Mahat's age and her peers who have joined the campaign.
A team of girls led by Mahat stopped a marriage in the village last month. A 15-year-old girl was being married off with family consent. Mahat's team stopped this marriage by taking the girl being married off into hiding.
"The girl and her family members had already agreed to the marriage. The wedding was about to take place and we intervened. We convinced the girl that it was not appropriate to marry at her age and hid her at another house," Mahat narrated how they stopped the marriage.
Families from both the girl's and boy's sides were infuriated with Mahat and her friends for aborting the marriage. However, the girls managed to pacify the girl's family and convinced the family members that they were going to spoil their daughter's future by marrying her off early.
"Now, they (the girl's family) are convinced that it is a mistake to marry off their daughter at an early age.
Kabita Khadka of Jayaprithvi Municipality-12 is the Chairperson of the Chetanshil Kishor-Kishori Samuha, a group of teenagers working to raise public awareness in the community against various harmful practices in society. She is 16 years old and studies in Class 12. It has been one year since she joined this peer group. She has run campaign for stopping violence in the community a dozen times during this period.
"Many people ignore us and our opinion thinking that we are not mature enough. They tend to 'listen to us' after much persistence," she shared how difficult it is to convince people in the community.
Khadka-led team surrounds the perpetrator soon after knowing about the incident of violence against women in the village.
She shared, "We do not let go of the perpetrator until he apologizes. The perpetrator becomes aware after we warned of going for the legal process if such an incident repeats."
Though there are not many cases of child marriage occurred in the municipality, gender-based violence has not stopped.
Khadka mentioned, "We hold discussions with school friends regarding transformation once a week thinking it will help to make their families aware to reduce the violence-related cases."
Januka BK of Bitthadchir rural municipality-3 has made her identity as a responsible girl in the village. A student in my Bachelor's first year, Januka has been spreading awareness against violence not only in the Dalit community but also in other communities.
She said, "We also sent back the 15-year-old girl, who came to the village to get married. She would have given birth to a child this year if her marriage was not stopped last year." Januka opined that it would be possible to stop violence only from the efforts of all.
The gender-based Violence Prevention and Response Project has been helping girls to increase their self-esteem, and to stop different types of violence.
The Project run by VSO and PeaceWin with the financial support of UNFPA in Bajhang has been imparting training to youths of Talkot, Bithadchir, Masta rural municipalities and Jayprithvi municipality and launching a campaign against violence in villages.
PeaceWin district coordinator Bhuwan Bahadur Singh said various package programmes ranging from eight days to 52 days were implemented to train adolescents against violence and enhance their capacity building.
The training provides them with an opportunity for agency building and teamwork in combating violence. They visit schools and communities weekly with messages against violence. The awareness programmes aim to make the community aware of several forms of violence in society.
As he said, in a year around 6,000 people including adolescents, parents/ guardians and elderly people were trained in packages against violence.
UNFPA programme coordinator Dhan Bahadur Lamsal said through a programme called 'Rupantaran' which means transformation, they provide and promote life skills including social and financial skills among adolescents. It contains 15 modules that impart practical skills and knowledge on community, communications, gender equality, human rights, reproductive health, gender-based violence, negotiation skills and so on. It contributes to making the community aware of the consequences of child marriage and preventing it.
In addition to this, adolescent girls are being trained on the monthly period cycle and menstruation health and sanitation, against violence, abuse, cybercrime, child marriage and other harmful practices against them. It encourages them to network building among their peers and to be a change agent in the community, according to Lamsal. (RSS)