Empowering Adolescent Girls to Change Gender Norms to Prevent Child Marriage and Adolescent Pregnancy

Presenter: Sebanti Ghosh, John Snow India

Background: With, 243 million adolescents, India accounts for 20% of global adolescent population. However, 27% of the girls 15-19 years are married and 16% of the girls have begun childbearing as per National Family Health Survey (NFHS) III. Moreover, only 47% of adolescent deliveries were assisted by health personnel further compounding the risks. As per NFHS III, 53.3% of women aged 20-24 years were married by 18 years and 25.3% of women aged 15-19 years were already mothers or pregnant in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. It clearly emerges that adolescent marriage and pregnancy needs to be addressed in India to reach the MDG 5 target.

Methodology: The intervention was implemented across 40 villages in Murshidabad district of West Bengal where over half of the girls were married by 18 years with the aim to empower adolescent girls to address inequitable gender norms  like child marriage and act on them.  The efforts focused on equipping the girls with skills and knowledge, building peer support, generating leadership among eth girls along with social and behaviour change communication at community level for creation of an enabling environment.

Results: The initiative has helped increase self-esteem, knowledge & skills about their reproductive and sexual health and rights and developed their capacity for self-determination and take action to prevent child marriages. Today there are 80 active adolescent girl leaders. Child marriage prevalence declined from 70% in the operational area in 2005 to 5% in 2014 and first childbirth < 20years from 93% in 2005 to 50% in 2014.

Conclusion: Empowerment of adolescent girls to change gender norms along with social and behaviour change communication at community level helped improving adolescent reproductive and maternal health outcomes.