#DonoBarabar is not just a slogan, it’s a call to flip the story: Poonam Muttreja

Mumbai: Population Foundation of India (PFI), a national NGO that turns 50 this year, addresses the issue of family planning through an unconventional approach. PFI has produced a popular television soap opera ‘Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon’ (MKBKSH) that challenges regressive social norms which determine family planning decisions within the household. This approach arises from the knowledge that women need to have control, choice and consent in all decisions that have an impact on their lives. The serial is one of the few instances globally where popular entertainment has been used successfully in helping people transform their own lives.

Even though we have made significant advances in health, education and economic wellbeing. According to a recent study on teenage girls in India, three-fourths of them have career aspirations and 70% don’t wish to be married before they are 21. Despite this, India continues to have the highest number of child brides in the world, and 63 million of its daughters have been killed through sex selective abortions, according to the Economic Survey of 2018. Son preference, or rather daughter aversion, has resulted in 21 million “unwanted girls”. These girls don’t get the opportunities they desire or deserve and bear the brunt of being born in a patriarchal society all their lives.

As they grow up, girls continue to face discrimination into womanhood and as mothers. More than half of teenage girls (15 – 19 years) begin childbearing, while just one in 10 of them use any modern contraceptive method. While there are an estimated 30 million women whose family planning needs are not met, almost half of pregnancies in India are unwanted, of which two-thirds end in abortion.

PFI’s Executive Director Poonam Muttreja says, “These figures show that women have little or no say in decisions pertaining to their own lives. We have struggled to empower women through policies, but real change will only happen when we address the deep-seated social norms that keep women behind. That’s why we call upon men and women to promote and practice equality or ‘Dono Barabar’, as shown in the serial Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon. It also aligns with ‘Balance for Better’, the theme for International Women’s Day in 2019.”

During the broadcast of first two seasons of MKBKSH, 1.7 million calls were received from viewers across 29 states of India on the show’s Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) – the ‘Facebook’ of the poor. Calls came from nearly an equal share of men (48%) and women (52%). The show is watched by an equal share of men and women a majority view the serial with their spouses. This has helped in providing women the confidence to discuss contraception with their husbands. At least half of the show’s viewers reported that they received information on family planning for the first time from the serial.

Inspired by the television show, 21-year-old Ladkuwar Khushwaha of Nayagaon in Madhya Pradesh plucked the courage to convince her parents to not force her into marriage, but invest money saved for dowry in her education. She was the first girl from her village to go to college, braving opposition from upper caste men, some of whom even tried to run her down with a car. Her courage in turn has inspired more girls from the village to take up higher studies.

 

 

 

Creator of the show Feroz Abbas Khan says, “If we want to bring a change in the country, we need to change the men first. We cannot continue to burden the women with this anymore. Since men comprise of more than half the population of the country, we can expect massive positive change if they begin to act and live responsibly.”

After watching MKBKSH, the percentage of men who found domestic violence acceptable came down from 66% to 44%. A group of men from Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh, who were habitual wife-beaters, transformed into empathetic partners and sing ballads championing family planning in and around their village. The percentage of men who understood the adverse consequences of early marriage after watching the show rose from 2% to 31%.

The third season of Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon is back on air on DD National at 9.30 pm every Saturday and Sunday. The latest season promotes women’s role in leadership and in introducing positive change in their communities. The show focuses on better sanitation and hygienic practices to promote good health, and better access to sexual and reproductive health for young people.

This time, Population Foundation of India is supported by the REC Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to produce the third season of this popular edutainment show.