Only 46.3% of rural teenage girls have access to hygienic methods of menstrual protection. This was one of the key findings of the Teen Age Girls (TAG) report released as part of Project Nanhi Kali on Thursday.
An important finding was that 73% of rural and urban girls aspire to marry only after they are 21 and earning a living. Mumbai is the topmost city in the TAG index. The event was presided over by Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra, who founded Project Nanhi Kali in 1996.
The project claims to have empowered over 3.5 lakh girls across rural, tribal and urban regions in 14 States by providing them with academic and material support. It also mobilises communities to change mindsets towards girl child education. The project expects to leverage the findings, explore new opportunities and educate five lakh girls in three years.
A TAG survey tool was created with the help of organisations working with teenage girls, research experts, gender experts, specialists in sociological and anthropological studies, lawyers and mental health specialists. After training, the all-women teams of 1,000 surveyors went across the country and interviewed 74,000 teenage girls in 600 districts across 30 States. There are 80 million teenage girls in India.
According to the report, 96% of teenage girls are unmarried with hardly any difference in rural (95.5%) and urban (96.6%) data. Around 70% girls wish to pursue higher studies and most adolescent girls aspire to work after their studies and marry only when they are able to earn a living. The report says that 73.3% girls want to get married after the age of 21 and wish to pursue higher studies with a specific career in mind.
Mr. Mahindra, after unveiling the report, said, “When I asked my colleagues why are there are so few women in topmost positions in the corporate world, they told me there were not enough women to choose from. But this survey shows that 81% teenage girls are currently studying and aspire to make a career. This will make up a pool from which leadership will emerge.” Freestyle wrestler Geeta Phogat, ace shooter Heena Sidhu and mountaineer Poorna Malavath were felicitated by Mr. Mahindra as Nanhi Kali Icons 2018 for their remarkable achievements in the world of sport.
Despite several efforts, the access of toilet and the use of unhygienic methods during menstruation still has a long way to go. The report says 39.8% of teenage girls still have to defecate in the open and only 54.4% have access to hygienic methods of menstrual protection. Failing to maintain proper hygiene during menstruation leads to reproductive tract infections and serious health issues. Around 45.5% of girls are still using cloth pads owing to reasons such as unaffordability, cultural beliefs and lack of knowledge about hygiene products.
According to the report, one in every two teenage girls has a low Body Mass Index (BMI) with only half the population of both urban and rural girls having a normal BMI. The reason for low nutrition among girls is largely because of the cultural practices and differs between communities depending on the food choices and attitude towards the girl child.
The survey’s findings have been used to prepare a TAG index, which compares the performance of each State based on the status of their teenage girls. Kerala and Mizoram are the top two States while top three cities are Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru. In Mumbai, 95.5% girls use hygienic methods of menstrual protection and 87.6% do not go for open defecation. About 92% want to marry only after they are 21.
‘Time for action’
Manoj Kumar, chief executive officer of Naandi Foundation, which compiled the report, said, “This report shines the spotlight on the aspirations and challenges of 80 million teenage girls in India. This is an opportunity for the nation to take action. These findings will be used to explore new opportunities enabling the girls to grow up into confident, self-reliant and informed young women.”