Bringing sex education to villages through phones

Anyone from anywhere in India may use human rights organization CREA's free, 24x7 infoline to learn about sexual and reproductive health and rights

Abhijit Ahaskar
Updated16 Jun 2017, 11:55 AM IST
Rupsa Mallik (right), CREA’s programme director.
Rupsa Mallik (right), CREA’s programme director.

A woman living in a village often does not have access to information pertaining to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) that is available to women residing in cities. Most of the education available in villages is restricted to menstrual hygiene and health. Issues such as contraception, consent and domestic violence are often left out of the discourse.

New Delhi-based human rights organization CREA has stepped in to fill the gap and bring the information directly to this audience. The organization was earlier working on a programme called ‘It’s My Body’ for adolescent girls. With encouragement and financial support from the MacArthur Foundation, CREA carried out a feasibility study to see how ICT (Information Communication Technology) and mobile phones in particular, could be used for the initiative. Based on the findings of the study, a mobile phone-based infoline service called Kahi Ankahi Baatein was rolled out across India in November 2014.

The initiative was among the finalists in the media and entertainment category of the Digital Empowerment Foundation’s awards in 2016.

The infoline uses the interactive voice response system (IVRS) to deliver four information episodes and four episodes of audio drama every month to users who show interest in the service by dialling the infoline number. For this initiative, CREA partnered with the non-government organization, TARSHI, (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues), which has been active in the field of sexual health since 1996.

To access this information, women do not need a smartphone or an internet connection. The infoline is free and available 24x7 at 9266292662 from anywhere in the country.

To ensure the information can be delivered without any cost to the listener, the service calls back the users after 10-30 seconds providing users with the option to choose from any of the services available on the platform.

In addition to the infoline, information on SRHR is disseminated through partnership with community radio stations. Some of the community radio stations CREA is working with are Gurgaon-based Gurgaon ki Awaaz, Waqt Ki Awaaz based in Kanpur, and Mewat-based Alfaz-e-Mewat. The association with these radio stations is important as they have a devoted audience which makes reaching out to women and girls in rural areas easier. CREA provides regular mentorship to these radio stations and conducts regular workshops for them.

The path to delivering education on SRHR was not an easy one. It required extensive research and consultations with various stakeholders and agencies. To assess laws and policies which can have direct implications on the provision of SRHR information given to adolescent girls external agencies were commissioned. Various national level SRHR programs such as Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram were reviewed. Developing content was another challenge and also the most critical aspect of the initiative. Since the five areas/states selected (Bihar, Delhi, National Capital Region, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh) for the promotion of the infoline were very different in terms of socio-political-cultural milieu the content had to be tailored accordingly.

Content production in Hindi has been especially challenging because of the lack of availability of an easy everyday language on SRHR that is understood by most people- Anubha Singh, program co-ordinator, CREA

“Content production has been one of the most challenging and intensive tasks. It required scientifically correct, rights-based information packed into small 3-4 minute long capsules in an entertaining and engaging manner. Content production in Hindi has been especially challenging because of the lack of availability of an easy everyday language on SRHR that is understood by most people,” said Anubha Singh, director, CREA.

Another limitation of the service is the lack of a direct way of interacting with users. Though users have the option to record their feedback, this is voluntary.

The MacArthur Foundation provided a grant for a period of 18 months (May 2015 to October 2016) to improve the infoline model. This was the second grant from the Foundation which funded the pilot projects for the program from April 2013 to March 2015. Besides foundations, CREA also received financial support from local embassies. It has raised around $300,000 (approximately Rs2 crore).

The response has been overwhelming. And it is not just women who are engaging but men as well. Based on the calls made to the infoline service, CREA found 37% of the callers are below 18 years, 39% of the callers are women and girls, while 56% of the callers are men and 3% are transgenders.

As of now the content is being delivered in Hindi but in the next phase CREA intends to deliver content in English as well for listeners in urban areas. “We think that our project is being implemented at the right time and complements the Digital India Initiative. We expect that this current focus on digitization will increase our chances of policy advocacy, partnerships and funding opportunity from CSR and government agencies,” said Rupsa Mallik, programme director, CREA.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

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First Published:16 Jun 2017, 11:55 AM IST
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