I, A Woman, Can Do Anything

It’s already the middle of January 2016, and I’m still sorting out the piles of paper from last year’s projects, when I come across those linked to one of my most interesting assignments of 2015, the process documentation of an infotainment television drama series titled Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (MKBKSH), which translates as I, a woman, can achieve anything. Launched in 2014 by an NGO called Population Foundation of India (PFI), this serial was the pivot of a larger communications initiative aimed at shifting social norms associated with family planning issues among men, women and youth.

Nearly 43% girls in India are married before their eighteenth birthday and a mere 10 % of this group utilizes family planning to avoid early pregnancies. Family planning and reproductive health is clearly still a really big, unsolved problem. Despite national programmes to educate communities in remote districts, about the importance of delaying marriage for girls, ensuring spacing between births, and using temporary methods of contraception to avert unwanted pregnancies, statistics show that progress is slow. One reason is that behaviour and attitudes on these private matters are grounded in deep-rooted social norms. Getting people to change is no small task. Unless we use innovative ways of informing and motivating groups to adopt health behaviours, there’s no scope for improvement.

Entertainment Education (EE) or edutainment, has been proven to trigger positive social transformation in South Africa, Mexico, and Peru, where important messages are carefully crafted into popular TV shows. Indian edutainment shows like Kyunki… Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai and Satyameva Jayate, have also played a valuable role in precipitating desirable behaviour. Directed by noted theatre and film director Mr Feroz Abbas Khan, Main Kuch Bhi Kars Sakti Hoon (MKBKSH) stands apart, since it was designed with to educate its audience and expound ideal family planning behaviours within the larger discourse of gender equality and female empowerment.

Unlike other soap operas on Indian television that portray women in a regressive manner and enforce stereotypes, MKBKSH features powerful female role models in positions of strength. Another noteworthy feature of the serial is that the key plot elements are based on real life situations, while characters serve as role models to bring important family planning concepts to life. Scripts are based on real-life case studies, on the basis of the “Positive Deviance” (PD) approach.

The PD approach is premised on the belief that the wisdom to solve the problem lies with ordinary people: Poor and marginalized people are the holders of wisdom and solutions that are often invisible to others, say PD experts. In sharp contrast to the top down method usually used by communication experts, the PD approach builds the self-esteem of the under privileged. “Rarely are poor populations invited to the table as equal partners to listen, dialogue reflect upon, and self-discover the wisdom that lies among them,” explains Dr. Arvind Singhal, an international thought leader in entertainment education who worked closely with PFI to support the development of the research plan and script.

Some examples of “positive deviants” used to model behaviours in the serial, are the father in law, whose respectful attitude and support of his daughter-in-law’s right to education creates a positive change in the family dynamics and encourages gender equality at home; the mother who realises the value of education and supports her daughter to complete her studies before marrying; and a husband who is willing to take responsibility for contraception and use condoms, which spells happiness for his spouse!

Aired on the national broadcasting TV network Doordarshan (DD) and All India Radio (AIR), MKBKSH has garnered a large viewership and endorsement from a range of celebrities: Sharmila Tagore, Naina Lal Kidwai, Soha Ali Khan, and Shabana Azmi are big fans. More recently, Farhan Akhtar’s organization MARD (Men against Rape and Discrimination) has joined hands with PFI to promote Season Two. Farhan fans may want to know that he plays the role of a “Sutradhar” in the latter episodes!

 

 

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