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TV series educates on women's rights

04 March 2009

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UNICEF is promoting rights-based empowerment of women in India through a TV serial that highlights issues of social and gender discrimination, and how its central characters overcome these odds.

New Delhi: Shabnam, early twenties, married, is chided by her parents for standing up to her violent husband when he accuses her of being infertile. Showing unconventional autonomy, Shabnam decides to end the abusive relationship and start her own life by training to become an Anganwadi (nutrition) worker in her village.

Still from TV serial
Image credits: UNICEF / Still from the TV serial

Though just a scene from UNICEF’s entertainment-education drama serial Kyunki…Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai (Because…That’s What Life Is), the portrayal touches on issues and patterns that many women in India, and around the world, can relate to.

“The show is so much more than just a serial,” says actor Geeta Bisht, who plays Shabnam. “Kyunki… takes up real issues and aims to make the lives of people better. Shabnam inspires because she goes against all odds and fights for her rights.”

“Meaningful engagement with the audience is of utmost importance to us”

Shabnam’s story is representative of Kyunki…’s pro-social modelling strategy. Where the Indian—and very popular—soap genre typically thrives on regressive portrayals of its female protagonists as ill-fated victims who must suffer in silence, Kyunki… promotes rights-based empowerment, exemplifying self-efficacy through characters who must navigate and negotiate the same goals and value systems that viewers grapple with in real life.

The serial’s primary objective is to impart, persuasively, the vital messages found in UNICEF’s Facts for Life initaitive. Tackling the basic — and sometimes unmentionable — socio-cultural causes contributing to poor maternal and newborn health is fundamental to achieving the project’s targeted behavioural outcomes.

The serial recognises that the principles of equality and inclusion are fundamental to the adoption of practises critical to children’s and women’s health and welfare. A widow, a teacher, a nurse, an illiterate woman, a divorcee, and a potter’s daughter are the unassuming but aspirational protagonists who are out to change the social landscape of Kyunki…’s fictitious village of Rajpura.

“Meaningful engagement with the audience is of utmost importance to us. At the end of the day, what really matters is that people are watching Kyunki…, learning from it, and acting on these messages,” says former chief of Programme Communication at UNICEF India, Michael Galway.

Driving awareness

The serial, which airs thrice a week and reached almost 56 million viewers in 2008, has just gone into production for a second, 130-episode season.

“Earlier I use to desire a male child but now I don’t feel so”

Kyunki… is the flagship intervention of UNICEF India’s Facts for Life Communication Initiative, a multi-level, multi-platform C4D framework lending convergent support to government programmes for children and women in India.

The serial exploits the public television broadcaster’s unrivalled reach across rural and urban India to provide “air cover” to the communication efforts of thousands of frontline workers in Hindi-speaking states with high infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate.

The serial is systematically assessed in association with Johns Hopkins University. Results from concurrent monitoring activities that are conducted across target audiences suggest that viewers’ awareness of gender issues and women’s rights may be increasing as the show progresses.

“Women should be involved in the development works in the village and even the development of the family”, says a male viewer from the northern state of Rajasthan.

Another viewer from the state of Jharkhand shares that, “Earlier I use to desire a male child but now I don’t feel so. I think my daughters can do everything in their lives.”

Source : UNICEF

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