Taaron ki Toli (TKT): The Adolescent Empowerment Program (AEP)

About the Project

The Adolescent Empowerment Programme (AEP) of Breakthrough is implemented through a school based gender equity curriculum called Taron ki Toli (TKT). The curriculum shapes the gender views of over 2 million young people, thereby changing how women and girls experience their lives in India. We have presence in 5 states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Delhi in India and we are currently in the process of expanding our reach by working with the state government’s of Punjab, Odisha and Rajasthan.

Breakthrough’s intervention seeks to shape a progressive, new generation of young people who catalyse change around themselves and gradually transform patriarchal norms to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable in the long run. By working to change the gender views of more than 2 million young people through the education system, in communities and through high impact media outreach, we will eventually move to a society that values girls, ensures equal opportunity for all and does not tolerate any form of violence against women/girls.

Context and Issue

The Thomson Reuters 2018 Survey cited India as the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman; violence against women and girls is normalized through cultural practices that devalue girls and justify violence. Deep rooted cultural norms in India keep girls neglected and at risk of violence– blatant son preference has driven the sex ratio to 918 girls: 1000 boys; every fourth girl is a child bride; 1 in 3 women face domestic violence. India is home to about 120 million adolescent girls, an astounding number of whom are still restrained by poor nutrition and health, lack of education, early marriage, early pregnancies, little agency and compromised potential. Several factors contribute to the poor state of girls, but discriminatory social norms are the most challenging. These norms define how girls are treated at home, in educational institutions and at work. Girls struggle to complete secondary school because of restrictions on mobility and rampant sexual harassment, often pushing them into early marriage. This plays out in a vicious cycle of violence as girls and women with limited agency are unable to negotiate life on equal terms.

Despite two decades of rapid economic growth and social transformation, outcomes for women and girls in India continue to be alarming as discriminatory social norms restrict their mobility, accord low priority to their schooling or aspirations, push them into early marriage and pregnancy, as well as increase the threat of domestic violence. Women and girls are born into a socio-cultural context steeped in discrimination and inequity with ongoing struggles, like gender-based violence, the most challenging manifestation of discriminatory gender norms. This is further exacerbated in times of crisis, evident from the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in India.

Solution and Impact

At the intervention’s core is a deep transformative framework beginning with a 2-year, school-based curriculum for grades 6-8, to bring significant shifts in gender behaviors of boys and girls aged 11-14 years. Additionally, work with older adolescents (15-19) and youth (19-25 years) on building aspirations and decision making skills; of girls in particular; developing agency so that young people are able to take action on violence and discrimination around them. Along with this, Breakthrough drives large-scale community impact and shifts norms by engaging parents, teachers and duty bearers like front-line health workers and PRI members.

Breakthrough’s TKT curriculum uses entertainment education and participatory methods to conduct fortnightly sessions that are a part of the regular school schedules. Trained facilitators conduct these sessions in a fun, interactive manner that invites young participants to examine taboo topics; question social norms & gender stereotypes; understand rights & identify different forms of discrimination against girls. Using a life skills approach, the curriculum also builds self esteem, leadership, negotiation skills & decision making capacities of girls and boys thereby enabling them to talk openly, express their points of view confidently and start acting against discrimination in a non-confrontational manner within the safe spaces created in the classroom. The curriculum is one of the few that works with boys and aims to change gender norms in a win-win manner where boys also recognize the value of living in a gender equal world, breaking away from the pressures that masculinity imposes on them.

The TKT program in Haryana, covering 14,000 adolescents across 314 schools, was seen to reduce impact of parental gender attitudes as children from the most gender regressive homes (bottom 20%) started behaving like children from homes with more regular attitudes after the 2.5 year program.  Additionally, another RCT by CMS in Bihar showed that girls exposed to the program were 89% more likely to be enrolled in school compared to control and that the program reduced the incidence of early marriage by 28% compared to 22% in control. Similarly, the midline evaluation by NRMC in Uttar Pradesh revealed that 92% boys believed beating a girl by parents was not acceptable, up from just 50% at the baseline. These have given us many evidence points towards long term transformation of gender views and behaviors.

Future Developments

As per our five-year strategy, Breakthrough aims to generate more evidence of the efficacy of the initiative and scale-up the curriculum in partnership with state governments and networks to reach over 5 million adolescents. Working with state govts. & the education department is a key strategy that we will adopt to widen the impact on the border education system.  Our past evidence of improvement in attitudes is leading to more state governments taking interest in making it a part of regular syllabus. We are already in conversation with two state governments – Punjab and Odisha, for state wide scale-up.

Besides this, our focus will be on building the leadership skills and capacities of young adults (19-25 years old) through a deep transformative journey from ‘me to we’ ’ in which we seek to bring transformation first at the personal level, leading to change in families, then in communities and finally in society at large.  In addition, Breakthrough will use cutting edge media and the arts to influence popular culture through impactful counter narratives that push people to question prevailing gender stereotypes. Our 360 degree campaigns will use deep cultural insight to enable people to introspect on their own gender views and practices, thereby creating an impetus for change.

February 21, 2021