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How Yuwa Empowers Girls in India Through Football-TBP
India currently has the highest number of child brides on the planet, with 47 percent of girls married before they turn 18. The practice is more common in rural areas. In some states, the number reaches 69 percent. The rate of marriages is increasing for girls between the ages of 15 and 18.

There are many factors that account for this high number of child brides. Oppressive gender roles in India’s patriarchal society make it difficult for girls to pursue other options. They are typically expected to be mothers and care for the entire household. Girls often receive little schooling and have lower rates of literacy. It can be difficult for them to find work and become financially independent, so they have no choice but to marry young and depend on their husband while being burdened with domestic responsibilities. Families may also push girls to get married young out of concern for their safety and “honor.”

Child brides face risks to their mental, physical, and emotional health. Since many become pregnant at a young age, they are more likely to die in childbirth. They also have a greater chance of contracting HIV. They suffer more domestic violence: Indian child brides are twice as likely to be abused than girls who marry after 18. They also face higher rates of sexual abuse, and often exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder such as hopelessness and depression.

The Yuwa organization, an NGO based in the state of Jharkhand, is dedicated to using football (soccer) as a means to promote social development and discourage child marriage. Citizens of Jharkhand struggle with poverty and illiteracy, and it is a dangerous place for young women to grow up. Yuwa was founded in 2009, and since the program began, it has had 600 members. Currently, 250 girls participate in the program, with 150 practicing on a daily basis.

Through Yuwa, girls can organize new football teams or join an already existing team. Players collectively choose a team captain, who is responsible for tracking attendance. If a girl suddenly drops out or shows up less and less, her teammates can contact her to help her through whatever is keeping her from practice.

Yuwa’s program goes beyond football. They also work to educate girls so they can strive for a future beyond child marriage. Girls can attend their academic bridge program, which provides classes in math, science, and English, and computers. They also provide summer school and personal tutoring, and assist with transferring girls to better schools. Furthermore, Yuwa holds hour-long weekly workshops that focus on teaching life skills. These workshops are run by local female staff or other Yuwa girls, and they cover topics such as health, gender, gender-based violence, sexuality, self-esteem, and basic finances.

Yuwa’s primary objective is to inspire girls to take their futures into their own hands so they can fight child marriage, illiteracy, and human trafficking. Girls and their coaches can meet with their families to discuss options beyond marriage. Although some parents are not understanding at first, and want their daughters to follow the conventional path, many change their minds and begin to push for better futures for their daughters.

The Yuwa girls have seen success on and off the field. In 2013, a Yuwa team placed 4th in an under-14 tournament in Spain, and in 2014, they were invited to Schwan’s USA cup. Although football is not enough to undo all of the inequalities that Indian women struggle with on a daily basis, Yuwa’s girls are helping change attitudes and inspire girls to strive for new opportunities.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: Foundation for Sustainable Development, Girls Not Brides, The Guardian, International Center for Research on Women, Yuwa
Photo: Yuwa

India
According to the 2011 census, more than 70% of India’s enormous population is under the age of 35. By the year 2020, India will likely be the youngest country in the world, with a median age of just 29 years old.

While for years this youth population growth has been considered a point of contention for the country, the time has come for a conceptual transformation. Rather than be burdened with malnutrition, a severe lack of education and overcrowded villages, the youth in India are taking a stand for political change.

With elections coming up in May, the nation’s younger generation is pushing for an agenda that directly addresses their concerns for development, employment, educational opportunities and increased inclusion in the political sphere.

Indians have catapulted their political system into a throng of idealism in which people with great ideas yet no background in government enter the political realm through the Aam Aadmi Party. The party is an offshoot of an anti-corruption campaign that came to popularity in 2011 and 2012. Fueled by an enthusiastic and expectant youth, the Aam Aadmi Party gives hope to the masses looking for change and agency to those willing to make that change happen.

Intense loyalty to the responsibility of social justice and inclusion augments the Indian population’s surge to the polls. The Times of India, for example, has initiated the I Lead India campaign to encourage youngsters to vote and to create a Youth Manifesto. The campaign stresses accountability of politicians and promotes activism among Indian citizens.

If all goes well, such strong desires and opinions could bring about extensive successful alterations in Indian politics and social life. But the risk is not to be discounted.

The large numbers of these young Indian individuals rising up to have a say puts great pressure on the future of India’s political system. And the youth are not extremely patient. Lofty expectations and an inability to patiently await the change that will, as all change does, inevitably take time, threatens the optimism this youthful group has inspired.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: New York Times, Times of India
Photo: Aam Aadmi Party