The STEM II project (Supporting the Education of Marginalised Girls) was funded by UK aid through the Girls’ Education Challenge. Findings from the project’s baseline report uncovered incidents of harassment in schools by teachers and of girls being bullied by boys on their way home. In response, the project introduced a series of activities designed to build awareness around sexual and physical abuse, establish a community support system for protecting girls and women in the project areas, and teach them self-defence techniques. The project conducted awareness campaigns for parents, teachers and community members, and established child safeguarding mechanisms at the school and community level to prevent abuse, mitigate immediate risks through complaint handling mechanisms, and strengthen referral systems.
The project rolled out self-defence training to in-school girls, focusing on preventive measures, identifying and reporting child protection concerns, and providing information about emergency support and referral mechanisms. The training provided the participants with skills to defend oneself physically and verbally, while at the same time helping to build their self-confidence.
The project designed the self-defence training, called Saksham Chhori (Empowered Daughters), in partnership with Girls Kick and using a participatory approach. As well as teaching the participant girls self-defence, the activities also aimed to involve parents and community members, so that the activity contributed to the overall goal of creating a safe and secure environment for adolescent girls. The training method was designed to enable girls and women to deal with day-to-day challenges and lower the risk of various forms of abuse through developing psychological, verbal and physical self-defence techniques. The training involved self-defence techniques and drills, along with developing skills to assess one’s surroundings and evaluate risks, diffuse situations, and engage verbally or physically if necessary. The programme also focused on identifying support systems, with the involvement of parents, schoolteachers, community representatives and other concerned stakeholders.
In the initial phase, the programme trained 88 young leaders (60 female, 28 male) as self-defence trainers through training of trainers workshops. These trainers were then mobilised to facilitate a 3-day training workshop in each of the project schools. The self-defence training was provided to a total of 1,890 in-school girls of Grades 8, 9, and 10 and 650 out-of-school girls. The training proved to be very effective, and various schools and local government officials have requested that similar training sessions be conducted in their areas. The activity also served as a motivation to the trained young leaders, who have expanded their knowledge and skills outside of the project schools.
Based on the ethnic diversity of the participants, the project made sure to train self-defence trainers from each of the major ethnic groups represented in STEM schools, with the breakdown in ethnicity of the trainers shown in the . This proved to be an effective approach as it helped the various trainers to deliver the self-defence training in their respective local languages, allowing them to communicate more effectively on sensitive subjects. In addition to the knowledge and skills, the training also focused on developing participants’ leadership, teamwork, facilitation and problem management abilities.
The participants appreciated the innovativeness of the training and its focus on building life skills, as well as the wider engagement of local stakeholders.
“As a shy young girl, the training helped me find myself. I was no longer the girl who couldn’t speak up anymore. It boosted my confidence tremendously and I think I will now be able to handle difficult circumstances on my own. I want to spread this message to other girls in my community. Now that I have provided training of self-defence to several schools, I have also received requests from different schools to conduct similar training sessions.”
Ishwari Ranabhatt, Self–defence facilitator
Following requests from schools and local government officials, and as part of STEM II’s efforts to scale-up successful interventions, the project reached out to other local government stakeholders, increasing their awareness of incidents of abuse and harassment against girls and women. They showed them how self-defence could be used as a preventive measure and the training was replicated in more municipalities. An additional 488 adolescent girls received the training within 6 months of the start of the intervention. Some of the municipalities of Kailali district have now also established child protection committees at the local level and are in the process of drafting a Municipal child protection policy.
Peer support system
“Self defence is a unique approach that enables girls and women to understand and act on day-to-day harassment and violence. These are easy and low-cost activities and I will incorporate them in our municipal plan for the safety of girls and women.”
Deputy Mayor- Gauriganga Municipality
Peer support system
The project also adopted new initiatives to promote behavioural change and promote a safe environment. For instance, the 88 self-defence graduates were mobilised to establish peer support groups at the community level to raise awareness about issues of harassment and abuse, as well as serve as a platform to share problems faced by adolescent girls. Boys were also engaged in these activities, to highlight their importance in creating a safe environment and promoting gender equality.
Expanding knowledge and skills
Once they had been equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to implement self-defence training workshops, the new trainers were eager to transfer their knowledge to their peers and communities. This was the motivation behind the training of trainers’ approach. It was anticipated that these young leaders would be capable and motivated to conduct these self-defence training within their communities, and within other schools and communities that request the training. The aim was to reach as many girls as possible outside of the project area. The trainers reached out to different schools in their area, to youth club leaders, and to local government personnel, to share their experience on how self-defence can build confidence among youth and provide them with a feeling of safety and leadership. The local government allocated funds for child protection and women’s empowerment. Some of it was released for training by these young leaders, while various local government representatives also showed commitment to include such programmes in their upcoming development plans.
Reaching Beyond STEM II
“After receiving the training and conducting my first training at school, I was called by the head teacher of a local school in my village. He appreciated my work in supporting girls and requested me to conduct a 3-day training in his school. Through that training, I trained 64 young girls from Grades 11-12. Now everyone in the school knows me and appreciates my work. I feel a sense of pride in what I’ve done and I hope to be able to conduct such training programs in even more schools.”
Narendra Saud, Self–defence facilitator, male from Kailali