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Edutainment lessons on MDGs

Apr 02, 2009

Educating women about their rights can go a long way in improving maternal health and other related Millennium Development Goals. UNICEF’s Remya Sasindran talks of the organisation’s recently launched TV series in India aiming to bring about positive behavioural changes among its viewers.

Much time has passed since world leaders came together and agreed on the essential eight global Millennium Development Goals that have to be achieved by 2015. Now with just about six years to go to the finish line, each effort, at macro and micro levels, is important for the successful achievement of these goals.

Kyunki 1

Given the size of the country, India’s successful achievement of the MDGs will have major global impact especially towards poverty reduction. However, at the moment, India is off track on MDG 4 (Reduce child mortality) and not enough information is known about the status of MDG 6 (Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases), MDG 7 (Ensure environmental sustainability) and MDG 8 (Develop a global partnership for development).

The rest of the goals (MDG 1 – Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, MDG 2 – Achieve universal primary education, MDG 3 – Promote gender equality and empower women and MDG 5 – Improve maternal health) can be achieved by 2015 with certain strategic alterations to the way in which these issues are being tackled right now.

Even though India’s Tenth Five-year-plan (2003-2007) included human development targets that are more ambitious than the MDGs, areas like education, nutrition, and child and maternal survival need much more intensified efforts before these targets can be met successfully.

The ticking countdown

The State of the World’s Children Report 2009, which was released in January by the UNICEF, was an eye-opener to the current rates of maternal and child mortality around the world and in India. The report states that maternal and infant mortality receives much less attention than it really needs and 60% of all Indian women are still delivering at home.

At the same time, the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Assam are where more than two-thirds of all maternal deaths occur in India.  

Though what needs to be done to reduce deaths from pregnancy and childbirth is known, more than 78,000 Indian women still lose their lives to these causes every year. The survival of mothers and newborns is inherently related and efforts to reduce rates of maternal mortality will also help the survival rates of infants.

Moreover, there are many other related factors that contribute to the effective survival of mothers and infants including primary healthcare, awareness about the health systems available, education as well as an environment that is supportive and empowering towards women, their decisions and their rights.

A popular medium to connect

As a reaction to the urgent need to better the status of underserved women in India by empowering them with knowledge about various issues that will make them better decision makers at personal, domestic and community levels, UNICEF India launched an entertainment-education serial named Kyunki… Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai on World Health Day 2008.

The serial, the title of which roughly translates to Because… That’s What Life Is, is a primetime show in Hindi on the national public channel Doordarshan and borrows its core educational content from the UN publication Facts for Life and weaves these messages into an entertaining and dramatic story.

Facts for Life consists of a series of 13 messages presented to parents, care givers and other influencers in a straightforward and comprehensible manner making this otherwise technical information useable on a day to day basis. Going beyond simply providing information, Facts for Life attempts to present its messages in an entertaining style in order to make it more accessible to everyone who needs this information.

Taking this foundational concept of entertainment and accessibility forward, UNICEF’s drama serial Kyunki… Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai unpacks essential messages on health, nutrition, preventable diseases, education and other such topics in a way which makes it possible for viewers to transfer the information effectively into their own daily lives.

Kyunki… speaks directly to women and urges them to be the masters of their own destiny

Airing on Doordarshan every Monday to Wednesday from 20:30 hrs to 21:00 hrs, Kyunki… attempts to reach out mainly to underserved women between the ages of 15 to 34 who very possibly may not have access to this type of information from any other source.

Often tackling sensitive, and sometimes even taboo, topics such as early marriage and pregnancy, gender biases, social inclusion and HIV/AIDS, Kyunki… speaks directly to women and urges them to be the masters of their own destiny. In fact, the use of a television serial to propagate these Facts for Life messages is directly related to the popularity of the medium and also because of the inaccessibility to external interactions that many women in underserved communities may face.

Kyunki… is designed to inspire positive attitudinal and behavior change amongst women, their families and community members so that they can be more self-reliant in making the best decisions for themselves, their children and their families.

Male participation

Given the noticeable absence of male participation at the grassroots levels when it comes to the status and wellbeing of women, it becomes important that men too are urged to take up the responsibility of empowering women to be decision makers and become active economically, socially and politically.

Research has shown that educated women are more likely to delay their marriage, space birthing, ensure complete immunization of their young ones and be better informed about nutrition for themselves and their children.

Education, thus, becomes directly related to survival rates for mothers and children, basic human rights, decision-making power and economic and political participation. However, because men for the most part still remain the decision makers for women, especially within underserved communities, changing mindsets of men to inspire behavior change towards women is essential.

The positive male characters in Kyunki…urge male viewers to detach themselves from being the aggressor – be it in the form of domestic violence, irresponsible sexual behavior or restricting women to established gender roles – and to become men who respect women and encourage them to live a wholesome life.

Kyunki… and MDGs

In 2009 alone Kyunki… has reached about 78 million viewers according to TAM Media Research, with ­­­37% of this being UNICEF’s priority groups. Though still too early to get an exact picture of the impact that the show is inspiring, UNICEF shares that systematic monitoring activities and letters received from viewers suggest that the show is not only being well received but viewers are learning and changing as a result of the educational content in the serial.

According to a recent study conducted by UNICEF more than 60% of those surveyed said that they watch almost every episode of the serial and 6-25% across all states where the survey was conducted (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) reported taking some action after watching Kyunki… These actions fall within the subsets of adopting practices to prevent malaria, maintaining cleanliness and hygiene, and immunising their children - all actions which are directly related to the MDGs.

Kyunki… attempts to influence viewers at a personal level so as to stimulate a collective movement towards healthier lifestyles

The Facts for Life messages which appear in Kyunki… are also in line with the Government of India’s efforts towards successfully reaching the 2015 finish line. Promotion of government campaigns like National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All), Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) and others within the storyline of the serial help viewers exploit the full potential of the facilities the government has put in place for them. Knowledge that these services are freely available for them to better the quality of their lives is fundamental in involving citizens towards the timely achievement of MDGs.

Within the scope of MDGs in India, Kyunki…’s role in increasing awareness about health and social issues – especially those to do with women - in addition to providing solutions to these conditions, can bring about transformations in the belief systems and practices in entire communities albeit at micro levels.

Kyunki… attempts to influence viewers at a personal level so as to stimulate a collective movement towards healthier lifestyles that include the basic rights of every individual.

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