Shree Bheemanna Sharma, a key Hindu religious leader in the district of Warangal in Telangana State, India formulated an innovative strategy to spread awareness about Girl´s Advocacy Alliance project themes to the common public. Terre des Hommes Netherlands´ GAA project team in the district approached the leader with the objective of enabling him to influence his peers who are also religious leaders at the local level.
He was asked by the GAA team to orient his community on the ill effects of celebrating and encouraging child marriages. Mr. Sharma was inspired by the team’s talk and decided to support the project with all of his efforts. He believed that that the pursuit to preach against child marriage should not be limited to a few people. To reach out to a larger audience within a short span of time, he adopted an innovative strategy.
He observed that there are almost 200 barefoot traditional priests that are present in the district. These priests normally go to the villages, and sing traditional and devotional folk songs to educate the people on religion to earn a small income. These priests are well respected in the communities that they visit. People listen to their folk songs and practice their lessons in their day to day life. Mr. Bheemanna felt that these barefoot priests can be an effective tool in spreading his message to the communities.
On an special day on the Hindu calendar in February, he organised an orientation for these priests and sensitised them on the issue of child marriages, the health and social damage that it causes on children and their parents, actions on how to prevent them, and the legal consequences for not abiding by the law. He also requested these priests to compose traditional songs which will convey these important messages to the public. To effectively reach out to these priests, Mr. Bheemanna took support from the Endowment Department of the district, which is the governing body for all Hindu religious leaders.
As a result of this message, the barefoot priests initiated their preaching in villages and in temples during special occasions to educate the public against solemnising child marriages. They also used information, education, and communication materials provided by the GAA team of the district.
The concept of using folk media for development is certainly an innovative step, which not only creates interest among the masses, but also educates all people from different social classes such caste, gender, and social hierarchy.
Mr. Bheemanna's approach intends to empower girls and young women by educating them about early marriage, the law, and its negative consequences. This strategy can be easily adopted in other areas across India, specifically other districts where early child marriage is still a common practice.
Through local partner organizations , Terre des Hommes Netherlands´ Girl´s Advocacy Alliance programme aims to encourage various community members such as religious leaders to identify, monitor, and report incidents of child marriages. Without these initiatives, many girls and young women would be vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and violence.
The Girls Advocacy Alliance is committed to fighting violence against girls and young women and increasing their economic participation in developing countries. Violence and economic exclusion are closely linked. Particularly due to child marriages, sexual violence, trafficking in women, and the worst forms of child labour, girls are dropping out en masse in secondary and vocational education. Their chances of ever getting a 'decent' job are minimal. And vice versa; without income and independence, they are more vulnerable to violence.