Changing social norms through entertainment education: the case of a soap opera in India

By Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India

 

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A promotional activity is held for Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon, in Bhourikala Village, India’s state of Madhya Pradesh

“You forced me into marriage. I wanted to study.”
“What difference is that gonna make! Are you going to be the Prime Minister?”
“Yes. I will become the Prime Minister.”

This powerful exchange between key characters in a soap opera demonstrates reel life emulating real life.
In 2011, the Population Foundation of India (PFI) set out to use the soap opera Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (MKBKSH) or I, A Woman, Can Achieve Anything as the centre of a transmedia initiative that leverages the power of entertainment education to change social norms. At the heart of the soap opera are the struggles and triumphs of Sneha, a doctor working in Mumbai, as she journeys from the city to her village, emotionally torn between family and society, between professional aspirations and personal commitment.

But why pursue entertainment education and what has been the experience?

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Developing countries and the renewable energy revolution

By Prof. John A. Mathews, Professor of Strategy at Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney, Australia and author of Greening of Capitalism

There was a time when arguments about development and energy were seen as different discourses. They came together in the familiar call for poor people in developing countries to have access to electricity. As for energy needed for industrialisation, fossil fuels – with all their burdens on the balance of payments and geopolitical entanglements – were tapped to fill the need.

To be sure, the Western world as it industrialised over the past 200 years enjoyed enormous benefits from fossil fuels. The transition to a carbon-based economy liberated economies from age-old Malthusian constraints. For a group of select countries representing a small slice of the global population, burning fossil fuels enabled an era of explosive growth, ushering in dramatic improvements in productivity, income, wealth and living standards. Continue reading

Appeasement Politics of Delhi’s Urban Governance

By Shailaja Chandra, Former Permanent Secretary of the Government of India and former Chief Secretary, Delhi; Former Executive Director, National Population Stabilisation Fund, India

Delhi is among the world’s top ten most populous cities with 18 million people. United Nations projections for 2025 predict that it will rank third, overtaking Sao Paolo, Mexico City, Dhaka, New York and Shanghai. Colossal challenges confront the city’s development, and finding money is the least of those problems. Delhi garners more resources than any other city in India, has the highest per capita income and wages, and boasts more private vehicles than the three metropolitans of Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai combined. In early 2015, the new city government slashed the power tariff in half and provided 20 000 litres of free water for all residents — clearly affordable measures. Continue reading

India’s Development Tug-of-War: Which side will win?

By Shailaja Chandra, Former Permanent Secretary of the Government of India and former Chief Secretary, Delhi; Former Executive Director, National Population Stabilisation Fund, India

For a chaotic country full of argumentative Indians many of whom are poor and uneducated, India’s continuous economic growth (not prosperity) remains a surprise. But something else is even more striking. The country has the world’s largest youngest population: 27 million babies are added each year. With such youth to bank on, India’s productivity seems to possess the best ingredients for success for decades to come.

But all great stories have another side that also must be told. Most births in India take place in some of the country’s poorest states where high fertility, low age of marriage, and a disproportionately large number of mother’s and children’s deaths present an ever-distressing picture. A group of five states have had the dubious distinction of accounting for around 45% of the country’s population, suffering and stymied from poor investments in health and education. No wonder these states were officially referred to as the BIMARU states, an acronym for their names of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, which denotes much more since the word bimaru in Hindi means sickly.

For decades, these states have defied conventional experience about the process of development and held back the achievements of the rest of the country. The differences are stark: some other states in India reached replacement level of fertility as early as 1989 and 1992. Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, however, may need another five years to get there. The infant and maternal mortality in the progressive states is lower by half, and in some cases even 70% less, than in these laggard states.

Some 15 years ago, the Indian government decided to pay focused attention to these states, particularly in the highly neglected area of reproductive health. Around the same time, the five states were reorganised and became eight in number with the hope that being smaller would help them respond better to the process of development. They were rechristened the Empowered Action Group (EAG), and the pejorative title BIMARU was wiped out of the official vocabulary.  In 2005, the National Rural Health Mission, India’s largest-ever health programme, started pumping resources into these “high-focus states.”  Strategies included revamping rural health infrastructure, promoting health centre-based deliveries, facilitating access to emergency obstetric care, and assigning a trained health activist to make family-level contact, undertake pregnancy tracking and provide access to contraceptives.

Many hoped that with such a high dose of attention, the EAG would eventually catch up. Most, however, did not share this optimism, and not without reason. Even today, strong patriarchal attitudes continue to discriminate against women. Girls are denied access to schooling once they reach puberty. They are married off well before the legal age of 18 and subjected to a host of discriminatory barriers. The political leadership in most of these states has seldom accorded high priority to health or education; many have invested in perpetrating caste-based divisions in society. This backdrop naturally fails to inspire change.

Yet the good news is that by focusing attention on these laggard states and monitoring health indicators annually, a decline in fertility has begun and it is faster than anywhere else in the country. The increase in institutional deliveries has been impressive, and family health surveys and other research show that an increase in the age of marriage and greater use of contraception have contributed to lowering fertility. After decades of stagnation, the population growth rate in these states has registered a significant fall for the first time, dropping from 25% to 20.9%. From the point of view of women, the opportunity to have hospital-based deliveries stands out, complemented by such popular incentives as transportation to a health facility, compensation for leaving home, supplementary nutrition and contraception advice.

While these are positive trends, the push has to continue. These states will contribute 50% of India’s population within the next five years, equalling if not exceeding the combined population of the rest of India. The prospect of half of India holding back the other half is a dismal one. Only if the special efforts mounted receive commensurate political support that simultaneously encourage girls’ education and skill learning, later marriages and spacing between children will the laggard 50% eventually catch up. Happily, the process has begun.

India has been a member of the OECD Development Centre since 2001.


 

This article should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD, the OECD Development Centre or of their member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed are those of the author.