The research project Kissa Kahani focuses on health and gender equity for adolescent girls living in urban slums in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
Kissa Kahani uses storytelling with female and male adolescents to learn about their lives and issues of gender and adolescent reproductive health. Adolescent stories are then narrated and told through short videos set to music and images.
In “Big Girl,” Khushboo tells a familiar coming-of-age story for girls in Uttar Pradesh, India and many parts of the world.
Her story deals with the idea that girls and boys can be friends when they are young. However such bonds become taboo as they grow older. In Khushboo’s story, when she is young, she happily plays with friends regardless of gender. As she grows older, her parents still allow her to have friendships with boys. But, her neighbours criticise her and warn her that it is not ‘safe’.
Kushboo consults her aunt and older sister, wondering why the neighbour criticises her if her parents allow her to play? The answer – it is because of her gender. Her aunt and sister speak about the risk: games may soon turn sexual. They fear for her safety. Yet, they are telling her much more: being a young, unmarried woman is risky.
While on the surface the story is about playing, Kushboo understands the implications of their fears. If she listens to them, then being a girl means being afraid, staying at home unless chaperoned, and losing male friends. Kushboo objects. She chooses a different definition of being a girl: being responsible for one’s own safety. She defies gender norms and walks down the street, alone, without fear.
This story makes one wonder about Kushboo’s parents. What lessons did they teach her that gave her the strength to be independent and secure? This story also makes one excited about Kushboo’s future. She is confident and able to navigate streets, gender relationships, and challenge gender norms.
Finally, one wonders about larger society. Shouldn’t our energy and concerns be placed on helping young men respect women, stopping harassment, and allowing girls not to be afraid?
Instead, all too often our approach is to scare and protect girls to keep them from harm’s way. Filling girls with fear limits their opportunities in life.
Kissa Kahani is a research project conducted by Ci3. At Ci3, we envision a world where all young people emerge into adulthood with an agency over their bodies and futures. Kushboo’s story shows us how powerful a young person with such agency can be.