Two young girls going door to door to create awareness about family planning and the desirability to have fewer children may be quite unusual. But that’s exactly what Shazia Parveen and Afreen Khatoon have been doing to promote the idea of having a small family to overcome the wages of poverty and illiteracy. By doing so, they have already carved a niche for themselves.
Hailing from a rural area of Muzaffarpur, the girls paddle their bicycles for 10 to 15 kilometres every day to create awareness among the rural folks about the problem of gender discrimination and virtues of family planning.
The effort has made Shazia and Afreen household names in over a dozen villages under Meenapur block of Muzaffarpur district and in the suburbs of the district headquarters town, also known as Muzaffarpur.
Their journey of disseminating the light of knowledge started some three odd years back, when they visited their maternal aunt’s house at Jamalabad village, which also falls in Meenapur block of Muzaffarpur.
There, they were shocked to see a beeline of women at the ‘aanganwadi’ centre, where their aunt Jamila works as an ‘aanganwadi sevika’.
“Seeing the sad plight of these women, many of them saddled with a large number of children, despite being poor, the idea to create awareness about family planning struck my mind and I decided to do something about the problem,” said Shazia the elder sister.
She discussed the issue with her younger sister, Afreen, who was pursuing her matriculation at that time. “She promised me to lend me her support in the noble mission,” said Shazia, who has just completed her graduation from Ram Briksha Benipuri Mahila College in Muzaffarpur.
Shazia said she was perturbed to find that most of the women who came to the aanganwadi centre run by her aunt discussed the problems associated with being saddled with big families.
“I found them chatting about only one thing - that they are busy all the time in struggling to manage their families and household work. They have not enough time to spare for themselves, so that they can do something for their own betterment,” Shazia told HT.
So she, along with her younger sister started moving on bicycles from door to door. “We started with our own village and later on started covering other nearby villages, after getting huge support from the people,” said Shazia.
Afreen, who topped in the matriculation examination in the district last year and is pursuing her intermediate course in the science stream, said they were enthused by the huge public support they were receiving.
“This boosts our morale and encourages us to go ahead with our mission. We are happy that we have made nearly 25,000 people aware of the need to practice family planning,” the younger sister said.
“Later, we added the need to stop sex determination tests and slogans against foetus killing, in our mission. This has also drawn great attention of the people,” said Afreen, adding, chief minister Nitish Kumar’s endeavour for women’s empowerment encouraged them.
Her one regret is, despite getting much public backing and appreciation for their mission, they failed to get support from government officials.
The girls said initially, they had to face much difficulties from some members of the Muslim community, what with people mocking them and hurling invectives at them. But these adversities only strengthened their resolve to continue.
“Now, we are planning to do it on bigger canvas after completing our studies. And for this we are looking for some helping hands,” said Afreen.