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The View from Here - India - Reprogramme boys to improve lives of girls

In the country that is by many measures the worst place in the G20 major economies to be born female, the government has come up with a plan: teach boys how to live better lives. India's Ministry of Women and Child Development hopes that the new Saksham programme (meaning "self-reliant") will produce young men who are more gender-sensitive, self-aware and well-rounded. It is the first government intervention of its kind.

Educating boys in health, nutrition and life skills, ministers say, will help to improve women's rights from their current dismal state. Child marriage, trafficking of women and domestic violence are rife in India.

TrustLaw, a news service for women's rights, rated the country as the fourth most dangerous in the world for women in 2011 behind Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan. Among the G20 nations, India came bottom for women's rights, according to a poll of gender specialists taken earlier this year.

But now the Indian government has allocated funding specifically to address the way men see themselves and their female peers. The focus is on boys aged 10-18 who are not in school, and the scheme's ambitious aims include helping them to return to mainstream education, and preparing them for employment and to be active members of society.

The programme will be delivered in schools after lesson time and managed by local community councils, which are themselves typically male-dominated. It will provide counselling and guidance on family welfare, sexual health and vocational training.

But, so far, further details on exactly what will be taught and how are unclear, and initial funding for preparatory work for the scheme is just under #163;10,000 - a tiny amount even by Indian standards. The estimated cost over the next five years is just under #163;188 million.

The government is catching up with the work of non-governmental organisations that help women by educating pupils on gender equality. A schools programme set up in 2008 by the US-based International Center for Research on Women to address gender issues in India has already reached more than 8,000 boys and girls aged 12-14, and is now being rolled out in 250 schools with positive results.

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