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Pasand: A journey towards gender equality

Melton Fellow Neli Blum, a Social Science and Psychology student at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, tells of her experience as an intern at Melton Foundation partner organization Pasand.

In October, I joined a small team of young and passionate ladies that are dedicated to work towards a gender equal society in India.

The start-up “Pasand” was co-founded in 2015 by Aunna Wilson, who decided to tackle the issue of gender equality from a very unique approach: through classes on personal health, wellness and sexuality that are conducted in all types of schools in Bangalore. Pasand developed an informative and interactive curriculum for girls and boys of all age-groups to provide them with the information needed and wanted when growing up. In these classes, Pasand opens a space for girls and boys where all their questions and concerns are heard, where they get answers and where they learn to reflect upon certain structures of a culture and tradition that goes back thousands of years. Pasand’s approach is very sensitive in empowering youth to make their own decisions for living a healthy and confident life in which they are the owners of their own body and can influence their surroundings as they learn about topics that are generally not openly discussed.

360All employees working with Pasand can share personal stories about their own experiences growing up; many of them say they wished to have had the chance to get information and answers during puberty. That is one of Pasand’s biggest strength: we are able to connect with the girls and boys in schools over our own stories to give them the feeling that they are not alone while experiencing body changes, building relationships with their peers, first crushes on others and many other topics that are important during the transition into adulthood. And apart from Aunna and me, all our facilitators speak Kannada, Hindi and some Tamil (most spoken languages in Bangalore), which gives us the ability to go to all types of schools in Bangalore.

Health and sex education isn’t included in the teaching curricula in schools in India; only very few schools offer these classes, which only heightens the silence and shame around these topics. Pasand is tackling this taboo in a culturally sensitive way, but also with a healthy dose of humor! The long-term idea and hope is to bring this curriculum not only to schools in and around Bangalore, but also to schools all over India and even beyond. Health and sex education is needed everywhere, and Pasand is always looking for ways to collaborate with other organizations that work similarly or share the same ideas. And that is also how the connection between Pasand and the Melton Foundation was born!

“Going out to schools, seeing the excitement of the kids when they learn about their own body, when they find someone who they can open up to, when they feel strong and confident is just a wonderful experience!”

At Samagra – A conference on sustainability, technology and social innovation, held by the Melton foundation at BMS College of Engineering in Bangalore in November, Aunna Wilson presented her personal journey to her own start-up, including all of the challenges that she and her team of co-founders faced. From her own experience in India while working in a girls’ orphanage, where the whole idea of Pasand was born; followed by the idea of developing an eco-friendly sanitary pad, but not having the engineering knowledge to do so; up to developing a school curriculum for teaching girls about menstrual hygiene, then realizing that boys need a lot of information as they grow up to work towards gender equality. All of that definitely was a “hustle,” as she always calls her journey – that still continues! The connection between the BMS Campus and Pasand is getting stronger as well as the whole collaboration of the MF with Pasand – lots of ideas are popping up.

For me personally, the work with Pasand gives me the feeling of exploring a very practical and innovative approach to deal with a global challenge that the world faces today (or always faced – gender equality has probably been an issue always and everywhere). I can bring in all my interests and skills and expertise that I developed during my studies of social work and my experiences with various organizations working with youth and parents. It feels like so many different disciplines are included and synergized into a beautiful concept of empowering others, not only the younger generations but also their surroundings, whole communities. Pasand is about to grow and every day new ideas are born, new projects are planned – and I can be part of all this!

This phase in my life is so overwhelming that I am not able to switch off my head in the evening due to all the creativity around and in me, which is inspired by the issues and my peers at Pasand, by India and definitely also by all the lovely people around me in Bangalore and everywhere else in the world. Going out to schools, seeing the excitement of the kids when they learn about their own body, when they find someone who they can open up to, when they feel strong and confident is just a wonderful experience!

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