Adolescence as a critical turning point: Lessons from India

India, Oct 1st 2018

As part of the Discover 1 phase, the Core team immersed with women and their communities in Dalsinghsarai and Bithan villages in Samastipur district in India’s Bihar state. This allowed us to gain first-hand insights into the sexual and reproductive health journeys of Indian women.

 

Sangeeta with her children at her home in Bihar, India

“I think this is the age when you realise what being a girl is all about.”

Core’s research team met 32-year-old Sangeeta in Core’s Discover 1 phase in India. She was reflecting on the time when she got her first period. The Indian fieldwork took place in Dalsinghsarai and Bithan villages in Samastipur district in India’s Bihar state, and many of the local women recalled the start of adolescence as a critical turning point in their lives.

To gain a more nuanced understanding of the needs and experiences of Indian women around key moments in their life course journeys, the Core team conducted several in-country activities for the  Discover 1 phase.

This included eight immersive intergenerational interviews with women, three key informant interviews and four group discussions. Together with women, we explored key life course ‘moments’ in Indian women’s lives, either brought up organically by participants or cued the team through the life course journey tool.

 

Some key highlights:

  • The life course journey tool used in India

    Although female family members are considered best-placed to teach young girls about menstruation, they often do not. Information is usually given only when the first period has started, which causes fear and confusion among most girls.

  • Indian women tend to deal with health issues usually only when they require immediate action. However, despite this lack of a preventative approach, adolescent health behaviour is considered a significant marker for reproductive outcomes later and a causal link often drawn in case of infertility during marriage.

Three generations of Indian women engaging with the life course journey tool

  • While the age of marriage is negotiated by a growing favour for education, adolescence is widely looked at as a prepping-for-marriage phase. Marriage is seen as a desired progression and significant turning point for women. Many Bihari women marry between the ages 16-18, which comes at the cost of vital formative development and biological, psychological, and behavioural freedom that affect outcomes later in life.

These explorations during Discover 1 helped inform the more focused course for Discover 2.

To understand the challenges faced by women in India, Core hopes to hone in on the critical ‘pre-marriage’ period, encompassing the adolescent phase.

This will be achieved through collaboration with ongoing initiatives in the region, and by using human-centered design to tackle gaps and seize opportunities for improvement and innovation.

Discover 1: India Findings