UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Priyanka Chopra Jonas travelled to Uttar Pradesh in northern India this week to visit UNICEF programmes helping to improve children’s education, and access to health, nutrition, and protection.

During the two-day visit, Chopra Jonas met adolescent girls from UNICEF-supported gender programmes who spoke about their challenges and how they’re overcoming gender discrimination, mental stress, and violence that they face due to prevailing social norms.

“I’m so inspired by the resilience of the young girls I met on this visit. They’ve overcome trauma and violence in their families, faced mental health challenges, and tackled child labour,” Chopra Jonas said. “The programmes I visited, supported by UNICEF and run by the Government, empower and nurture girls. They learn that there is strength in working with others when speaking out about the challenges they face and identifying the change they want to make for their future. When girls are strong, healthy and educated, they can change their communities and transform societies.”

The police-run Women Power Line (WPL)-1090, a 24×7 Call Center that provides real-time assistance and psychosocial support to callers at no cost, facilitated by UNICEF, is one way the government is combating violence against women and children in Uttar Pradesh.

“Any form of violence in our society is simply unacceptable,” said Chopra Jonas. “It’s encouraging to see so many people coming forward to report cases using these dedicated helplines, as we know that social stigma associated with violence often leads to these incidents going un-reported. No woman or child should ever experience physical, emotional or sexual violence.”

“Gender equality contributes to safer, healthier and stronger societies,” said UNICEF India Representative Cynthia McCaffrey. “Girls can make a bigger difference in their lives, in their families, and in society when they are empowered through education, equal opportunities, and life skills. Investing in adolescent girls and boys can be transformative.”

During her visit to a school, Chopra Jonas interacted with students enrolled in “learning by doing” programmes: a state run, UNICEF-supported initiative combining academic learning and job skills to help children return and remain in school.

“Schools transform lives, and through my work with UNICEF I have seen first-hand how children carry their academic knowledge and learned skills back home to improve their lives and the lives of their families,” Priyanka Chopra Jonas said. “Even more important, as we continue to strive for parity among men and women, is the work UNICEF is doing with their Learning by Doing initiative. I met Zakir, a class seven student who is learning to cook, and an eight year-old girl child, Mamta, who used her newly acquired skills to make smart shoes for the visually challenged. Breaking gender stereotypes, right from an early age, is so important.”

During the trip, Chopra Jonas also visited a primary health centre in Lucknow district providing nutrition and health support to mothers and babies, and a Special Newborn Care Unit for sick newborns. In India, 7 out of 10 infant deaths still occur within the first 28 days of birth, with 73 per cent of children dying within the first week of birth due to prematurity, low birth weight and asphyxia.

At an Anganwadi Centre – a rural Indian government childcare centre – Chopra Jonas met lactating and pregnant women who use a simple tool to learn about nutrition for themselves and their babies, and how to make simple nutritious food so that children not only survive but thrive. She also saw the POSHAN tracker; an innovative app introduced by the Government of India to monitor children’s nutritional status and growth in real-time.

“India is at the forefront of developing technology rapidly to transform lives and usher in new ways of addressing challenges for women and children, bringing them to scale,” Chopra Jonas said. “Children are using mobile phones to tell their stories; women are using apps and devices that help them take banking services to rural areas; pregnant women and mothers are benefitting from growth monitoring devises; and helpline and web-based police services are saving lives and keeping women and girls safe.”

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