Sarojini N., Ishita Sharma | Himal | June 2011
‘Adolescent health’ is increasingly becoming a buzzphrase for UN agencies, donors and international NGOs. The empowerment of adolescent and young girls is being projected as the answer to a happier, healthier and brighter future for them. But what we often seem to forget is that adolescents and young people do not live in a vacuum: challenges to adolescent health are created and perpetuated by the same pressures that influence the rest of their community. Systemic and structural inequalities form as large a barrier to realising the rights of adolescent girls as do cultural or gender prejudices, sexuality-related taboos, the lack of health services and the absence of education. It is at the intersection of these challenges that the adolescent girl stands; to understand her, and work with her, one needs to start grappling with all these issues.
When we talk about adolescent health, certain questions come to mind: Are all adolescent girls similar? Is there a commonality in the lives and experiences of all adolescents? Are their entitlements to health and social determinants uniform? If not, how do we start to understand the differences between the experiences of adolescents, and locate each young person within his or her unique context? This is a question that has often been faced by these writers, during workshops with adolescent Adivasi girls in Andhra Pradesh, conducted by the Sama Resource Group for Women and Health, with which we are associated. When asked how these girls perceived health – ie, when do they think a person is healthy and what are their criteria for good health, they would all come up with different answers, but most would respond that someone who is able to do a lot of hard, physical work is healthy.