Meena Communication Initiative
Meena is a cartoon character from South Asia. She is a spirited, nine-year-old girl who braves the world – whether in her efforts to go to school or in fighting the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in her village.
Meena is widely recognised and appreciated in most South Asian countries, and is a successful advocacy and teaching tool for girls’ and children’s rights. The Meena figure has achieved remarkable popularity as she tackles the key issues affecting children, and the threats to the rights of millions of girls in South Asia.
The Meena Communication Initiative
UNICEF developed the Meena Communication Initiative (MCI) as a mass communication project aimed at changing perceptions and behaviour that hamper the survival, protection and development of girls in South Asia.
Following eight years of extensive research in the region since the initial conceptualization, UNICEF launched the Meena Communication Initiative in September 1998. The name Meena is one that spans the different cultures in the region, and a cast of carefully researched characters has been created for Meena's family and community. The Meena stories are entertaining and fun, but also reflect the realities of girls' lives in South Asia. The stories revolve around the adventures of Meena, her brother Raju, her pet parrot Mithu, and members of her family and village community.
The stories cover issues such as education, health, gender equity, freedom from exploitation and abuse. A story about girls’ right to play called ‘Fair Play for Girls’ was developed in conjunction with the Asian Cricket Council, and recently the Government of Japan helped UNICEF produce an episode that helps teachers and children deal with the shocks and trauma of natural or human-made disasters.
The MCI arose from a need to find culturally appropriate ways to communicate messages that address the empowerment of girls in one of the world’s most challenging gender environments. Showing a healthy, personable child who can engage constructively with her family and her community to help overcome serious issues has proved extremely popular.
The MCI has been linked to education, health and social development programmes undertaken by UNICEF partners in government, NGOs, the media and the private sector. Meena has proven to be an effective messaging device when implemented alongside other programme interventions, and has enhanced perceptions of girls. Many children have wanted to either emulate Meena or have adopted her as a figurehead for their own efforts to change their worlds.
Meena is used as a tool to impart important messages on gender, child rights, education, protection and development. The Meena stories present many positive images of a girl succeeding against odds to gain equal treatment, love, care and respect. Creative and exciting story lines have promoted social issues in an appealing and provocative way.
By the end of 2005, 33 stories had been produced by UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia. The core materials are in five languages – English, Bangla, Hindi, Nepali and Urdu. These have been translated or dubbed into many other South Asian languages as well as European languages.
• Comic books
• Animated films
• Discussion and teachers’ guides
• Radio series (produced in collaboration with BBC world service)
The animated film is the flagship medium through which a set of characters and core set of stories come to life, capturing the attention and imagination of audiences and providing a creative focus.
Meena in South Asian Countries
In Bangladesh, Meena stories have been incorporated into the formal and non-formal school curricula. UNICEF Bangladesh introduced the Meena Media Awards in 2005 – an initiative aimed at promoting excellence in media regarding stories for and about children.
In Pakistan, Meena and her brother Raju are Ambassadors for Children’s Rights. The MCI has been systematically integrated as a communication resource into the work of the education, health, and girl/child rights promotion sectors.
In India, the Meena series has attained national recognition and has been integrated as a communication tool within ongoing nationwide education and communication programmes. State-owned radio and television channels are airing spots promoting girls’ education featuring Meena. In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, the State Education Department has taken the lead in establishing more than 19,000 girls’ groups called “Meena Manch” throughout the state. The process was initiated in 2002. Under the guidance of one facilitator/teacher, the Manch helps ensure age-appropriate enrolment, regular attendance and completion of primary education up to class five by all girls in the area. Meena Cabinets are being set up in primary schools with two children from each class (i.e., classes 3, 4 and 5).
In Nepal, Meena is used as a key resource in initiating community discussion and reflection on child health, development and gender issues, helped by the strong partnership that has been built with the media and other partners.
In Bhutan, UNICEF in collaboration with the Bhutan Post designed and printed 10,000 sheets of Meena postage stamps and 5,000 Meena posters. The Meena postage stamps and posters contain the key message, “Educate Every Girl and Boy”.
In Sri Lanka, Child Rights Education programme and Mine Risk Education programmes use Meena as the role model for educating children, with a spillover effect to adult education.
Meena episodes have been dubbed into local languages and shown on TV in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam as well.