“The modules are built so beautifully and very relevant to us. I cannot wrap my head around how they were able to do this. I have learned a lot during the workshops. I know myself better and am confident that I will be able to help others as well.”
Arun(name changed), GenY champion
Adolescence is a formative stage of life marked by drastic physical and psychological change. It brings great excitement and growth, and is a time of heightened vulnerability, as individuals forge identities, learn how to manage turbulent emotions, and navigate changing social dynamics.
In India, gender nonconforming and LGBTQAI+ populations face discrimination from families, communities, schools, and in public institutions, such as healthcare facilities. These difficulties are especially complex in adolescence, as individuals go through the process of learning how to accept and express their own sexual identity. Vulnerability to emotional and physical abuse, compounded with complete lack of or inadequate emotional support networks, cause many gender nonconforming and LGBTQAI+ youth to run away from home or drop out of school. Others struggle more internally, leading to high rates of depression and suicide among them. Experiencing such traumatic experiences at a young age can lead to long-term emotional difficulties, cause fissures in personal relationships, and constrict opportunities for employment.
Developing life skills, or psychosocial and interpersonal competencies, such as empathy and critical thinking, can help people effectively manage the challenges of everyday life and lead to long-term success. Non-cognitive abilities, including self-discipline and motivation, are strongly linked to academic achievement, while in the workforce, social and emotional skills play a large role in influencing economic success. These skills are becoming increasingly valuable, as companies become less reliant on technical knowledge and place more emphasis on social and emotional intelligence. Thus, life skills training programmes have become more prevalent in low- and middle- income countries, and many have resulted in increased economic well-being, educational opportunities, and self-esteem.
However, relying solely on these programmes alone are often inadequate when dealing with the unique vulnerabilities of LGBTQAI+ and gender nonconforming groups, who experience low employment rates, wages, and high discrimination in the workplace. A recent evaluation done by UNICEF determined that life skills programmes avoid confronting issues related to gender and sexuality and when they do address the topic, are mostly geared towards the heterosexual majority. These programmes run the risk of alienating LGBTQAI+ groups, by failing to acknowledge nuances in sexual orientation, or even strictly opposing non-heterosexual orientations.
Swasti’s GenY (Generation Youth) Initiative, is working to fill this gap, by tailoring life skills programmes to young LGBTQAI+ groups and those in transition. The initiative identifies leaders from the LGBT community and builds capacities in life skills and counseling, in order to create a large network of allies who will ensure LGBTQAI+ youth grow up in a safe and accepting environment.
GenY delivers life skills training through a lens that is personal, with an understanding of the unique vulnerabilities of LGBTQAI+ youth. For example, interpersonal communication modules include exercises in which participants practice conversations that are reflective of real-life scenarios, with health professionals, family members, and partners. The modules teach empathy as a tool to navigate these difficult interactions without getting defensive and to communicate in a way that will effectively capture the attention of the other person.
The GenY initiative is rooted in the belief that life skill programmes can positively change the course of one’s life when they take into consideration the specific needs and vulnerabilities of the populations they serve. Using life skills training, GenY aims to build a large coalition of LGBTQAI+ youth who are equipped with tools to manage their difficult circumstances and provide support to one another, so that they can develop into happier, healthier and more resilient members of society.