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In a Village Struggling With Alcoholism, These Teenage Girls Are Making Changes for the Better

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A group of young girls in India have taken charge of their village with great success. 

In Thennamadevi, a village in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, alcoholism is a major problem, particularly among men, the Guardian reported

“Most of [the] 150 male inhabitants participate in ruinous daily drinking sessions” leaving their families to fend for themselves, according to the report.

Alcohol in the state is sold by the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation, a government entity, according to the BBC. With more than 6,800 stores — one within walking distance to every village — alcohol is easily accessible in Tamil Nadu.

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And since India remains a patriarchal society, where men are typically expected to be breadwinners and make major decisions for their families, according to Oxfam India, the pervasiveness of alcoholism in Thennamadevi has devastated many families. A group of women told the BBC that their husbands spend all their earnings on alcohol, instead of supporting their families. And around 90 women in the village have been widowed because of their husbands’ alcoholism, according to the Guardian.

In situations like these around the world, when families’ resources are strained, girls are often the first to be pulled out of school and made to work or help at home. Financial constraints in situations of poverty can also increase the risk of child marriage. This year, authorities received 552 calls concerning children forced to beg and 193 calls about forced marriage in the same region as Thennamadevi.

But a group of teenage girls — the “young girls’ club,” as they call themselves — have been working hard over the last six months to improve their lives and life in the village, tackling broken street lights and even drafting a petition to insist on better transportation options, the Guardian reported.

Read more: Want to Stop Climate Change? Put More Girls in School, New Study Says

The club’s president, 16-year-old Says Sowmya, told the Guardian, “we are trying to transform our village by this process. We are empowered to be leaders.”

But the girls don’t just work on village issues, they’re also each other’s support system.

“I teach my friends on life skills such as personal hygiene, self-discipline and menstrual issues,” one girl said.

For some children, their families’ struggles with alcoholism have pushed them to leave home.

“I had no plan, no money. I needed to escape,” one 16-year-old boy said, explaining that he had run away because of his father’s drinking problems.

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In fact, more than 150 children have attempted to run away, according to local records, the Guardian reported. The girls’ efforts to support each other and better their community’s life could help prevent children from running away as well.

Alcoholism is a widespread in India; about 5% of men in India suffered from it or from or an alcohol-related disorder in 2014, according to the World Health Organization. In the state of Tamil Nadu the problem is so acute, it’s prompted local lawmakers to consider banning the sale and consumption of alcohol altogether as some other states have done, the BBC reported. In the last two years, people have protested in support of the prohibition of alcohol — and women in particular have supported the proposal of the ban.

The state of Bihar passed an alcohol ban last year, with the strong support of women who said their husbands’ spending on alcohol drove them further into poverty, according to the New York Times. However, reports since the ban went into effect earlier this year reveal that the ban has driven up illegal sales of alcohol and forced people to travel to neighboring states where alcohol is still available for purchase, the BBC reported.

The girls’ efforts have caught the attention of aid organizations and politicians, according to the Guardian. Their story of self-empowerment also serves as an example to others in their community and shows the potential impact girls can have when given the opportunity to lead.

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