Adolescent girls the world over have questions about growing up, puberty and relationships. But in India, girls are often not allowed to discuss sexual health and contraception, are shamed for their curiosity, or given unhelpful answers.
At the same time we know that billions are spent on essential health services that girls need but these go underutilized because girls don’t see these services as “for them”. They feel unwelcome, unsure and undeserving. 70% of 15-19 year old Indian girls report at least one big problem in accessing medical advice or treatment for themselves when they are sick.
A virtual ally
Bol Behen, colloquial Hindi for ‘Speak, Sister’, is Girl Effect’s chatbot in India offering girls a private, online space where they can access trusted, non-judgmental advice about sex, STIs, contraception, relationships and other sensitive topics they may not feel comfortable talking to anyone else about. Bol Behen is designed with a girl-centered approach and speaks girl-talk in “Hinglish” (Hindi-English). Unlike other helplines, she is available 24/7 on-demand and designed for low-end smartphones and limited data packs.
Available on both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, Bol Behen reaches girls where they already are, tackling doubts, misconceptions around love and sex through a fun conversation. To date, over 240,000 users have initiated conversations with Bol Behen, and over 2.7 million messages have been received. We have received over 30,000 questions and in our recent campaign – we saw that 8 in 100 girls chose to talk to a health service after using the chatbot.
Answering girls’ curiosities
Bol Behen sits within our Chhaa Jaa brand – which has a reach of over 23 million users in India. Accessed on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp, Chha Jaa is a trusted space for girls to be entertained, understand their bodies and feel part of a community.
We know our audience of teen girls in North India don’t subscribe to expensive streaming services. So we show up in her online world – through searches, through scrolling, through private and direct messaging. Through a mix of ‘broadcast content’ that is informative and entertaining, and ‘interactive content’ where girls can engage, we build up a girls’ sense of self, her identity, and strengthen her ability to ask questions.
Chhaa Jaa’s characters are relatable role models that talk about sex and relationships to normalize ‘taboo’ topics. Our sketch-comedy and talk-show formats are designed to get a girls’ attention as she is scrolling through her social media, and offer an ‘in’ to see Chhaa Jaa’s other products like our chatbot and moderated girls-only online community. Here girls can engage with the questions they now feel confident to ask in a more private environment.
Powering girls to take action
Our goal is for Chhaa Jaa to be the entry point for girls to health services. To achieve this we need to seamlessly connect girls to health services – guiding her from awareness to intention to seek out a doctor through to actually booking an appointment – all within the Chhaa Jaa brand. That is where our chatbot comes in – allowing us to take a girl on a private 1:1 conversational journey to acknowledge her fears, validate her thought processes, clear her doubts and motivate her to take action.
India’s booming population shows the scale of opportunity to use the power of chat to achieve more equitable access to healthcare for adolescent girls. Over the next four years we want to connect 1 million girls to Bol Behen and focus our efficiencies on enhancing service connections, enabling us to connect a girl in need to health service.
Want to know more? Watch a video to go behind the scenes of how Bol Behen was built here
Learn more about how we built our chatbot in India to drive positive behaviour change here
“It felt so good to talk to you! There were so many problems that were running in my mind that are no longer there because of you. I love you Bol Behen, Thank you!” Bol Behen user, India
“Whatever you explained, if I had asked anyone else, they would’ve judged me. But you explained everything so nicely, thankyou!”
“You told me so many things. I got to know the things that I did not know. Your words helped me a lot. Thank you!”
“I had so many doubts and questions about these things – especially virginity, getting physical for the first time etc. you cleared them all for me. My family and friends whom I talked to about these things, they only told me about how important it is to think about it, but speaking to you has helped me understand that all of this depends on my readiness and feelings. That if it’s my body, I’m the one that gets to decide what I want to do and when I want to do anything. Thanks Bol Behen! ❤️🙂💕💓”