By Hope Bryer and Kathryn Viguerie
During President Obama’s visit to India earlier this month, Ms. Valerie Jarrett, Assistant to President Obama for Intergovernmental and Public Engagement, along with USAID’s Assistant Administrator for Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, led a roundtable discussion with leading women activists and experts in India’s development sector who focus on women’s empowerment issues.
India has a history of strong women leaders in this area and several of the notable participants, and their organizations, have been working on gender issues for over 30 years, some with USAID support. Great examples of women’s empowerment activities coming out of the discussion were SEWA’s program that is empowering women workers in 11 Indian states and countries across the region and the USAID-funded Garima Project which focuses on communities holistically, including men and boys, and specifically on Muslim women and gender-based violence from the human rights perspective. As a sub-grant under the the Garima Project, the Indian NGO, Independent Commission for People’s Rights and Development (ICPRD), provides training, mentoring, mass campaigns, street theater, and other activities targeting gender-based violence.
Watch here as Dr. Nandini Azad, the President of ICPRD, explains how young men, some of whom used to commit acts of gender discrimination and violence themselves but have since been rehabilitated, perform their street theater. The boys are from low-income communities who are spearheading a movement to end gender-based violence in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Karnataka. Here, they role play the life of women and girls in a typical rural household and engage the audience in a dicussion that focuses on female empowerment. They perform these plays at public gathering places in rural areas and draw large crowds.
But many challenges do remain. For example, in India a crime against a woman occurs every 3 minutes; a woman is raped every 29 minutes; a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes; and a case of cruelty by a husband or relative occurs every 9 minutes. USAID is responding to these grim statistics by empowering women through advocacy and policy efforts that focus on preventing violence against women, affronts to the dignity of the girl child, and child marriage.
Over the last seven years, USAID has been committed to advancing the rights of women by:
- Providing training to over 1,100 doctors and prosecutors to handle cases of violence against women;
- Facilitating a national coalition of 900 NGOs and individuals who lobby the government on women’s issues; and
- Forming of over 120 Youth Forums Against Gender-Based Violence that create awareness in villages through debates, discussions, essay competitions, and street theater performances.
On November 29, Ms. Biswal and Dr. Azad continued the discussion on a panel session at the U.S. State Department entitled, “Changing Attitudes: What Men and Boys Can Do to Address and Prevent Violence against Women,” where a USAID-funded video of ICPRD’s work was also shown. The event was hosted by Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, as an activity under the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.