Violence against women and girls cuts across ethnicity, race, class, religion, and education level. It knows no international borders. It can affect women and girls at any point in their lives, from sex-selective feticide and infanticide, to the inadequate healthcare and nutrition given to girls, to female genital mutilation, child marriage, trafficking, domestic violence, so-called “honor” killings, dowry-related murder, the neglect and ostracism of widows, and more. As Secretary Clinton has said, this violence isn't “cultural;” it's criminal. Gender-based violence isn't a “women's issue;” it's the world's issue. The challenge cannot be confronted by women alone. Men and boys are our crucial allies in the campaign to end violence against women. And in India, some boys and men are taking this message to heart.
Last November when I was in India, I launched the Garima (“dignity” in Hindi) program, a USAID- funded project that aims to enhance the ability of women to advocate for their rights in the Indian parliament and state legislatures; deter gender-based violence, female feticide and child marriage; and increase the participation of Muslim women in mainstream social, economic and political processes.
Garima helps raise awareness about these issues among the local community, including key stakeholders, such as young men, boys, and religious leaders, and it works to change attitudes about the acceptability of violence. Garima has strengthened the implementation of key pieces of legislation in India, including the Domestic Violence Act, the Prevention of Child Marriage Act, and the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technical Act. In Rajasthan and New Delhi, the program trains healthcare providers, who are often the first point of contact for women facing violence, in how to counsel women and report the violence through the justice system. The program also trains prosecutors and community-based groups, creating a network of legal and healthcare support to take care of survivors' needs.
When I returned to India earlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet with the men and women who are partners on this program. Some of the religious leaders involved in this project have encouraged communities to celebrate girls' births. As a result, over 53,000 people in one community in Rajasthan have pledged their opposition to prenatal sex selection.
I checked in with another Garima project that works with Muslim women to help them understand their rights within Islam, including their right to choose their own husbands, seek their mahr (marital gift) upon divorce, and live lives free of violence. The program is currently working with imams to help raise their awareness of women's rights, and is now providing legal aid, counseling, and microfinance opportunities to Muslim women who have been abused.
I also visited the Independent Commission for People's Rights and Development (ICPRD), a Garima project that mobilizes hundreds of men and boys from low-income and rural communities in Rajasthan and Karnataka to create street plays and performances that address the problem of violence against women.
During last year's visit, I watched Rajasthani men perform a street play that portrayed the negative effects of child sex selection, domestic violence, child marriage, and sexual harassment in their community. The message of the performance resonated throughout the community, from women and girls, to men and boys, to the young and old, and to individuals who were unable to read or understand in more formal ways. The performances had the ability to change the norms and perceptions that perpetuate violence against women; they spread awareness in the community and turned boys and men into champions for the cause.
In Chennai, I watched a similar performance. When I asked the young men why they participated in the program, I was touched by their heartfelt responses. One boy told me about his older sister, who was being forced to marry a man more than twice her age. Another young man told me the pain he experienced watching his younger sister teased and jeered at whenever she walked through the street. These young men believed the violence and coercion their sisters and mothers faced was not a women's problem or a man's problem, but was everyone's problem to address.
I was struck by the confidence, self-esteem, and pride the performances instilled in the young men. They acknowledged that while they were promoting the rights of women and girls, they were in essence empowering themselves. It was their voices that were changing mindsets; they were helping to realign values, and, in standing up for women's rights, they were protecting their families and their community at large.
On September 18th, I was delighted to present the screening of a documentary created by ICPRD entitled “Youth Forums Against Gender Based Violence,” which depicts the remarkable efforts these men and boys have undertaken. I hope this film will take the story of these young men even more widely than their live performances do.
Addressing, preventing, and raising awareness about gender-based violence is a particular focus of my office, and we are working to ensure that men and boys are an integral part of our strategy. We hope to see initiatives such as Garima blossom and flourish within India, and beyond.