Mobilizing Communities To Address Gender-Based Violence

Posted by Melanne Verveer
September 30, 2010
A Girl in a Crowd Looks On

About the Author: Melanne Verveer serves as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues.

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.



j l.
North Carolina, USA
October 1, 2010

J.E.L. in North Carolina writes:

"As Secretary Clinton has said, this violence isn't “cultural;” it's criminal. " --

Is Secretary Clinton criminalizing teachings (commonly accepted interpretations) of the Quran, then?

New York, USA
October 1, 2010

Ron in New York writes:

Thanks Madame Secretary.....

Violence is NOT cultural or religious....those are poor excuses used to justify abuse of power. Violence is criminal. Violence against women and children is inexcusable.

October 1, 2010

Alissa in Canada writes:

What a wonderful article!

I am so happy to hear about the efforts to stop gender-based violence and discrimination in India, which, like the rest of the world, is still deeply patriarchal.

Gender-based violence is everyone's issue because such violence affects everyone - women are mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends - and it is so important that men stand up for the rights of those who are still being oppressed.

Without men, gender-based discrimination would not exist. Therefore, men (as well as women) are extremely important in dismantling oppression that has been created and exacerbated over time by ignorant social beliefs and values.

It's about time that people are coming together to make life more positive for all people (including men!) by standing up against gender-based violence.

Well done!

Idaho, USA
October 1, 2010

Cindy in Idaho writes:

@J.E.L.: Many religious books/teachings including the Christian and Jewish bibles promote violence againts women, such as stoning and rape. So don't blame any one religion for it.

Jenny H.
United Kingdom
October 3, 2010

Jenny H. in the United Kingdom writes:

Those men, and it is usually men, who want to put women in pits and stone them to death, need to know that the world is watching. The mothers and sisters of the world are holding hands and are quietly watching them. We are very patient. We will help you grow up. We will teach you to exchange vengeance and violence for thoughtfulness and understanding. Then compassion will be possible.
Free Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani! Let her and her children live in peace.

Texas, USA
October 3, 2010

L.S.T. in Texas writes:

Cindy, I don't know how much time you've spent reading the Bible, but as someone who's read it and studied it and history for several decades now, I think your statement that the Bible (and the Jewish Bible, which I'm assuming you mean the Old Testament) promotes violence against women doesn't really capture what the Bible actually teaches.

Your comment ignores the positive transformations that those living by what the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, have brought to various cultures and ages. It also ignores untold number of individuals who are denying many of the comforts of this life to help the most vulnerable of all cultures, usually women and children.

If you look at organizations like,,,, you can get an idea of what just a few of these groups are doing, and they represent the thousands of others who are doing similar things, and the hundreds of thousands of individuals who help them by volunteering and donating to support them.

If you have really studied the Bible and have come to this opinion, you might like to check out, or, where biblical scholars have addressed nearly every subject imaginable. They are also glad to address Bible questions or comments you may have.

Granted, throughout history, many people have done things in God's name, or misapplied Scripture to justify their behaviors, and that is unfortunate, but it doesn't mean that the Bible promotes hate or violence toward women.

I hope for your sake, you'll investigate the resources I listed, because you're missing out on a lot of good by holding to a position that doesn't seem to be more of a rant than a fact-based statement.

Terrin H.
October 3, 2010

Terrin H. in Mexico writes:

I am a former lawyer and a m.a. level psychologist. I am retired and can go anywhere. extensive global work experience. Tell me where to go to volunteer, please

DipNote Bloggers reply: Terrin, thanks for your interest. Please see the comment that Irene Marr left in this thread for the names of a few organizations doing work in this area, and please visit

JoAnn F.
Utah, USA
October 3, 2010

JoAnn F. in Utah writes:

Marvelous mind...thank you for not calling out the victim but addressing the cure, our own responsibility. We truly are a global family..not one get a free pass.

Florida, USA
October 9, 2010

Beverly in Florida writes:

Well, that IS great! I'm with you in thinking it's a new world, but with the same old problems. Can't fix them unless you KNOW what's broken and KNOWledge is the key. And in this article, how about bringing some of what we're giving over... there and giving some of it to our children here as well. Start the awareness in school, just as they are doing there. Let it be known and understood that it is not right and should not have to be tolerated by anyone under any circumstance or condition. Freedom and justice for ALL of Gods children. Period.


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