In India millions of women's lives are negatively impacted by sexual violence. Gender and caste discrimination combine to make marginalized women most likely to be affected by sexual violence. The criminal justice system struggles to both try and convict perpetrators. Practices that are most effective at changing attitudes towards gender norms target both genders, with a particular focus on males. Effective victim support provides ways for victims to reassume valuable, contributing roles in their community.
Sexual assault—“Sexual activity where consent is not obtained or freely given. It occurs any time a person is forced, coerced or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity.” 1
Marital rape—“Any unwanted sexual acts by a spouse or ex-spouse that are committed without the other person's consent.” 2
Gang rape—“Rape of a person by several attackers acting in concert.” 3
Custodial rape—“Rape perpetrated by a person employed by the state in a supervisory or custodial position, such as a police officer, public servant, or jail or hospital employee.”
Intent to outrage modesty—A cultural term referring to precursors of forcing someone to perform a non-consensual sexual act; includes removing a woman’s clothes without her permission or forcing her into a secluded space. 4 5
Purdah—A religious and social practice of female seclusion intended to protect a woman’s honor (since the honor of a woman’s family resides in the woman’s sexual purity); 6 7 a woman that loses that purity from extramarital relations shames her entire family. 8
Female foeticide—“The practice of aborting a fetus when a person finds out that the fetus is female after undergoing a sex determination test.” 9
Scheduled caste—“The official name given in India to the lowest caste, considered ‘untouchable’ in orthodox Hindu scriptures and practice, officially regarded as socially disadvantaged.” 10 The caste system originally comprised four levels, but eventually a fifth level developed; members of this bottom caste are sometimes unofficially called untouchables or Dalits. 11
Scheduled tribe—“An indigenous people officially regarded as socially disadvantaged.” 12
National Family Health Survey (NFHS)—“A large-scale, multi-round survey conducted in a representative sample of households throughout India.” 13 The round frequently cited in this brief surveyed 83,703 women. 14
For decades, sexual assault has been recognized as an issue in India. 15 16 In late 2012, a young, female medical student was brutally gang raped on a bus in New Delhi. She died two days later from the resulting injuries. 17 This incident sparked a national conversation about gender inequality and sexual violence that continues today. 18
Sexual assault in India primarily affects women. 19 20 Reports of how many women are affected by sexual violence in India vary widely. The most reliable source, the NFHS, states that 8.5% of women report being victims to sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. 21 Sexual assault is an issue throughout the world. Worldwide, there is a wide gap between reported prevalence and actual prevalence; reported numbers are almost always an underestimation of actual prevalence. 22 Evidence suggests only 1% of victims of sexual violence report the crime to the police. 23 Thus, 8.5% should be considered an underestimation. Even as a modest estimate, an 8.5% prevalence of sexual violence affects an estimated 27.5 million women. 24 Among married women, sexual violence is most commonly perpetrated by the current husband. By contrast, among never-married women, offenses are most commonly made by relatives other than the father or step-father (although current percentages of boyfriends and acquaintances committing sexual violence are not far behind). For women as a whole, 95.5% of offenders were known by the victim. 25
Although underreporting of sexual assault is a problem throughout the world, 26 27 the cultural and societal makeup of India creates some distinct challenges that keep a large majority of victims from reporting crimes. Though not an exhaustive list, the following are major reasons for underreporting in India:
Overall, sexual assault in India seems to be on the rise. Reported rape cases rose from 24,206 in 2011 to 34,661 in 2015—an increase of over 10,000. 42 Some attribute this rise to increased reporting because of increased media coverage, decreasing social stigma, and encouraging reporting. 43 Others, however, believe that the incidence is actually rising—concluding that increased reporting does not account for the entire 10,000 case increase. 44
Sexual violence first occurs early in a woman’s life (from ages 15–19). 45 Marginalized women are the most vulnerable to sexual violence. Women who are living in poverty, are living in rural areas, have little to no education, or are divorced or have been deserted by their husbands have the highest rates of sexual assault in their respective age groups. By social class, women in the scheduled caste report the highest incidence of sexual violence, while women in the scheduled tribe have highest incidence for any ethnic group in India. Experts suggest that both these marginalized populations are especially vulnerable because of their circumstances; they often live in impoverished, secluded communities, use exposed latrines, work alone, and travel alone. 46 47 Additionally, with little to no knowledge of rights, limited access to attorneys, and no money for court fees, they typically lack the resources to exact punishment for the perpetrators. 48 Eastern regions in India have the highest incidence of sexual assault; 49 50 one study indicated a prevalence rate as high as 25%. 51 These regions also tend to have high poverty rates. 52
Sexual assault is more likely to occur in cultures where males are viewed as superior. 53 In India, male superiority is prevalent. The Global Gender Gap Index, which tracks national indicators of gender equality, ranks India 87 out of 144 countries. 54 Researchers conducted a survey that showed that 54.4% of Indian women agree that a husband is justified in beating his wife for at least one of the reasons specified in the survey. Some Indian traditions that have been practiced for centuries are evidence of male dominance and reinforce gender disparate attitudes: 55 56
These traditions reinforce the attitude that women are subservient to and less valuable than men. 72 In modern India, the degree to which these traditions are observed varies by region, but the prevailing perspective that women are subordinate to men remains. 73 Male superiority contributes to sexual violence in a variety of ways.
Purdah is connected to sexual violence—purdah-induced sexual violence is most commonly seen in traditional (mostly rural) areas. 74 This violence is threefold. Village leaders, acting outside of Indian law, may order that a woman be raped to punish a male relative for his wrongdoings, such as stealing or committing adultery. 75 76 Further, women who act contrary to traditional rules themselves can also be punished by rape. 77 Rape victims may be blamed for shaming their families; they are sometimes punished or even killed. Though not all are attributable to sexual assault victims, approximately 1,000 honor killings occur in India every year. 78 While there is an apparent connection between purdah and sexual violence, data has not been collected to prove this connection or show
how widespread this type of sexual violence is.
As in other regions of the world, victim blaming contributes to sexual violence in India. When asked why a rape occurs, reasons such as “the woman dressed immodestly,” 79 “the woman was outside after dark,” 80 or “women should be more cautious” are commonly cited in Indian media. 81 The idea that women necessitate violence through their actions wrongfully transfers blame from the perpetrator to the victim. 82 Victim-blaming attitudes are strongly associated with increased hostility and sexual aggression towards women. 83
Gender-disparate marriages leave married women vulnerable to sexual assault. 84 In India, marriage is a highly valued social institution; a woman’s primary-status roles are marriage and motherhood. 85 Within marriage, wives are expected to take on a passive role, while husbands assume an active, dominant role. 86 This power dynamic leads to the perspective that men have a right to sex, with or without consent. 87 As mentioned previously, among married women, sexual violence is most commonly perpetrated by the current husband. Studies show that 14.1% of Indian women agree that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she refuses sexual intercourse. 88 Further, offenders cited a sense of sexual entitlement as their most common motivation, even more than gratification. 89 Subsequently, violence within marriage has been normalized. 90 Because of this normalcy, marital rape is still not considered a crime in India. 91 Married women have no access to justice which leaves them essentially defenseless. Adolescent brides (ages 15-19) are the most vulnerable to marital rape, reporting a 13.1% prevalence. 92 This is most likely because child marriage is still widespread; 47% of women are married by the age of 18. 93
The gender disparity in marriage also contributes to divorced and deserted women having the highest rates of sexual assault (24.6%). 94 Men are given the primary right to the financial resources in a marriage, 95 and a large majority of divorced and deserted women were financially dependent on their husbands. 96 Despite legal reform of women’s right to property in 2005, 97 the amount of property and financial assistance these women receive remains insignificant. 98 These women live in extreme deprivation. 99 Their circumstances are worsened by the social stigma that surrounds deserted women and divorcees. 100 Most are denied work; 41.5% report having no income. 101 Those that find work typically earn amounts below the poverty line. 102 Some return to their maternal homes, but others are rejected by their families and are forced to support themselves on a meager income. 103 104 Further, 85.6% report having children, which spreads limited resources even more thin. 105 These factors combine to make divorced and deserted women extremely vulnerable to sexual assault. 106 They are mistreated by society at large, lack financial security, travel alone, often lack family support, and in some cases live alone in impoverished areas. 107
Gender inequality in education and employment contributes to sexual violence. Though India has made gains in areas such as younger girls’ primary, secondary, and even tertiary education enrollment, there are still significant gender gaps in the educational attainment of the older generation as well as their economic participation. 108 109 110 Only 63% of adult women are literate. 111 Further, for every 100 males in the labor force there are only 34 women. 112 Low levels of education and lack of employment opportunities are both associated with an increased risk of sexual violence. 113 114 This is most likely because both decrease a woman's autonomy—giving her less control over her life and making her more likely to be the target of sexual violence attempts. 115
Despite the overall trend of disparity in education and employment, 116 a growing number of women are challenging these traditionally male dominant areas 117 —women who challenge customary gender roles are at an increased risk of sexual violence, at least initially. 118 Female enrollment in Indian higher education rose from 39% in 2007 to 46% in 2014. 119 Data found that empowerment through education initially leads to increased sexual violence. However, once levels high enough to achieve increased access to resources, financial stability, and social standing are attained, education becomes protective and risk decreases. 120 A likely explanation is that initial challenges to gender norms threaten men’s sense of control over women, who respond through violence. 121 Once women achieve high enough levels of power, however, they can more fully assert equal rights and are less likely to be targeted. 122 Thus, societies in gender-relation transitions, like India, 123 face an increased but temporary risk of sexual violence.
India has one of the lowest male to female ratios in the world 124 and some argue that this is a main contributing factor to sexual violence. The 2011 census reported that there were 940 females per every 1,000 males (37.3 million more men than women); 125 126 this imbalance is caused both by the practice of female foeticide and a rapid decline in fertility. 127 The ratio imbalance results in increased competition among males for females. 128 Because this increases the frustration, loneliness, and lack of stability experienced by males some argue that it contributes to sexual violence. 129 Note, however, that research has yet to confirm a direct correlation between sex ratio imbalance and increased incidence of sexual violence.
Women living in poverty are more likely to experience sexual assault. Despite India’s rapidly growing economy, an estimated 276 million Indians live in poverty. 130 According to the World Bank, 23.6% of Indians live on less than $1.25 per day. 131 Of those living in poverty, 72.4% are part of groups called Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST). 132 The SC/ST comprises nearly a quarter of India’s overall population (nearly 300 million people). 133
Rooted in Hinduism, the caste system, established as early as 1500 BC, divided Indians into social groups. 134 Caste division was determined by birth and last names served as an indicator of caste. 135 Caste level then determined occupation. 136 Originally, four levels existed: 137
Over time, a fifth level developed. Members of this cast were given the most menial jobs including sweeping gutters, cremating bodies, and cleaning latrines. 138 They were ostracized and were not allowed to use the same wells, sit on the same benches, or enter the same schools as members of higher castes. 139 140 This caste is identified by several titles: harijats, dalits, untouchables, and Scheduled Caste. 141 Scheduled Tribes, on the other hand, are India’s indigenous people. 142 Considered the earliest inhabitants of India, this group endured invasions and harassment of a variety of groups throughout history. 143 SC/ST populations have faced similar types of discrimination and economic hardship for centuries 144 145 although the origin of that discrimination is different for the two groups. Today, the majority of SC and ST populations do not own land; they lack education and employment opportunities that would enable them to rise out of poverty. 146 They continue to be given menial tasks and meager compensation. 147
High levels of poverty and discrimination combined make SC and ST women frequent targets of sexual assault. This financial instability contributes to their sexual mistreatment 148 because it compounds the powerlessness they often face as women. SC and ST women subsequently lack power on three levels: gender, social caste, and economic status. Men with authority over them, including landlords, police officers, employers, and husbands, exploit their positions of power through sexual assault. 149 Many SC and ST women have even been forced to become prostitutes. 150 Further, because caste and tribal discrimination are socially sanctioned, these offenders often escape legal punishment. 151 Research indicates that “less than 1% of the perpetrators of crimes against SC women are ever convicted.” 152 When offenders go punishment free, they are more likely to be repeat offenders. 153 154 155 This creates a cycle where vulnerable SC/ST women are targeted but lack financial resources and social clout to exact punishment. Then, their attackers go unconvicted and the cycle starts again. Roughly 10.6% of SC/ST women experience sexual violence in their lifetime, a rate higher than their counterparts in higher wealth indexes.
Failure of the criminal justice system to protect women and punish offenders contributes to sexual assault. Studies show that most police officers lack investigation skills of basic evidence gathering: from 2006-2007, of the cases investigated, only 19% involved any use of scientific investigation. 156 Many cases taken to the police, however, are never investigated. 157 Further, police often refuse to even register cases; 158 159 studies show that for every rape case brought to the police 70 went unregistered. 160 Because registry is the first step to prosecution—the judiciary process never even begins for these cases. 161 This refusal of sexual violence registration is most likely due to a combination of police habits of under registering crime in general 162 along with gender bias against women. 163
When police initiate investigation, health providers have the crucial responsibility of collecting forensic evidence. Out of date examinations, deemed unscientific by the Indian Supreme Court, are still widespread in Indian hospitals. These examinations do not provide proper evidence. When more current examinations are conducted, the collected evidence is often inadequate or stored improperly and deemed unusable. Further, gender-insensitive techniques, such as checking for habituation to sexual intercourse, are also present; misleading results have been used in court to claim consent and blame the victim.
Few offenders tried in court are ever convicted. Courts report remarkably slow trials. Trials in India take an average of 6 years; comparatively, sexual assault trials in Canada take an average of 300 days. 164 165 166 The slow pace is most likely due to:
India also has no victim or witness protection program. Victims and witnesses become reluctant to testify which leads to cases being dropped. Even when a trial is completed, conviction rates are low. India’s rape conviction rate was 29.37% in 2015; 173 fast track courts specifically created to handle sexual violence crimes have an even lower rape conviction rate of 5-10%.
Criminal justice system shortcomings have an interconnected, cyclical relationship with sexual assault. Sluggish reform of ineffective policies and attitudes of gender inequality foster these shortcomings. Shortcomings result in offenders going punishment free. Studies show that when anticipation of being convicted is high, fewer crimes are committed. 174 When unsound investigations, poor evidence, and low conviction rates are the norm offenders’ do not anticipate punishment and are not deterred from committing sexual assault. 175 As a result, sexual assault offences remain widespread. A criminal justice system that allows offenders who abuse women to walk free reinforces the acceptability of female inferiority. Acceptance of female inferiority remains within the police force, hospitals, and courts. Offenders continue to go free and the cycle repeats itself. By failing to serve as a deterrent to crimes, the criminal justice system contributes to sexual violence.
Sexual assault leads to a variety of social consequences:
Often, the social consequences of sexual assault result in mental health issues.
Incidence of sexual violence and risk of mental illness are strongly correlated. 181 Women who have experienced sexual assault have the highest prevalence of mental illness. Though a wide variety of disorders may occur, the most common mental illnesses include: 182 183
Studies indicate that intimate partner victims experience these disorders with greater severity than non partner victims. This is significant considering intimate partner violence occurs frequently in India. Even with counseling, 50% of victims retain their symptoms of stress in the long term. 184 Additionally, victims of sexual assault are more likely to die by suicide than other groups. Although often connected to mental illness, this increased risk is present even in the absence of mental illness. 185
While physical effects range widely and are case specific, unwanted pregnancy and the STDs are particularly concerning. Rape-related pregnancy rates vary throughout the world and largely depend on the rate of contraceptive use. 186 While India has a 56% rate of contraceptive use, 187 research on India’s rate of rape-related pregnancy has not yet been conducted. As a benchmark, Mexico, which has a 52.7% rate of contraceptive use, 188 reports a 15-18% rape-related pregnancy rate. 189 In the case of rape, Indian law allows for abortions up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. 190 If abortion is not allowed, such as in cases past the 20 week mark, 191 victims may opt for unsafe, back-street abortions. 192 In cases where abortion does not take place, the child may face a high risk of consistent rejection by families and communities throughout his or her life. 193
Sexual assault victims are at an increased risk of HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases. 194 In India specifically, studies have shown that the high cultural tolerance for male-inflicted violence decreases women's ability to negotiate methods for preventing STDs which increases this risk even further. 195 Although not all HIV cases can be attributed to sexual assault, an estimated 2.4 million Indians are living with HIV—the 3rd largest HIV population in the world; 39% of these cases are women. 196
Sexual violence can result in lost employment and productivity. 197 Victims who work or aspire to work are hindered because sexual assault is directly tied to their social standing as well as their mental and physical health. For each incidence of violence, an Indian woman loses at least five paid work days. 198 Further, the risk of sexual violence alone affects women’s employment. Women may reduce work hours or even quit a job if they feel that traveling alone after dark is too dangerous. 199 After the New Delhi gang rape in 2012, women’s productivity in the IT sector dropped by nearly 40%. 200
In cases of adolescent abuse, educational attainment is also affected. Studies found that children who have been sexually abused have poorer school achievement than their non-abused counterparts. 201 Some Indian schools have asked rape victims to leave, claiming that their attendance taints the school’s image. 202 Lower achievement tends to follow these victims through their lives; adolescent victims have lower educational and occupational attainment in adulthood and make 14% less per hour than their similarly situated counterparts. 203 These findings are significant considering that most victims’ first experience with sexual assault occurs before the age of 20. Though lack of educational attainment impacts economic productivity, first and foremost it hinders a woman from achieving her potential.
Solutions tend to fall into these categories: victim support, prevention, and a combination of both. Both victim support and prevention play a crucial role in eradicating sexual violence against women in India.
Many organizations offer mental health services in a variety of forms including one-on-one counseling, family counseling sessions, and support groups with fellow survivors of abuse. The main goal of counseling is to enable victims and their families to overcome the trauma of sexual assault and return to their normal, daily routines. Most organizations offer both individual and group counseling, with slight variations depending on the organization.
One variation is partnering with the police to find victims that are in need of counseling services. Vikalp Sansthan, for example, has created a counseling center that is located at the Women’s police station in Rajasthan. 204 As victims come to report crimes, they are also offered counseling and support services. 205 Similarly, Disha, has set up a support desk at a police station in Maharashtra. 206 The support desk is ran each Saturday by a social worker who collects the needed information to conduct a follow-up visit at the victim’s home. 207 Disha also finds victims through their hotline and referral system. 208 Following the home visit, Disha conducts a counseling session with both the victim and family. 209 After initial trauma counseling, Disha provides support groups for long term recovery. 210
Another variation is facilitating recovery by training survivors to become advocates. Rahi, an organization that focuses on victims of child sexual abuse, conducts advocacy trainings in New Delhi through a program called The Firebird Project. 211 Any victim/survivor over 21 can apply to become an advocate, although those who have attended counseling are preferred. 212 Each candidate's readiness is assessed by a mental health professional in an interview. 213 Once a candidate passes the interview, they participate in a two day workshop. 214 At the workshop, they discuss their experiences with fellow survivors, learn how to manage group discussions and give presentations, and create a personal social action plan. 215 The social action plan varies according to each victim’s interests and skills. 216 Following the workshop, the survivors carry out their plans in their individual communities. 217 Rahi is the first organization to attempt this kind of intervention. 218
Research indicates that individual therapy and group therapy result in similar levels of improvement. 219 However, group sessions are especially common because multiple victims can be helped at once. Studies found that group sessions are most effective when participants are united in a shared purpose and when the group has two leaders rather than a single individual. 220 While each organization’s group seems to have a shared purpose, it is unclear whether there are one or more group leaders in each group. Talking simply in outputs, Disha has reached 5,320 victims through group sessions; 221 output numbers for Vikalp Sansthan cannot be found. 222 Because Rahi’s Firebird project was implemented recently, there is currently no impact or output data. 223 Rahi mental health professionals, however, are confident that “social action is a powerful way for survivors to transform their trauma.” 224
In response to the widespread protests from the 2012 Delhi gang rape case, the Indian government passed new, stricter sexual violence laws. 225
After the amendment was adopted, conviction rates increased. From 2012 to 2013 the rape conviction rate rose by 3% 228 (from 24.2% to 27.1% 2013). That rise continued into 2015 with a 29.4% conviction rate. 229 Despite the rise in conviction rates, it is impossible to conclude whether the rise was caused by the amendment or some other factor.
Because many victims of sexual assault lack the ability or resources to navigate the Criminal Justice System on their own, some organizations provide legal assistance. Legal assistance may include educating victims on their rights, 233 helping victims to file a claim with the police, helping victims navigate the court system, 234 and even providing legal representation in court. 235
Often, organizations provide some but not all of these services. One variation is providing legal assistance throughout the justice process. Located in Pune, Maharastra, Sahyog Trust conducts legal literacy workshops to educate victims about their rights, provides legal consultations via direct conversation and phone, files suits for victims, and supplies representation in court. 236 To assist victims located outside of Pune, Sahyog Trust reaches out to lawyers in surrounding areas that are willing to provide free services. 237
Another variation of this practice is training former victims to provide legal assistance to fellow victims. This practice was created by the organization Jan Sahas. 238 Realizing that the justice system is particularly inaccessible for SC victims, Jan Sahas focuses specifically on this population. Victims who have been supported by the organization can volunteer to receive paralegal training and become “barefoot paralegals.” 239 These barefoot paralegals help victims file claims correctly. Filing claims correctly can be crucial to the success of these cases; cases that are filed as a “Dalit Atrocity” are advanced to a special court. 240 If requested, paralegals can receive even more training to become legal advocates. 241 From there, Jan Sahas’s network of lawyers counsels victims through the legal process, supports both victims and witnesses, and provides representation in court. 242 Each of the lawyers have also experienced some form of discrimination and empathize with SC clients.
There is a lack of data on the overall impact of legal assistance. Currently, no output or impact data for Sahyog Trust exists, making it difficult to determine its reach and efficacy. 243 Strictly in terms of outputs, Jan Sahas reports a network of 450 lawyers, 800 barefoot paralegals, and 600 advocates who have assisted in over 2,000 SC rape cases. 244 This variation seems to be highly effective. The conviction rate of SC rape has risen from 2% to 38% across five states in Northern India. 245 Of victims who received support from Jan Sahas, 65% have asked to to be trained as paralegals. 246 It is important to note, however, that the methodology behind these reported numbers could not be confirmed. Providing a means for victims to take on productive roles in their community seems to be an important element of both victim support and violence prevention. Further, practices that increase conviction rates may deter further crime by increasing offenders’ fear of imprisonment.
Many organizations have created gender equality education programs. These programs are primarily implemented in schools and communities. The goal of these programs is to change attitudes towards gender by educating children, their parents, teachers, and the community as a whole.
One variation of this practice is implementing gender equality curriculum in all girls schools. One organization, Study Hall, has an all girls school by the name of Prerna in Uttar Pradesh that was created in 2003. 247 The girls who attend this school all come from economically poor backgrounds and are selected from the surrounding slums and communities. 248 Gender equality education is central to Prerna’s curriculum. 249 Along with math and science classes the girls attend a gender equality class. 250 Each day the girls participate in open discussion about their current, everyday challenges, about how to resist discrimination in the future, and about each girl's’ worth and value. 251
Another variation of this practice is implementing gender equality curriculum in already established institutions. One organization, Breakthrough, does this by training teachers who are then supported by Breakthrough staff. 252 Teachers of students in grades 7-8 are trained on how to educate youth about gender equality. 253 Activities and discussions related to gender issues are then planned into the school curriculum. 254 Peer-led clubs are also organized to build awareness about gender issues. 255 A core element of this intervention occurs two to three times a month; Breakthrough staff lead classroom discussions where students discuss different aspects of gender inequality. 256 The intervention targets both male and female students.
Research on the efficacy of gender equality education is limited; the available research, however, indicates that programs which lasted at least three years and used gender equality curriculum at least weekly with both male and female students were successful in shifting student’s attitudes. 257 In terms of outputs, Prerna provides education to over 800 girls; these girls perform 20% points higher than the national average on their exams. 258 Additionally, 88% of Prerna students move on to higher education. 259 Though impact data is not available, Study Hall’s website publishes success stories of their students completing college and asserting their value. 260 It seems that Breakthrough’s intervention is the most impactful. The program has been implemented in 314 villages among 14,855 students. 261 Breakthrough’s programs began in 2014 and will be completed in 2017. 262 Thus, a full impact report is not yet available. However, the available survey data indicates a positive impact. Of the respondents, 85% believed that boys’ behavior toward girls had changed. 263 Respondents reported that the boys have become more polite and respectful towards the girls. 264 Additionally, the program reports impressive retention results and 90% of students can identify various forms of gender discrimination. 265
Gender equality education programs seem to be most effective when they reach a wide variety of ages of both genders. All girls’ programs could target boys as well. Age specific programs could be extended to cover a larger range of ages. Further, there seems to be a general gap in programs that target adult males. Additionally, although Breakthrough’s program and Prerna are reaching over 15,000 individuals, it is essential that programs be scaled nationwide to reach full potential for impact.
The use of media campaigns is a modern, recent intervention that uses multimedia (including social media channels) and pop culture to provoke nationwide conversations about gender issues.
One variation of this practice is using community correspondents to record and report gender injustice. One organization, Video Volunteers, uses a team of local correspondents (many who are women) to report, by video, about issues occurring in their communities. 266 Only correspondents from marginalized populations are selected. 267 Once correspondents are selected, they receive training on how to record their own stories and begin posting reports. 268
The reported stories cover a wide range of issues, including gender inequality and gender based violence. 269 Because only 2% of content in mainstream media addresses the issues of the rural areas, Video Volunteers focuses on rural communities. 270
Another variation of this practice is using hashtag campaigns. Breakthrough created a campaign titled #shareyourstory. The goal of this campaign was to sensitize boys and men to sexual harassment and its negative effects. Women were encouraged to share their stories of sexual harassment with their sons and then post them to a social media outlet using the hashtag. The hashtags are also circulated by promotional videos, websites, print ads, and news agencies. The hope is that use of media will circulate and create increased awareness of and discussion about these issues. Organizations such as Sayfty also employ hashtag campaigns.
Although no conclusive data exists on the impact of media campaigns, it is clear that media campaigns reach large masses of people. In some cases, sources indicate that media results in intervention by officials and issue resolution. In terms of outputs, Video Volunteers has created over 500 videos about gender discrimination. 271 Some of these videos resulted in government action and issue resolution. 272 Further, Breakthrough’s #shareyourstory campaign reached over 4 million people. 273
Watchdog groups are community-organized groups that attempt to supplement police efforts to prevent sexual assault against women. A few variations exist.
One variation is female-led watch groups. In Uttar Pradesh, a group called the Red Brigade is comprised of all females and watches for any form of sexual harassment. Each member of the Red Brigade has experienced some form of sexual harassment. If any member on patrol notices a boy teasing or troubling a girl, they intervene and ask the boy why he is behaving that way. From there, Red Brigade members complain to the boys’ parents and file a complaint with the police. Red Brigade members are trained in self defense; they also encourage women from the community to take classes. Thus, if a boy continues to trouble a girl the Red Brigade humiliates or uses physical force to get him to stop.
Another variation is children-led watch groups. An organization called Diksha, located in West Bengal, created this specific variation. 274 275 The creator of Diksha asked children what they want to change about their community. Children then came up with their own solutions. 276 277 The children subsequently assembled into a watchdog team called The Community- Based Resource Team (CBRT) whose sole purpose is to identify and stop gender based violence. 278 The CBRT watch for violence 24/7. Upon discovering a girl being forced into marriage, brought into the prostitution district, or anything suspicious, CBRT members immediately report the incident to the police and a Child Welfare Officer. All children that become members of the CBRT are trained by other children who are more experienced CBRT members.
The impact of watchdog groups seems to vary by group. Research on what makes some groups effective has not yet been conducted. In terms of outputs, the Red Brigade has over 100 members. Additionally, since the group formed, 35,000 women have been trained in self defense. Though a rough estimate, Red Brigade reports that sexual assault seems to have decreased by 50% in Red Brigade’s main slum. Diksha, centered in one of India’s worst Red Light Areas, reports encouraging results. Diksha reports that inn the last ten years the youth’s efforts have produced the following results in Kolkatta, West Bengal: 279
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