In December 2012, the gang-rape of a woman in Delhi ignited outrage across India. This popular eruption of anger brought many debates on the status of Indian women to the fore. Thereafter, rapes became highly publicized and the public pushed the government to take steps to improve the status of women and prevent rapes from occurring. While the government took some steps to alleviate the situation, such as establishing a fast-track court for rape cases, the underlying causes for the rampant violence against women in the country have largely been ignored.
Jamkhed is not immune to the epidemic of gender-based violence. Particularly in rural areas, parents of young women live in fear for their daughters’ well-being and see marrying them off as early as possible as a solution to the vulnerability of being a single woman who can be attacked at any moment. The result has been the continued practice of early marriage. Early marriage is caused by the low valuation of women and the view that they are economic liabilities that need to be handed off to someone else. Oftentimes, girls as young as sixteen years old are married to men anywhere between five to ten years older than them. Instead of girls and women being recognized as human beings equal to men with their own agency, the rapes have reinforced gender inequality and buttressed traditions and practices that objectify and disempower women.
When I came to India last August, I saw the nation’s focus on violence against women as an opportunity. The topic was relevant, controversial, and seldom-addressed. When it was spoken about, oftentimes victim blaming ensued whether from the mouth of a politician with national exposure or from a boy from the slum next door. Personally witnessing casual witness blaming in a focus group with adolescent boys from Jamkhed convinced me that gender-based violence was an issue that needed to be addressed comprehensively. I decided one of the cornerstone projects of my fellowship would be creating a value-based curriculum on gender-based violence for CRHP’s Village Health Workers (VHWs) and Adolescent Programs.
After months of preparation, including a focus group with Village Health Workers, conversations with my directors and CRHP social workers, as well as painstaking activity development and lesson planning, my colleagues and I began implementing a pilot version of the program with our VHWs this month. When thinking about how to approach the curriculum, we decided that we had to address more than just the ways violence manifests itself in society. We wanted to compel the VHWs to take a critical look at the deep-rooted inequality that authorizes the attitudes, actions, and lack of agency that women face. Effecting such a seismic shift in their thinking process has been difficult given that the inequality the VHWs face is intertwined with a matrix of different factors that comprise their worldview. However, as difficult as conveying the values and cultural idioms embedded in our curriculum has been, whenever we have made breakthroughs, it has been incredibly gratifying for everyone involved. Finally, we see the VHWs as an entry point into wider, broad-based, community-level change given their existing position in their respective villages.
Typically, the sessions have lasted from about two to two and a half hours with a break after the major activity of the day’s lesson. VHWs come in for weekly training from Thursday through Friday afternoon, staying the night at CRHP. We will typically do one full module in tandem with the other trainings they receive from other staff members (lessons on data collection, specific health issues in their respective villages, health techniques/procedures that need revision, etc.). The full curriculum consists of eight modules (four of which we have completed). The first two modules cover the concept of gender and the differences between the biological and social manifestations of masculinity and femininity. These lessons conclude with an introduction to how gender differences have translated to inequality. The next three modules discuss violence. We have gone over the types of violence women endure as well as their causes and effects. The third module will cover how to identify victims of violence amongst the VHWs’ patient cohort and how to handle such cases. The final three modules we have planned cover how the VHWs can take an active role in preventing violence and changing the community’s attitude toward women. We hope to end by facilitating the VHWs’ creation of their own action points on how they will change their communities and themselves.
Through training our VHWs and then our community’s adolescents, we hope to create change in the way women are viewed and treated in Jamkhed. We know that breaking patriarchy and promoting the advancement of women is the sustainable way to stop the violence that plagues India’s female population. We believe our gender-based violence curriculum embodies CRHP’s values of equity, empowerment, and integration and we hope that the men and women who are impacted by this training gain the courage to stand up to the injustices perpetrated upon women, and the marginalized at-large.