The Breakthrough Voice 12th October, 2016
Breakthrough: Role of Fathers in Halting Gender Based Violence.

Home is one of the most unsafe space for the girl child.

Sneha* from Jharkhand was only 12 years old when her father fixed her marriage with a 34-year-old man from Haryana. For Sneha and many other girls in India, gender-related challenges such as restrictions on mobility, extra burden of domestic chores, dropping out of school, early marriage and violence persist in creating unfair disadvantages. In such a scenario engaging the family specially the father to prevent gender based violence can make a great difference in the daughter’s life.

Breakthrough realised this right from the time of our inception. Babul one of our first music videos looked into impact of domestic violence on the young child.

Here she pins her hope on her father to ensure that she does not have to go through the same violence, trauma and loss of identity that she sees in women around her. The video reiterates the role of men in changing the status quo by using their traditional power status. What men do in their role as father, husband, partner can either aggravate gender based violence or disrupt the cycle of violence.

While the video is old and the discourse around the video may seem outdated for some, the unfortunate reality is that it still holds true for a majority of our population.

In Breakthrough’s intervention districts in Bihar and Jharkhand, the average age for marriage for girl child is between 15 to 16 years. While most see this practice as cultural and accepted practice which has been around for centuries, often it stems from inequitable gender norms which emphasise on protecting a girl’s (or her family’s) honour by controlling her sexuality.  On being questioned they often respond like this father in Jharkhand said, “Will you take guarantee for my child, what if someone sexually violates her, it’s better to marry her off than face dishonour.”

To address this issue with Fathers, Breakthrough created a campaign called Nation against Early Marriage.

Breakthrough believes that while working with men is one of the critical way to address GBV. It need to be worked along with other interventions like:

  1. Creating safe spaces for girls to network, have a peer support system.
  2. Promoting girls’ agency and mobility. Agency refers to a girl’s sense of self-worth or self-efficacy, her ability to make decisions and exercise choices. Agency is typically built through life skills education, also referred to as self-development or personality development.
  3. Push for norm change and address gender based violence through use of media, arts and culture, community mobilization, leadership building, sharing best practices, evaluation and advocating for policies and practices that promote gender equity and equal treatment of women and girls in their relationships, their families, and in society.
  4. Delaying early marriage and early pregnancy.
  5. Ensuring girls stay in school and complete at least secondary education.
  6. Ensure gender, sexuality and rights training. Sex education, nutritional education, awareness on menstrual hygiene as well as awareness on violence and sexual coercion are important aspects of sexual and reproductive health. In the context of empowering adolescent girls, this means questioning and understanding of the self and others, rights, sexuality and gender.
  7. Increasing income generating potential. Programs that enable girls to acquire practical skills such as vocational training and financial literacy are the most direct ways to expand adolescent girls’ economic options, especially when costs related to education are a burden on families.
  8. Engaging gatekeepers: Working with the community and service providers to provide safe and supportive environment to adolescents.
  9. Building referrals and alliances with government agencies and NGOs to provide the range of services survivors of violence or adolescent girls experiencing gender based violence might need.

Thus, a holistic approach like this where parents especially fathers ensure that their daughters have a nurturing environment where no forms of violence will be tolerated; where gatekeepers and communities work towards changing gender norms, will enable girls like Sneha live a life free of violence and drudgery.

*Sneha: Name changed to protect identity.

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