Not Her Mother’s Daughter

Breaking the cycle of child marriage in India
Mon, 02/04/2013

ICRW Senior Director of Communications Jennifer Abrahamson recounts her recent visit to Haryana, India, where ICRW is evaluating an innovative government program that uses cash to encourage families to keep their daughters in school instead of marrying them off at a young age.

Savita Singh, a slight 18-year-old schoolgirl who confesses she is poor at math but aspires to attend college to study Hindi and history, admits she has another, secret dream.

"I want to work for the Haryana police force," Savita told me, explaining that she is passionate about prosecuting families who she says abuse and sometimes even set fire to their daughters-in-law in the region. "But I know that my dream won't be fulfilled. I'm not tall enough."

Savita shared her secret with me in a cramped, dark room two days before the barbaric gang rape and subsequent death of a young woman in Delhi that caught the world's attention and sparked outrage across India in December. We sat on low charpoy beds, the wooden and rope structures that are ubiquitous in Haryana state, along with Savita's sisters, Kirin, who is 20, and Rekha, 15. High, concrete walls behind the girls were adorned with posters of Hindu gods and faraway places. Rekha and Kirin also told me about their ambitions to become teachers, to continue their studies, to wait to marry until they are ready.

While child marriage is still prevalent throughout India, the fact that the Singh sisters harbor such dreams at all may signal a subtle, generational shift in this conservative, agricultural state bordering the capital. Many women still practice a form of purdah here, hiding their faces behind a full diaphanous veil when in public or when in the company of non-blood related men. And until recent years it was extremely common for girls to marry in their early to mid-teens. Although illegal, they still do, but to a lesser degree.

One of those girls was Munni, Savita's 37-year-old mother who thinks she married when she was 15. Both Munni and her husband Amar, a soft-spoken farmer with high cheekbones, a kind face and a sixth-grade education, were determined to see all three of their daughters finish high school even if they can't afford to send them to college. Munni in particular was adamant that Savita and her sisters focus on their studies instead of working the fields.

"I never went to school because my parents had fields and I had buffalo to tend to and they said to me, 'what's the point of you going to school if you're only going to work with dung anyway? What's the point of pretending you'll be a Madam?'" she told me over hot cups of spiced chai in a modest courtyard just outside the girls' bedroom. "I feel very good that my daughters have the chance to study. Two things happen. One, a girl can learn how to speak properly – I don't know how to speak, my language is course as you can hear. And two, if a girl is educated she'll know how to manage the household accounts."

This was not the first time I heard such statements during my short visit to Haryana, where I met with a number of girls from poor families like Savita. She is among the first class of girls who took part in a Haryana government scheme established in 1994 called Apni Beti Apna Dhan (ABAD) – 'Our Daughter Our Wealth' in English. The government is now in the process of paying out bonds that were deposited in each participant's name when she was born. Today they are worth somewhere in the range of $350-$500; girls will receive them only if they were still unmarried at the time of their18th birthday last year.

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is currently undertaking an evaluation of the scheme to determine its impact on this first cohort of girls. Initial findings will be published in late 2013. While the ICRW evaluation is still underway and its findings are still far from conclusive, its seems the scheme may have, at least in part, contributed to delaying marriage for some participants – even if it didn't mean a fundamental change in attitudes about a girl's value.

The Singhs told me – as did others in Haryana with whom I met – that they decided to wait to find a husband for their oldest daughter, 20-year-old Kirin, until Savita receives the cash transfer (her father was just about to submit her paperwork when we met). Marrying girls in a joint wedding is relatively common in Haryana among low-income families as it helps cut costs. The Singhs youngest daughter, Rekha, is also scheduled to receive an ABAD cash transfer after she turns 18 in a few years' time.

Amar and Munni seemed especially enlightened regarding the importance of their daughters' education. However, after speaking with them in the fading afternoon sunlight next to a couple of lazing buffalo, it soon became clear that an education was mainly so important because it means increasing the chances of finding their daughters good husbands who hold down good jobs.

In the meantime, Savita and Rekha will continue their secondary school studies, while Kirin works as a teacher's assistant in her village. Savita knows marriage is on the horizon, but she recognizes the value of living out her childhood and staying in school – even if her future in-laws, whoever they may be, won't allow her to become a policewoman, or be able to finance a college education.

"I wouldn't have liked getting married at a younger age. I would have had to leave school and take on the responsibilities of another household," she told me.

When I asked Savita if she would have been able to care for a baby when she was still herself a child, she was quick to shake her head.

"This is my time to 'eat and drink' – my time to have fun, my time to be in my parents' house. This is the time when I can do it. This is my time."

Perhaps another shift will occur when the next generation comes of age. Perhaps Savita's own daughter will have the chance to go to college or become a policewoman. Just as long as she's tall enough.


This story originally appeared on Too Young to Wed, a multimedia partnership between the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and premier photo agency VII.

India Confronts the Problem of Violence Against Women

Fri, 01/04/2013
National Public Radio

During this National Public Radio broadcast, ICRW's Priya Nanda discusses the vulnerability of women and girls in public spaces in India and the root causes of their unequal status in society. Nanda was joined by three other guests on the "To the Point" show to discuss whether the December gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old New Delhi woman marks a turning point in what many say is the cultural, legal and political oppression of women and girls in India. 

The show begins at 8:00, and Nanda is introduced at 27:00.

ICRW's Priya Nanda Discusses New Delhi Gang Rape

Nanda is a guest on National Public Radio discussion about gang rape, murder of New Delhi woman
Fri, 01/11/2013

During this National Public Radio broadcast, ICRW's Priya Nanda discusses the vulnerability of women and girls in public spaces in India and the root causes of their unequal status in society. 

During this National Public Radio broadcast, ICRW's Priya Nanda discusses the vulnerability of women and girls in public spaces in India and the root causes of their unequal status in society. Nanda was joined by three other guests on the KCRW (89.9FM) "To the Point" show to discuss whether the December gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old New Delhi woman marks a turning point in what many say is the cultural, legal and political oppression of women and girls in India. 

Listen here. The show begins at 8:00, and Nanda is introduced at 27:00.

Child Marriage Policy Briefs Released in Nepal

ICRW policy and advocacy briefs help inform regional plan to end child marriage
Wed, 12/19/2012

ICRW policy and advocacy briefs that provide recommendations for preventing child marriage in Southern Asian countries were released in Nepal this week. The briefs will help policymakers develop a regional plan to end child marriage.

International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) policy and advocacy briefs that offer recommendations for preventing child marriage in nine Southern Asian countries was released this week in Kathmandu, Nepal during a regional consultative meeting of representatives from governments, nongovernmental organizations and others. 

ICRW Asia Regional Office Director Ravi Verma participated in the event, which was organized by the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, an inter-governmental body created by the governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Participants used the gathering to review commitments and actions on behalf of girls and develop a regional action plan to end child marriage.

The ICRW policy and advocacy briefs provided a regional perspective on the issue of child marriage, highlighted common challenges to preventing the practice and offered evidence-based policy options. Produced in partnership with UNFPA and other organizations, the briefs provide important guidance on how to kick-start strategies for reducing early marriage in a manner tailored to the unique context and needs of each country.

“Our advocacy kit and policy briefs provided the larger evidence-based background for these countries to design a regional action plan to end child marriage,” Verma said. He added that event attendees also drew lessons from evaluations of child marriage prevention programs worldwide to inform the regional plan.

Read the policy briefs: Child Marriage in Southern Asia: Policy Options for Action

Help change the course for adolescent girls worldwide by joining ICRW’s Turning Point Campaign. 

Using Cricket to Talk About Gender Equality

Thu, 08/02/2012
The Huffington Post

ICRW's Madhumita Das writes about the Parivartan program in a blog for The Huffington Post. The blog is part of a series organized by Huffington Post and InterAction during the London Olympics, and includes blogs centered the connection between sports and gender, disabilities, peace building and other topics.

Boys’ Attitudes Shift about Manhood, Violence Against Women

Views about gender roles improve among young Indian athletes in ICRW program
Wed, 07/18/2012

Parivartan, a three-year ICRW program in Mumbai, India, used a sports setting to challenge boys’ notions about manhood and women’s roles in society. A final evaluation shows that many of the athletes’ attitudes, perceptions and behaviors about gender equity changed for the better.

New International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) findings show that Indian boys’ views about manhood and women’s roles in society became less patriarchal and more equitable after participating in an ICRW program that aimed to shift norms about gender equity. 

The program, called Parivartan, drew in boys from Mumbai through the popular sport of cricket and challenged them to question traditional notions of manhood present in many societies, including their own. Results from ICRW’s evaluation provided proof that sensitizing boys to gender issues can potentially change stereotypes they hold and their attitudes about violence against women. 

Unfolding over three years among boys ages 10 to 16, Parivartan capitalized on cricket coaches’ role in the young athletes’ lives to impart the program’s key messages. It required the coaches, too, to shift their own ideas about expectations of men and women in society. 

“Parivartan demonstrated that role models for youth – in this case, sports coaches – hold great potential as conduits for helping to address and change seemingly indomitable societal norms,” said Madhumita Das, an ICRW senior technical specialist who directed Parivartan. “What we don’t know yet is if the changes that took place among program participants will remain with them into adulthood.” 

Parivartan’s athletes hailed from opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum: middle- and upper-class youth from Mumbai schools who had paid coaches and practiced their game in their cricketer’s white on a manicured field near a country club in downtown Mumbai; and boys from Mumbai’s slum community of Shivaji Nagar, who were coached by mentors close in age and practiced on dirt or asphalt, where they used recycled equipment and sometimes ran in sandals or barefoot. 

Modeled after the Coaching Boys into Men program by Futures Without Violence (formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund), ICRW sought to test whether the influence of coaches and the sports setting could serve as a venue – like home and school – to learn about gender roles and relationships. Experts aimed to document how attitudes, perceptions and behaviors did or did not change among athletes – as well as their coaches. 

“Coaches are more than just instructors of sports techniques. They’re also role models,” Das said. “So we wanted to value this unique relationship of coaches’ with their athletes, to have them channel positive messages to young men about manhood and respect for women.” 

The study sample consisted of 168 athletes in 26 Mumbai schools who were exposed to the Parivartan curriculum, and 141 athletes from 19 schools where the program was introduced later. This design provided a means of comparison, to gauge the effectiveness of the program. Similarly, 168 athletes from Shivaji Nagar took part in the program, while 133 athletes from another community served as the comparison group. 

Researchers sought to answer three questions: (1) What changes occurred in gender and violence-related attitudes, perceptions and behaviors among the Parivartan athletes? (2) What effects did participation in the training and the overall program have on the coaches? and (3) What changes did the wives, mothers or daughters of the coaches perceive as a result of the men’s participation in the program? 

In general, ICRW found that attitudes about gender equity and violence against women shifted for the better among the young cricketers. The coaches’ mindset and behavior also evolved positively. 

ICRW determined the changes by asking the athletes to respond to a series of statements centered on stereotypes around manhood and roles for girls and women. This included questions such as, “A wife should always obey her husband” and “Only men should work outside the home.” The participants were asked at the beginning and end of the Parivartan program to indicate on a 5-point scale whether or not they agreed. ICRW compared responses among athletes from the school setting, the slum community and the groups who did not receive the Parivartan curriculum.

Among ICRW’s findings was that most young cricketers supported a more traditional view of manhood when the program started – a view where boys are not expected to be faithful to girlfriends, where they must always act tough and where they believe they’ll lose respect if they talk about their problems. “This suggested that despite their young age, many boys had already been exposed to and internalized the idea that real men are tough, unfaithful and unemotional,” Das said. 

Those perceptions had changed for most by the end of the program. However, many participants said they still believed that only men can work outside of the home – one of the more deeply-engrained cultural expectations. 

When ICRW looked at changes across the three areas researchers studied – boys’ controlling behavior, manhood and masculinity and girls’ and women’s roles – it found that Parivartan participants’ attitudes about gender roles had changed significantly, compared to those who did not participate in the program. 

An important transformation took place in the Shivaji Nagar athletes’ opinions physical abuse of girls: they became less supportive of it. Such violence is not uncommon; many girls in India, particularly those from poor neighborhoods, are not valued much by their families or others in their community. Many don’t have the chance to attend school or have much say over the course of their lives. To that end, some men and boys see girls as disposable and to be controlled – sometimes, by using violence. In the Parivartan study, most young athletes agreed that a girl does not deserve to be hit if she doesn’t finish her homework, obey her elders or argues with her siblings. However, there was still somewhat strong agreement – specifically among the community athletes – that a girl deserves to be slapped or beaten when she doesn’t help with household chores. 

“Particularly in poor communities, girls are often seen as a big support to handle household chores and look after their younger siblings,” Das said. “More importance is placed on that role in the home, regardless of how young they are, than in getting an education.” 

It’s unclear whether the positive changes in attitudes and behavior that ICRW found will stick as the young men grow into adults. To guarantee such an outcome, ICRW recommends that Parivartan be institutionalized into the settings to which teenagers connect and learn, so that its messages are consistently reinforced. 

While the formal program in Mumbai is no longer, Parivartan is expanding its focus and working with a new group of youth in a rural area: Now, it will be Parivartan-Plus, and part of the U.K. Department for International Development’s STRIVE effort to address social inequities that continue to fuel the AIDS epidemic. The program will take place in rural Karnataka, in southern India, and along with addressing violence against women, it also will tackle sexuality and the links between alcohol and substance use and HIV. 

Gillian Gaynair is ICRW’s senior writer and editor.

Related Content:

Photo Slideshow: The Sport of Respect

Why Gender Matters in the Solution Towards Safe Sanitation? Reflections from Rural India.

Khanna, T. & Das, M. (2015) Why Gender Matters in the Solution Towards Safe Sanitation? Reflections from Rural India. Global Public Health, 1-17

While the topic of women and water, sanitation and hygiene is a widely accepted concern among academics and activists, it continues to be an issue in developing countries with serious consequences. Based on a qualitative research conducted in rural Uttar Pradesh, India, the paper affirms that sanitation issues for women and girls are compounded by inequitable gender norms that put them at greater risk of experiencing violence and multiple health vulnerabilities. Women, despite having a high demand for safe toilet facilities, continue to practise unsafe sanitation. The findings highlight the role of three structural constraints as the key factors influencing toilet construction and use: poverty, inadequate sanitation policy and its implementation and gender-based power dynamics at the household level. The paper concludes by emphasising the relevance of engendering sanitation programmes and policies by involving women and girls in the planning process to ensure that dignified and gender-sensitive sanitation solutions are developed. The paper also stresses the need to have measures for strengthening and effectively implementing a sanitation policy for the poor and for programmes to work with both men and women to address gender power relations which influence toilet adoption and use.

DOI: 10.1080/17441692.2015.1062905

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Engaging Men and Boys Crucial to Address Violence against Women and Girls

Thu, 08/06/2015

ICRW releases a statement about a New Delhi-based event to identify solution-oriented strategies to prevent and address violence against women and girls through effective engagement of men and boys.

New Delhi, 6 August 2015:  To identify solution-oriented strategies to prevent and address violence against women and girls (VAWG) through effective engagement of men and boys, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), with support from UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and University College London (through a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council) held a day-long consultation in New Delhi. The consultation brought together representatives from civil society organizations, government and academic institutions to reflect on existing efforts and interventions with respect to engaging men and boys, as well as to discuss issues specific to adolescents. Findings and recommendations that emerged from the day’s meeting will be presented to key policymakers in the Government of India and other development partners.

There is a growing consensus emerging among practitioners, scholars, and policymakers that ending gender-based violence requires the full participation of communities — and in particular, the increased participation of men and boys. Indeed, globally and in India, efforts to prevent gender-based violence increasingly include the proactive engagement of men and boys. This involvement can entail educating men and boys, fostering their awareness of gender-based violence, and nurturing their ability to cultivate non-violence and gender equity in their families, peer groups, communities, and at broader societal and policy levels.

A need for this kind of a tangible discussion has never been as relevant as it is now, as governments come together at the UN next month to adopt the world’s next global development agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The Outcome Document for the SDGs, the 2030 Agenda, stresses the importance of achieving gender equality and specifically calls on governments to eliminate discrimination and violence against women and girls. Within that context, there is a critical need to recognize the role of men and boys,” says Dr. Ravi Verma, Asia Regional Director for ICRW. “As Agenda 2030 is adopted and a monitoring framework is developed,” Verma said, “we will be pushing for indicators that track the engagement of men and boys in violence prevention programs and policies.”

Ms. Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, noted that “Nearly all institutions in India are still run by men – the police, judiciary, medical schools, politics, so unless we get these institutions on board, it will be very challenging to support the empowerment of women in our country. We need to discuss gender norms at all levels of society, and we need to do it early.”

Ms. Preeti Sudan, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, called for more discussions like the one today, as well as more research. “Talking about what works to shift gender norms is important, but knowing how it works is even more important.”

About ICRW: For nearly 40 years, ICRW has been the premier applied research institute focused on women and girls. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with regional offices in South Asia and Africa, ICRW provides evidence-based research to inform programs and policies that help alleviate poverty, promote gender equality and protect the rights of women and girls. 

For more information, please contact:

Erin Kelly
00 1 202 742 1263
ekelly@icrw.org

 

Mission Statement: 

About ICRW: For nearly 40 years, ICRW has been the premier applied research institute focused on women and girls. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with regional offices in South Asia and Africa, ICRW provides evidence-based research to inform programs and policies that help alleviate poverty, promote gender equality and protect the rights of women and girls. 

Multilevel Perspectives on Female Sterilization in Low-Income Communities in Mumbai, India.

Brault, M. A., Schensul, S. L., Singh, R., Verma, R. K., & Jadhav, K. (2015) Multilevel Perspectives on Female Sterilization in Low-Income Communities in Mumbai, India. Qualitative Health Research

Surgical sterilization is the primary method of contraception among low-income women in India. This article, using qualitative analysis of key informant, in-depth interviews, and quantitative analyses, examines the antecedents, process, and outcomes of sterilization for women in a low-income area in Mumbai, India. Family planning policies, socioeconomic factors, and gender roles constrain women’s reproductive choices. Procedures for sterilization rarely follow protocol, particularly during pre-procedure counseling and consent. Women who choose sterilization often marry early, begin conceiving soon after marriage, and reach or exceed ideal family size early due to problems in accessing reversible contraceptives. Despite these constraints, this study indicates that from the perspective of women, the decision to undergo sterilization is empowering, as they have fulfilled their reproductive duties and can effectively exercise control over their fertility and sexuality. This empowerment results in little post-sterilization regret, improved emotional health, and improved sexual relationships following sterilization.

DOI: 10.1177/1049732315589744

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Peer reviewed articles may or may not be accessible to the public depending on the publication and its copyright rules. ICRW provides links to the articles, but cannot guarantee access to their full text. For questions, please contact info@icrw.org or (202) 797-0007.

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Community Gender Norms Change as a Part of a Multilevel Approach to Sexual Health Among Married Women in Mumbai, India

Schensul, S. L., Singh, R., Schensul, J. J., Verma, R. K., Burleson, J. A., & Nastasi, B. K. (2015) Community Gender Norms Change as a Part of a Multilevel Approach to Sexual Health Among Married Women in Mumbai, India American Journal of Community Psychology, 1-12

Inequitable gender norms in societies and communities negatively contribute to women’s sexual and reproductive health. While the need for change in gender norms is well recognized, the task is highly challenging in terms of intervention design, implementation and assessment of impact. This paper describes a methodology for identification of gender norms, the design of community level intervention, community participation and the assessment of intervention impact in a low income, predominately Muslim community of 600,000 people in Mumbai, India. Formative research focused on in-depth interviews with women, men and couples yielding gender normative statements and assessment of community resources to facilitate change. A Gender Equity Scale (GES) based on this formative research was developed and administered annually for a three-year period to random, cross-sectional samples in the intervention and control communities, and to community based, non-governmental organizations (NGO) staff and Imams (religious leaders) in the intervention community. NGO staff disseminated gender oriented messages to their female constituency through their regular outreach activities and through special events and festivals in the community. Imams disseminated gender messages through lectures on social issues for men attending Friday prayers. The results showed that the NGO staff and Imams, assumed more gender equitable attitudes across time. The intervention was associated with a significant improvement in attitudes towards gender equity in the intervention relative to the control community. Men showed a dramatic change in more positive gender attitudes, while women lagged behind in their GES scores. The meaning of these results are explored and the implications assessed for the generalizability of the methodology for other countries, cultures and communities.

DOI: 10.1007/s10464-015-9731-1

Access Publication »

Peer reviewed articles may or may not be accessible to the public depending on the publication and its copyright rules. ICRW provides links to the articles, but cannot guarantee access to their full text. For questions, please contact info@icrw.org or (202) 797-0007.

Terms and Conditions »

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