ICRW's Priya Nanda discusses violence against women in India on BBC World

ICRW's Priya Nanda joins George Alagiah of BBC World's GMT program to discuss violence against women in India, the stigma that surrounds it, and the importance of working with men and boys to change norms around gender equality.

ICRW's Priya speaks with BBC World's GMT host George Alagiah to discuss violence against women in India. Specifically, Nanda talks about the code of silence and stigma surrounding sexual violence, but points to an increase in reporting of sexual violence, even in rural areas. Nanda and Alagiah also delve into the importance of working with men and boys to change norms around gender equality.

New ICRW Study Examines Perceptions of Child Marriage in Bangladesh, India and Nepal

Wed, 04/03/2013

A new ICRW report examines perceptions of different groups about the causes and consequences of child marriage in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, and offers strategies to delay the practice. 

Low education level, lack of community-based livelihood programs and widespread poverty are the primary motives of child marriage in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, according to a new International Center for Research on Women’s (ICRW) report, which examines perceptions about the practice from a variety of groups and recommends strategies to delay child marriage in South Asia.

The study, “Asia Child Marriage Initiative: Summary of Research in Bangladesh, India and Nepal,” explores child marriage through a qualitative study of stakeholders in the region. ICRW carried out the study for Plan International Regional to help Plan better understand the efficacy of its Asia Child Marriage Initiative, which aims to prevent early marriages in the region. The research was conducted in 2012 and led by Ravi Verma, director of ICRW’s Asia Regional Office in New Delhi.

This latest study builds upon ICRW’s nearly 20-year commitment to documenting the causes and consequences of child marriage and devising solutions to prevent it. Meanwhile, ICRW experts recently provided policy recommendations for addressing early marriage in nine Southern Asia countries and, in an ongoing program in Ethiopia with the humanitarian organization CARE, ICRW is striving to better understand what works to empower girls who are already married. 

Child marriage is one of the most prevalent violations of human rights in South Asia where 46 percent of children are married before the age of 18. It disproportionately affects girls, who are much more likely to be married off than boys. Although governments in the region are working to strengthen and enforce child marriage laws, the practice is deeply rooted in social values and norms and is often a result of poverty and lack of opportunities available to women. 

The research findings, gathered from a series of interview and focus group discussions with girls and boys, parents, community leaders and government officials, provide valuable insight into the practice of child marriage in the three countries, how community programs and government should address the issue, and ways to deter and ultimately end the practice.

ICRW researchers found that the cause of child marriage in all three countries is deeply ingrained in tradition and considered inevitable by children and adults alike. In most cases, parents’ fear of putting their daughters at risk of sexual violence or engaging in pre-marital sexual activity prompted them to marry them off young.

Furthermore, most respondents hold the age-old belief that a female’s primary role in life is to care for a husband and children. Poverty and lack of education was also found to be a key driver in each country. For example, girls from lower income families were often married young because of costs associated with education, a preference to educate boys over girls if forced to choose, and the poor quality of schools. A relatively less understood reason for child marriage that emerged was parents’ fear that their daughters would “self-initiate” marriage without their consent, damaging the family’s honor.

The study provides an extensive list of key findings and recommendations to improve current government initiatives and community programs, develop future policy and create mass media messaging in the region. If implemented, researchers say the study’s recommendations can ultimately help change perceptions and delay early marriages in South Asia and other regions where the practice is a major health, development and human rights issue.

The following is a brief summary of key findings and recommendations:

  • Education and poverty are closely linked to age of a girl at marriage
  • Engage men in efforts to prevent child marriage
  • Develop mass media messages that promote respect of the decision for boys and girls to remain unmarried rather than stigmatize unmarried girls
  • Universalize financial support for girls’ secondary education
  • Strengthen the identification and prosecution of parties involved in perpetuating child marriage, and enhance penalties so that the law becomes a deterrent
  • Policymakers should support programs to economically empower girls and women in locations of high prevalence of child marriage and in marginalized communities

Read “Asia Child Marriage Initiative: Summary of Research in Bangladesh, India and Nepal” to view additional recommendations, learn more about how researchers conducted the study and see an assessment of Plan International’s strategies in the region.

Beyond Quotas

New ICRW study finds that gender-responsive governance requires much more than women
Wed, 03/27/2013

New ICRW study finds that gender-responsive governance in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />India requires much more than women.

There is growing global momentum to foster women’s participation and leadership in the political arena, and specifically within local governance structures. India has been at the top of this curve as compared to many countries around the world: Twenty years ago, decentralized governance in India – which ensured that women hold at least one-third of seats in local governing bodies known as Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) – was established with the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution. But have these quotas really enabled PRIs to successfully address concerns faced by ordinary women in India over the past two decades?  

While we unequivocally support mandatory quotas for women’s political participation, sadly, we found that the answer is ‘no’. 
A recent study on the subject published by UN Women and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), whose findings are based on interviews with close to 3,000 men and women who serve on the PRIs in the states of Rajasthan, Karnataka and Odisha, make that abundantly clear. 
What we found was enlightening, if not altogether surprising.  Our study, “Opportunities and Challenges of Women’s Political Participation in India: A Synthesis of Research Findings from Select Districts in India,” reveals that ensuring women’s political representation through affirmative action is an important step in democratizing and stimulating local governance. However, the quota system does not automatically translate into effective governance, nor does it mean that issues of concern to community women will automatically be addressed. If real progress is to be made in responding to half of society’s needs, deep-seated cultural norms around gender roles must also be addressed.  
ICRW researchers found, for example, that elected female representatives who desire to run for another term are more likely to do so if they have a supportive husband who is helping with household duties. Among women who do not run for office again, we found that the number one reason for withdrawing from public life was the time burden of home and child care. And although we observed a range of attitudes among both women and men as to what role women can and should play in leadership, it was clear that PRIs are not considered to be spaces where gender issues, such as domestic violence, can be raised.
The findings from the ICRW study – which is part of UN Women’s program, Promoting Women’s Political Leadership and Governance in India and South Asia – inform key conclusions. Gender quotas are an important tool for moving us toward our goal of gender-responsive governance, in so far as the mere presence of women can transform patriarchal frameworks. Yet we find that the simple adage of “add women and stir” is insufficient on its own—women cannot be solely expected to carry the burden of transforming the governing process into a gender responsive ideal. Additional work needs to be done—at the policy and at the individual level—to transform these spaces into truly democratic and gender-equitable realms.  
These findings come at an auspicious time, as we jump from one generation of women to another since the 73rd amendment was added to the Indian Constitution in 1992. The evidence it provides is exactly what is needed to inform new strategies and policies with the power to bring about a future where girls will not need a quota system to achieve parity in their local, state and national governing bodies.  It is a future well within our reach.
Ravi Verma, Regional Director, ICRW

RADIO INTERVIEW: ICRW's Nandita Bhatla Discusses Gender Equality in India

Wed, 03/27/2013

ICRW's Nandita Bhatla joins Indian radio show "Have a Heart" to discuss gender equality in India, ICRW's research with Indian youth, and what can be done to combat pre-existing attitudes and behavioral norms.

ICRW's Nandita Bhatla joins Indian radio show "Have a Heart" to discuss gender equality in India, ICRW's research with Indian youth, and what can be done to combat pre-existing attitudes and behavioral norms.

Listen to Nandita's interview here>>

Radio Interview: Gender Equality in India (Segment 2)

ICRW's Nandita Bhatla, on Indian radio program Have a Heart, says that while conflict is natural, using violence to resolve conflict is not. She continues to discuss violence and equality and says that violence starts with name-calling and teasing as children. Bhatla says that we have to shun violence in all forms.

Click here to access the next segment>>

Radio Interview: Gender Equality in India (Segment 1)

ICRW's Senior Technical Specialist Nandita Bhatla joins Have a Heart, an Indian radio program, to discuss how attitudes and everyday actions, even unconscious ones, can influence gender equality in India. 

Click here to access the next segment>>

Video: Reducing HIV-related Stigma in India

Fri, 03/15/2013

ICRW researchers spoke to participants of a new project that has transformed attitudes and opened minds.

ICRW researchers spoke to participants of a new project that has transformed attitudes and opened minds.

Watch the video here >>

A Price Too High

The cost of being young and female in India
Thu, 03/07/2013

ICRW’s Jennifer Abrahamson talks to adolescent girls about violence, child marriage and the cost of being young and female in India.

The Indian state of Haryana, a short drive from the capital New Delhi, is known for its social conservatism, a declining female population due to sex selection, and more recently, for a number of brutal rapes reported by the national media.

As I would soon learn, life in rural India is full of contrasts and contradictions. The first family I met wanted to tell me about a local unmarried heroine who at 25 took home a gold medal after winning an international wrestling competition.

“If she’d gotten married, then her concentration would have been on the household and her husband, but she didn’t, and now she’s doing really well,” Susheela, a 37-year-old mother of four daughters, told me.

Life is hard for Susheela but she still smiles a lot. She even smiles when the conversation finally turns to more serious matters: what it was like for her to be married as an illiterate child and move in with a strange family, in a strange village, miles from home.

 “At 14, what had I seen? I never even went to school – parents didn’t send girls to school back then. I came here and my in-laws said ‘work in the fields,’ so I worked in the fields. Because I suffered, I didn’t want them to do the same. I thought it would be better if at least my daughters studied,” Susheela says.

Despite this recognition, – marrying their own teenage daughters off as soon as possible remains their priority due to deeply rooted cultural norms.

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) is currently evaluating an innovative government program that used cash incentives to encourage parents like Susheela to delay marrying their daughters until they turn 18 – with the added hope that attitudes about a girl’s inherent value would improve. One of Susheela’s daughters, 17-year-old Kirin, is among the first girls to take part in the effort, called Apni Beti Apna Dhan (ABAD) – “Our Daughter, Our Wealth.” ICRW’s findings will be released in late 2013. 

For now, Kirin and her older sister, Heena, 19, remain unmarried, and later this year, they will have both completed secondary school. Once Kirin gets her payment (worth $350-$500) the two girls will be immediately married in a joint wedding.

The girls have ambitions to continue on to college and start a career as teachers before settling down. Yet they seemed unsure if they would be able to lead a life outside of the home, despite their parents’ desire for them to study further.

“If our parents-in-law say we can’t continue our studies or get jobs, then we’ll have to listen to them and our dreams will only stay a dream,” Heena says.

Kirin, adds “I become hopeless and my heart breaks at the thought of not going to college. Boys have all the permission, they can go, but not girls, parents are scared. We want to go to Bhiwani town to study full time. But we can’t because of ‘the situation.’”

“The situation” refers to a spate of horrific rapes in the past several months in Haryana. In one of the most severe cases, eight men raped a 16-year-old girl. The powerful Khap panchayats which govern social affairs in Haryana, proposed a solution: lower the legal age of marriage for girls. Although they do not have the authority to do so, girls fear they will incur an additional cost for this escalation in violence against them.

“It is always the girl who is blamed. One does the bad deed, and the other always pays the price,” Heena says.

There is still a long road ahead to gender equity in rural India. But the fact that Heena and Kirin will both finish secondary school, and are still living at home, signals that a generational shift has occurred. At the very least, the quality of these educated sisters’ lives will undoubtedly far exceed that of their mother. Even if it’s unlikely they’ll ever become world class wrestlers.

Jennifer Abrahamson is ICRW’s Senior Director of Strategic Communications. A version of this story appears on the ONE Campaign web site. Not Her Mother's Daughter was Jennifer's last story about adolescent girls in India.

To learn more about how ICRW is working to “change the course for adolescent girls worldwide” visit the Turning Point campaign.

In Tamil Nadu, Domestic Violence Cases Rise, and Women’s Activists Cheer

Thu, 03/07/2013
The New York Times India Ink Blog

Data from one of ICRW's reports - Fertility Decline and Changes in Women’s Lives and Gender Equality in Tamil Nadu, India - was cited to highlight the increase in women's workforce participation in Tamil Nadu.  

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.

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