India is a country of incredible diversity, culture, and tradition. The state has come to dominate the global landscape in various sectors (i.e. information technology), but a sizable segment of the population is deeply marginalized and still lacks access to basic facilities or rights. One of these rights issues is deep-rooted gender inequality.
In Maharashtra, the Indian state where CRHP operates, the status of women remains low. Thirty-five percent of rural married women report having experienced spousal violence, while half of Maharashtrian men believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife. Bride burning (immolation of woman for failure to produce a male child or pay sufficient dowry), female feticide, and widespread sexual harassment are all very real problems faced by women in Maharashtra. Less than 40% of married rural women participate in decision-making.
The daily violence and injustice faced by women produces an array of negative health outcomes, including poor mental health, implications for murder, attempted suicides, HIV risk, and poor maternal and child health. Ultimately, with these women trapped in the misery of their own lives, entire communities are also marginalized with respect to health, development, and human well-being.
Freedom from violence is a fundamental human right. Since its inception in 1970, CRHP has implemented programs that aim to improve health and decrease violence against impoverished women and girls in rural India.
CRHP utilizes a multi-sectoral approach to promote gender equity and develop the capacity of women and girls. This is currently taking place in 40 project villages. CRHP initiatives such as Village Health Worker Training, Women’s Groups, and the Adolescent Girls Program provide women and girls with the skills necessary to advocate for equity and change gender norms in their communities.
However, this is not enough. Recognizing the importance of male involvement in the mitigation of root causes of violence against women and girls, CRHP has implemented an innovative primary prevention strategy to complement its existing initiatives: the Adolescent Boys Program.
Acceptance of violent behavior, alcohol abuse, exposure to parental violence, and attitudes that reward male entitlement increase the risk of intimate partner and sexual violence against women. The purpose of the Adolescent Boys Program (ABP) is to build the capacity of rural males ages 12-18 to advocate for gender equity and decrease the risk of violence and discrimination against women and girls.
ABP covers many topics, including gender equity, reproductive health, peer pressure, and community leadership; it also provides a foundation for the formation of self-help groups. The 10-week program utilizes a hands-on, gender-transformative approach designed to provide boys in CRHP project villages with the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to promote gender equity at the individual and community level. Emphasis will be placed on violence against women and girls, gender norms, alcohol abuse, health promotion, decision-making, and communication skills.
By empowering the boys, CRHP hopes to improve the wellbeing of their female counterparts as the boys continue to use the skills and knowledge learned in the program to develop themselves and their villages.
Producing a radical social change is a long-term investment that entails changing the mindset of one person at a time. We aim for ABP to transform the lives of each set of boys in a meaningful way, which will eventually result in a concrete reduction in domestic violence in the area and the widespread rejection of dowry as a cultural norm.
ABP will change the prevailing social norms and practices, encouraging the recognition of the equal value of females in society and developing the skills of the next generation of village men. Lessons in gender equity will have a far-reaching impact on their families and villages, especially for the women.
By learning about and practicing decision-making skills, the participants will engage with and handle the pressures of leadership positions, peer pressure, and village violence. Instilling a sense of responsibility for village development in the participants will contribute to healthier, more equitable villages. The health knowledge imparted through the program will serve to improve health outcomes for the boys themselves, their future children, and their communities at large.
Change can only be successful when it is an inclusive endeavor that involves all stakeholders. Here at CRHP, we believe that our boys are key stakeholders in the improvement of the lives of our women and the community as a whole. We believe this campaign will transform the lives of each of these boys and holds the promise for better health and social equity for our women.