“This is not the first rape case, and this is obviously not the last, but the kind of fire it has ignited in the hearts of millions is what differentiates this case from the rest,” says Sakshi Kumar, founder of Justice for Women, a grass-roots initiative offering free self-defense and martial arts classes to women across India.
Kumar is referring to the fatal Dec. 16 gang-rape attack of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi, which continues to make international headlines and spur a national outcry of protests, demonstrations, and political unrest in this country of 1.2 billion.
As the trial of the five suspects, including a sixth person who will be tried in juvenile court, is under way, a number of social enterprises, nonprofits, and international movements are reacting to the larger discussion of women’s rights.
Justice for Women, entirely volunteer-led, began as a Twitter hashtag in response to the Guwahati molestation case. Kumar decided to take action through social media and set-up a blog, Facebook Page and YouTube channel, forming an online platform to marshal resources and stand up for women who have been wronged. Seven months later, Justice for Women now organizes classes that teach women everything from Krav Maga to karate in academies and institutes willing to volunteer their services.
In addition to the free workshops, Kumar adds, “We’ve written letters to various authorities suggesting ways to cure the crisis of gender inequality in our country; by means of our blog, we’ve been educating women about laws and rights on various issues from cyber stalking to domestic violence; we guide women in need to appropriate organizations where they could get immediate help.”
Conversations addressing sexual assault continue online at Gotstared.at, winner of the 2012 U.N. World Summit Youth Award in the category “Power 2 Women”. Dhruv Arora founded the site to create a virtual platform inviting women around the world to upload pictures of what they wore when being harassed.
Arora said he started Gotstared.at in January 2012, during a time when many claimed that women who dress provocatively invite rape. With over 14,000 “likes” on his Facebook Page, Mr. Arora also posts posters with bold statements about the issues of rape and sexual violence to “get a conversation started around these much-ignored issues.”
The Equal Community Foundation (ECF) takes a unique approach to women’s rights — mobilizing men to uplift women. The nonprofit organization, based in Pune, India, runs “behavior-change programs” such as its Action for Equality program, engaging men aged 14 to 17 in low-income urban communities to be positive agents of change.
Founder and CEO of ECF, Will Muir, says its focus is on violence and gender-based discrimination. Through his work he aims to inspire a new generation of social programming and professionals who dedicate their lives to the cause of women and child rights.
In response to the Delhi gang-rape, Mr. Muir notes that “there are men in every community who care, and there are organizations, albeit only a handful, working to develop methods that will tackle this problem at its root. This is an issue that can only be solved with men, and we want you to know that ECF’s staff and volunteers care and want to help.”
According to a 2005 UNFPA report, India’s national sex ratio is 933 females per 1,000 males, largely due to female foeticide, infanticide, and discrimination against girls. ECF states only 5 percent of organizations in India engage men as part of the solution, and it wishes to change this statistic.
Activist and famed playwright of the Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler, had this to say: “If the good men who are not doing the raping, if the good fathers who are teaching different things do not rise up and speak to the other men and train, educate, and work with the other men, we will never end violence against women and girls.” Ms. Ensler is currently touring India and Bangladesh promoting her One Billion Rising campaign, an international movement calling 1 billion women and girls to action on the 15th year anniversary of V-Day on February 14, 2013.
For Gauri Singh, CEO and founder of The Maids’ Company, the recent uproar over the gang-rape attack meant creating a shuttle system to safely transport her female employees to and from work. Based in the outskirts of Delhi, Singh’s social enterprise, which she started 18 months ago, manages 90 maids who are also co-owners of the company and share equity.
Ms. Gauri states that her work is focused on “the economic independence of women – both low-income and middle-high income women. Through [The Maids’ Company] we provide secure jobs with good wages to low-income migrant urban women.” With increased income, women are able to resist domestic violence and improve their bargaining position in their families, Gauri believes.
“For me personally, the situation at home has changed a little,” Kumar says. Calling Delhi home, she adds that everyone has become more vigilant and proactive.
“Women have started carrying weapons like pepper spray and knives along. They’re realizing that it’s as much their responsibility as anyone else’s to ensure safety.”
For more information about the social enterprises, nonprofits, and movements mentioned:
Justice For Women (comprised of a team of four volunteers — Sakshi Kumar, Dr. Anita Hada Sangwan, Ankita Garg, Zena Costa)
Gotstared.at (founded by Dhruv Arora)
Equal Community Foundation (founded by Will Muir)
One Billion Rising campaign (founded by Eve Ensler )
The Maids’ Company (founded by Gauri Singh)