My Choices Foundation
Taking on India’s domestic violence epidemic
While India is making strides towards gender equality in many areas, it has yet to shake the harsh reality that it is the most dangerous place on earth to be a girl. Violence against women is widespread and remains a topic of national concern – particularly when shockingly brutal cases of violent attacks in public spaces come into the public eye. However in India, as in the rest of the world, the majority of violence against women is perpetrated by a women’s own partner, making her home in fact the most dangerous place for her to be. Recent studies show that 27% of women across India report experiencing intimate partner violence within the past year. This rises to 59% in some states. As these statistics are self-reported, the reality could be even higher. Three out of every four women who are abused not only never seek help, but don’t speak to anyone about the abuse they are facing. This means that crimes against women remain largely unreported to authorities and perpetrators are allowed to continue with impunity. The acceptance of domestic violence can even extend to the authorities; there are numerous instances where police refuse to register a woman’s complaint.
My Choices Foundation takes a multi-stakeholder approach to tackling this epidemic, working with victims of abuse, perpetrators and the police to both intervene in abuse cases and prevent future ones. They train and hire local women as ‘PeaceMakers’ to work within their own communities and provide counselling, rights education, and basic legal aid to victims of abuse. A PeaceMaker can also provide counselling to the perpetrator of abuse. It is important to work with the perpetrator, because it is them, not the victim, who requires behaviour-change to find non-violent ways of expressing emotion and handling disagreement.
Sarojini is a domestic violence survivor. After enduring 15 years of abuse from her husband, she felt that ending her life was the only option. Upon visiting a counselling centre run by My Choices Foundations she said, "I opened up for the first time about the abuse I was enduring since the second day of my marriage." After hearing her story, the counsellor invited her to visit some safe homes, so that if she needed to make an emergency exit from her home and her husband, she had somewhere safe to go. When the time came to escape Sarojini was prepared, she didn’t hesitate, taking her two daughters to the safe house. Sarojini’s life was saved when she took the brave step of leaving her husband. In her own words, she lived “to see my daughters become strong, confident and happy women” who “no longer experience daily stress from being witnesses to abuse.”
My Choices Foundation now run five Counselling Centres, with more scheduled to launch. 209 PeaceMakers have been trained as paralegals and counsellors and 4,359 cases of domestic violence have been successfully managed and peacefully resolved. They have also made impressive strides towards systemic change, through their official partnership with the police in Secunderabad, Telangana. The police now divert their domestic violence cases to Counselling Centers for assessment and legal counselling.
By working with all stakeholders, My Choices Foundation are tackling violence against women from all sides – working to ensure that women can live lives free from violence, abuse and exploitation and will no longer have to be afraid in their own homes.
My Choices Foundation is a finalist for #WalkTogether Prize for Courage as part of The Grassroots Justice Prize.