Oxfam India’s journey from programme to campaign

Oxfam India’s journey from programme to campaign

Ranjana Das looks at the journey of Oxfam India from promotion of violence free lives through programmatic interventions, to developing a campaign on nurturing mutually respectful and equal relationships that are always free of physical, sexual and emotional violence. 

It was in 2008 when we inaugurated our first Women Support Centre (WSC) in Dhenkanal, Odisha. It was also the year when Oxfam India was formed as an Indian entity. Oxfam India, after rounds of discussions with partners and civil societies decided to work on domestic violence and bring the issue to the forefront. This coincided with the passage of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) a couple of years ago in 2006.The implementation flaws of PWDVA were beginning to show by this time. 

So Oxfam India   decided to   address the implementation gaps of PWDV Act through a strategy of setting up the Women Support Centres and community based groups, and raise awareness on domestic violence. The larger goal of the programme was the “Reduction in social acceptance of violence against women and bring a positive change in the policy and programme environment that perpetuates its acceptance at an institutional and community level”. 

The broad objectives were a) to strengthen institutional and community level capacity that address Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG); build capacities of communities and groups to start taking action to prevent and end discrimination and violence against women and girls; b) Policy advocacy to increase responsiveness of the government service delivery of VAWG programmes through state and national alliance building; and, c) provide holistic support to women, facing violence, through district level support institutions. 

What our programme could achieve was most significant at that point of time i.e. to bring the issue of domestic violence to the fore at a time when public reportage around it was missing. 

In the Indian context, discussions around domestic violence are a relatively new issue. Data on violence against women, as reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, mostly reported on rape, dowry and sexual assault; the extent and nature of domestic violence wasn’t conveyed. The second best public source of data has been National Family Health Survey (NFHS). Though NFHS I and II never dealt with domestic violence, it was concerned about women and maternal health. However, NFHS III (and now IV) reported on domestic violence; NFHS III (2005-06) showed that 1 in every 3 women experienced domestic violence. 

It took India years to define domestic violence as something beyond the most commonly reported physical forms of violence; the passage of the PWDVA was a tremendous help here. The Act, for the first time, defined domestic violence as emotional, sexual and economic violence. What it meant was that it wouldn’t just matter that there was manifestation of violence, but the various forms in which violence was perpetrated. 

When five of our Support Centres started functioning in Odisha, our counselors were trained to generate awareness that the centres not only dealt with cases of physical abuse, but also all forms of gender-based violence and sexual abuse. Women who faced discrimination were encouraged to visit the Support Centres and report their cases. The Centres started receiving cases of women being denied jobs, of their incomes being largely controlled by male members of the family, of women forced to quit jobs and not allowed to send their income to their natal families, of verbal abuse by in-laws and spouses and so on. These were cases for which women, usually, did not seek support. 

It took some more time before women began reporting sexual violence especially within marriage. This wasn’t easy. Often rigorous counselling for days were done before women could report of sexual violence. During 2012-13, Muslim girls and women from Hyderabad’s Mughalpura area started reporting sexual violence. This, we believe, was the result of the commendable work the Centres were doing. 

Oxfam India worked within the framework of the Act i.e. any woman in any relation within the household can report any forms of violence —physical violence, gender based discrimination, and sexual, emotional and economic violence. Apart from counseling, the Support Centres assisted women in filing domestic incidence report (DIR) under the Act.

 While the Centres were doing incredible work in handling such cases, a broader question nudged us — “What are we doing to PREVENT domestic violence?” Our partners, donors and civil society were raising these questions as well. Our community awareness generation work was limited to building the capacities of community-based groups on issues related to domestic violence but much more needed to be done. Men started blaming the community workers of invoking women to break marriages and families. In few places, when we started engaging with men there were instances where women were not allowed to attend meetings and trainings. In fact, in many cases male members in the groups came up with disrupting comments like ‘women should be within the family and should be restricted to making food and working in the fields’. Women were able to attend meetings only after the men folk left for work and they finished their household chores. 

This indicated the prevalence of certain ‘social norms’, which defined women’s participation and collectivization — it was either dictated according to the patriarchal norms or decided by the men folk. Any violation of these norms led to violence, which ranged from physical to sexual to economic. What emerged clearly was that men controlled a woman’s mobility and her life choices. These indications were disturbing and any preventive measure required Oxfam India and partners to challenge these norms and, of course, the ones who set such norms. 

The campaign “#BanoNayiSoch” highlights these norms and challenges them to prevent domestic violence. The blueprint of the campaign is to build an equal, mutually respectful and a violence free society for women and girls. Expanding the outreach of the programmes by looping in the adolescent and youth group within the age group of 14-29 years is a very strategic thinking within the campaign. The social norms shape lives at an early age and unless we target these groups we cannot change the mind-sets of the coming generations. 

So why are we challenging the existing norms?  What are we aiming for? We are aiming for a “Mutually respectful, equal and nurturing relationships that are always free of physical, sexual and emotional violence”. This will perhaps challenge the norms that degrade girls and women, restrict their mobility and inflict any forms of violence on them. While we work towards challenging social norms, the communities can begin with a simple pledge (and following it) — “I stand for mutually respectful and violence free relationships. I will speak out and act to prevent violence against women.” 

Oxfam India is now ready for a holistic approach towards domestic violence, where through our programmes we are addressing the cases of domestic violence and through the campaign we are raising voices against the norms and practices that is inflicting violence on women. The campaign strikes at the root cause of the prevailing problems — social norms. 


Written by: Programme Coordinator- Bhubaneswar Ranjana Das


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