Recently gang-rape of women has featured frequently in India – in Mumbai, in New Delhi and in Haryana and in other parts of India. Indeed, a 2011 survey by Thomson Reuters Foundation, reveals that India is the fourth-worst place in the world to be a woman, after Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Pakistan, as a result of abortion of girl foetuses, human trafficking, sexual violence and poor education.
In the State of Tamil Nadu – where Jeevika’s partner organisation, WORD, works closely with Dalit village women* who represent some of India’s most impoverished women – protection of women against domestic violence and other forms of discrimination is a well-entrenched concept.
Within the village areas in which WORD works, a high level of discrimination and prejudice against the Dalit community still exists: women suffer domestic violence from spouses – who themselves face discrimination and exploitation – and nearly two in five married women (37%) experience physical or sexual violence by their husbands.
The more frequent forms of violence that are perpetrated against Dalit women are verbal abuse (62.4% of total women), physical assault (54.8%), sexual harassment/assault (46.8%), domestic violence (43.0%) and rape (23.2%).
WORD – together with the support of Jeevika Trust and the Innocent Foundation is currently implementing a range of activities to support nearly 900 Dalit women who experience discrimination on a regular basis.
The key to the change in the lives of Dalit women working with WORD has been their training as Watch Dog Committee members. Together with training provided to local representatives of Panchayats (govt. councils), to the police and to other Women’s Self-Help Group members, they work collaboratively (with a woman lawyer, if necessary) to report and combat sexual violence and other forms of discrimination, including child labour and child marriage.
Members of the Watch Dog Committee initiative are simultaneously trained to generate family income through coir rope-making, tailoring and vegetable production which directly benefits their family members and builds confidence for these same women to engage in Committee activities that enable them to take control of their lives while reducing the level of violence and other forms of discrimination within their community.
Mrs Siva Muniyandi, WORD’s Director, says:
Our first Watch Dog Committee has been operational for less than a year now but already it has rescued two child labourers, has prevented a child marriage and the sexual abuse of a 17-year old girl. Watch Dog Committees really do have teeth!
* The term ‘Dalit’ is interchangeably used with term ‘Scheduled Castes’, and these terms include all historically discriminated communities of India including those once known as ‘Out-castes’ & ‘Untouchables’.
If you would like to support Jeevika help WORD train more Dalit Women as Watch Dog members and to generate income to improve their village status, please go to