An Indian state is challenging gendered violence, such as rape and child marriage, by setting up groups of male and female community leaders to exert social pressure on offenders. The “Courage Brigades” in Madhya Pradesh give women a leading role in resolving disputes, and work with offenders to come up with solutions, rather than report crimes to the police.
Results & Impact
Courage Brigades operate in 2,733 villages across the state. As they operate informally, there is only anecdotal evidence about their effectiveness. IFAD reports that they have prevented child marriages and forced prostitution, built women’s toilets, forced gambling dens and makeshift bars out of villages, and taken control of a government-funded meal scheme that fed schoolchildren contaminated rice. When police ignored the murder of a 14-year old boy from the Dalit class, the local Brigade protested and the murderer was jailed
The Madhya Pradesh state government, United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development
The Courage Brigades challenge structural violence and damaging conservative beliefs through community-based solutions. Each Brigade is made up of five female and five male leaders who are chosen because they are well-liked and respected within their community. They work one-on-one with villagers to address taboo subjects like rape, domestic abuse and caste violence, among other injustices. The key to the Community Brigades program is exerting social pressure to enact change. The government initiated the project, and IFAD provides funding
Madhya Pradesh, India
Women, low-income people, rural population
Cost & Value
Running since 2014
After a successful pilot, the government organised Courage Brigades in 2,733 villages across six districts
The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is trying to stamp out gender-based violence and inequality through social pressure.
Courage Brigades, or Shaurya Dal, are community initiatives made up of five female and five male leaders. The leaders, who are chosen because they are well-liked and respected within their community, work one-on-one with villagers to challenge attitudes around rape, domestic abuse, caste violence, child marriage and other injustices. In India’s rural communities, law enforcement often fails to uphold national laws.
The Madhya Pradesh government initiated the volunteer project in 2014 after a string of horrific and highly publicised rapes. The state has the most instances of reported rate in the country, with 4,391 in 2015.
After a successful pilot, the government organised Courage Brigades in 2,733 villages across six districts. Funding comes from the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), an agency that finances development projects in rural communities.
The Courage Brigades challenge sexist and discriminatory attitudes through community-based solutions, rather than report crimes to the police. The program is particularly effective because women who are afraid to walk into a local police station – typically a male-dominated space – can instead turn to a neighbour for help. The Brigades, which give women a leadership role over their male partners, visit the offending husband, parents or in-laws, and try to resolve the issue. They often introduce the family to others in the community who have struggled, often in secret, with a similar problem.
The key to the Community Brigades program is community pressure. If a husband is caught hitting his wife, he can’t simply continue doing so – the Brigade leaders live in the same village. According to the IFAD, their mere presence in the community is a deterrent.
The groups operate informally, and don’t submit reports to the government or IFAD. Thus far, there is only anecdotal evidence that the groups are working. IFAD reports that they have prevented child marriages and forced prostitution, built women’s toilets, forced gambling dens and makeshift bars out of villages, and took control of a government-funded meal scheme that fed schoolchildren contaminated rice.
The community leaders only approach law enforcement in worst case scenarios. This was the case when a 14-year-old boy, the nephew of a Brigade leader, was murdered in Narayanpura, a 1,554-person village in India’s Chhatarpur district.
A neighbour severed the boy’s fingers, toes and tongue, causing him to bleed out and die – simply because the boy’s goat ate the neighbour’s grain. Local police refused to act because the boy belonged to the Dalit class, “untouchables” that fall outside of the traditional caste system. Authorities took action against the neighbour only after members of the community’s Courage Brigade laid across the local highway, blocking traffic in protest. The group’s efforts worked, and the murderer is now in prison.
In addition to resolving conflict, the groups also help women start small businesses and get access to financial services. The groups have fostered solidarity among the women, who are pooling money to open businesses like bakeries and beauty parlours.
(Picture credit: Flickr/Steve Evans)