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United for a Cause

Swayam has stepped up efforts to fight violence against women

United for a Cause

Rweeta Basu, 50, had never been a writer but now she has seven books and a film script to her credit besides being a theatre artiste and a social worker. It all started when the former homemaker attended creative writing workshops organised by the Kolkata-based not-for-profit organisation Swayam, dedicated to supporting women who are survivors of all forms of violence, including domestic violence. It also runs a theatre group, a music group and an editorial team that publishes the quarterly magazine Prayas - all spearheaded by the 'survivors' who are now agents of change themselves. "We build capacities of survivors to help other women in similar situations," says founder Anuradha Kapoor.

Kapoor started Swayam in 1995 when she realised the need for an organisation that could look into all aspects of domestic violence. "Most organisations were providing legal advice or counselling or shelter, but no one had a holistic view," she observes. Initially, the two-member team decided to put together a resource directory listing all such organisations and gradually took a ground-breaking stand to deal with all forms of violence against women. Its current team of 38 is now handholding women to form self-help groups and building capacity at the grass roots through training and workshops so that they can deal with abuse in their communities.

The response was overwhelming from the start. What Swayam workers heard from the victims of violence was unnerving at first, but they soon started to train as counsellors to help the women in need. It also conducts training programmes on counselling and self-help to ensure that new organisations can quickly get off the ground. "We cannot become huge, but we can help others for a large-scale impact," says Kapoor.

Swayam is a feminist rights organisation that sees violence against women as a violation of human rights. It played a key role when the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDVA) was passed and is currently working with different stakeholders across states and at the Centre. In December 2006, its strategy of mobilising resources through collaboration was turned into a formal initiative called Aman - Global Voices for Peace in the Home. It is a network of organisations and individuals in India and abroad working to prevent domestic violence against women. Aman now has 180 national and four international members.

Kapoor contributed to the Chapter on Violence against Women in the Civil Society in the CEDAW Alternative Report (2014) and the next year, a 732-page litigation guide-PWDVA judgements compilation was released. She also conducted training for High Court and Supreme Court judges in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as part of the Asia Pacific Forum on Judicial Education on Equality Issues.

Three years ago, Swayam started including men and boys in its awareness campaigns. "Domestic violence has pervaded our society and men often do not know that hitting women is wrong," says Kapoor. "Children, too, need help as they are the hidden victims of abuse."

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