Happiness workshops to tackle domestic violence

No genuine progress is possible without equal opportunities for men and women. But in India women have always been at a disadvantage and subject to domestic violence. This has therefore been an area of focus for SWISSAID for almost ten years.

“Dad, when are you coming back for dinner? I miss you!” When Ankush Bardes is cutting sugar cane in the evening at the plantation, no other phone call makes his heart beat faster. What other fathers take for granted, he has to work hard for: the trust and love of his three children – and his wife.

He reveals that he used to maltreat and shout at his wife, frightening the children so much that they hid whenever he came home.

Ankush and his wife Songita married 13 years ago. The bride had just turned seventeen when she said ‘I do’. Ankush, who was then aged 22, was still attending college. Despite graduating with good qualifications, as a member of the Pardhi, one of the lowest social castes, he couldn’t find a permanent job and became very angry. He was also afraid that men from higher castes would take an interest in his wife, if she had to work as a day labourer.

Trapped in patriarchal structures

The expectation of a married Indian woman living in a rural village is that she has children and looks after her husband at home, while the young man must guarantee the family’s income. “When that wasn’t possible, I took my fear and rage out on my wife”, Barde explains.

The turning point was a first group meeting that SWISSAID’s partner organisation set up in the village near Beed. Here, for the first time he met men with whom he could share his experience and campaigners who demonstrated other ways of behaving. “I learned to rein in my anger”, explains Barde, who now works as a group leader at the sugar cane plantation and advises other Pardhi men. He can see relationships between men and women improving throughout the village.

SWISSAID’s equal opportunities project that the couple benefits from covers 140 villages in the poorest region of Maharashtra State. The partner organisations SPMM and MANAVLOK manage local drop-in centres, offer legal advice, establish women’s shelters, direct self-help groups and offer advanced training for police officers and judges.

The partner organisations have long since grasped the idea that equality also affects men and that gender roles are already fixed during early childhood. They therefore deliberately target children and young people, both girls and boys. Young couples are invited to fun marital workshops that promote mutual respect and allow affection to flourish – as an effective violence prevention strategy.

Marital seminars at beginners’ and advanced levels

“Introduce your partner and emphasise her good points”, is the initial task of a ‘happiness workshop’. Several of the young men are searching for words – they can’t think of any good points other than having their meals served on time. Later the couples will discuss with each other what they liked – or disliked – about the other’s presentation. In role-play exercises they find out how to treat each other with affection and establish respect. Other topics include contraception and alcohol consumption as well as equal opportunities – why should the woman do all the housework? Why does the man own the arable land?

The example of Ankush and Songita Barde shows that these and similar workshops are successful and that violence can be checked. Songita is full of praise, “Today, I’m the happiest woman in the village.” She can criticise her husband, and doesn’t always need to prepare the meal because he gets his own. “And I’m so privileged that whenever I’m tired, I can even say no to sex.”




Project code: IN 2/13/16

Project duration: 24 months

Project costs: 106'450.- Swiss francs

Target group: 140 Villages in Beed Disctrict