Courage Brigade

By Maria Hartl, Senior Technical Specialist – Gender and Social Equity, PTA
We celebrated this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November 2015 with the Shaurya Dals (Courage Brigades) in Madhya Pradesh.    
During the workshop on gender and nutrition organized by IFAD’s Policy and Technical Advisory Division, the Asia and the Pacific Division  and the India Country Office for the New Delhi Hub, a field trip took us to a  village in Dindori, - a predominantly tribal district of Tejaswini project where Self-help Groups (SHGs) and the Courage Brigades have changed the life of the community.  Initiated by the IFAD-supported Tejaswini Rural Women's Empowerment Programme in Madhya Pradesh, which was also the exquisite host of our workshop, we could witness how tribal women have been empowered in the course of several years.
About 230 SHGs with over 3000 members have been established, grouped into village committees and federations to become actively involved in community matters and economic activities.  To tackle violence in the community, and in particular violence against women, they established  the Shaurya Dals, small village groups consisting of ten members, with five women from SHG, and the remaining five people – usually men – respected residents of the village.
The groups sensitize the community and intervene directly on all forms of violence in the community, including domestic abuse, rape and molestation of girls, discrimination against women and girls including in matters of food and malnutrition. The Shaurya Dals are well known and their members have authority, so people call on them to take action at any time of the day or night to prevent violence from escalating.
During our visit, we heard the moving testimonials of four representatives. One women told us how the group was called by the  family of a man who was heavily drunk, behaved badly in public and had a row with his wife. The Courage Brigade gathered in the middle of the night to stop the abuse and teach the husband a lesson that his behavior was not tolerated. When a poor widow arranged the marriage of her teenage daughter to an older man, the Courage women suspected that the girl would be trafficked into prostitution. They stepped in when the “groom” arrived to pick up his bride, stopped the transaction and handed the man over to the police, whose confidence and support they have gained over a period of time. When they found out that this poor teenage girl had been abandoned by her mother, they collected funds to send her to a boarding school. They also take a stance against neglect and insecurity. For example, some children found objects that turned out to be explosives used for warding off animal menace. While playing with them, one of the girls lost several fingers. The Courage Brigades charged the men of neglect and endangering the life of the village people,  and arranged for the child to receive medical treatment.
Our staff from 15 projects in India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka participating in the workshop were deeply inspired by the testimonials we heard. We admired how women and men take their destiny into their own hands, finding and negotiating solutions to end and prevent violence in their community. The model of the Courage Brigades  has been so successful that the Government of Madhya Pradesh decided to scale it up across the state and replicate it throughout all districts.
For me, the example of the Courage Brigades shows that society and IFAD have come a long way in addressing violence against women. Only a few years ago, proposed activities to combat violence against rural women were turned down with the argument that these were not rural development issues. Now poor rural women, who have been economically and socially empowered, also through the IFAD-funded programmes, teach us a lesson. Once they have a voice, they use it to address the discrimination they are facing. Gender-based violence – at the household, community and state levels – is the most universal attack on women’s dignity and their human rights.  It may not be explicitly mentioned in IFAD’s global mandate, but it remains one underlying cause of poverty. When rural women are empowered, they also speak out and address violence. 
The Tejaswini Rural Women's Empowerment Programme is an important IFAD investment programme (total project cost: US$ 223.7 million; IFAD loan: US$ 54.4 million. Directly benefiting 1,120,000 households) implemented in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh by the Maharashtra Women's Development Corporation and the M.P. Women's Finance and Development Corporation, respectively. The Maharashtra Tejaswini Rural Women's Empowerment Programme received the IFAD gender award 2015 on the same day we visited its sister project in Madhya Pradesh.

For more information:
·         The power of  Courage Brigades (Video)