"I carry the burden of numbers....if we are not able to scale up, the whole question of urgency (on CEFM) will not be met." Sonali Khan

Panel Discussion: Spotlight on Progress - "Reaching Millions, Not Hundreds: Experiences in Scaling Up Community Social Change"

Context: This presentation is from one of the 14 "Spotlights on Progress" video-recorded sessions from the Girl Summit 2014, London, United Kingdom (UK). The sessions were organised to share best practice between practitioners, grassroots activists, and government ministers across the issues of female genital mutilation (FGM) (also FGM/C - female genital mutilation/cutting) and child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM). Girl Summit is a project of the Department for International Development (DFID), UK.

Profile of speaker: A featured panelist of this Spotlight session was Sonali Khan, Vice President, Breakthrough [see related summaries], whose presentation was entitled "Using multimedia and digital to end early marriage, India". Ms. Khan leads the India and regional operations of Breakthrough. She has led Breakthrough's key campaigns including "What kind of man are you?" in 2005 and the "Is this justice?" campaign in 2007. "She played a pivotal role in conceptualizing and implementing Breakthrough’s Bell Bajao! Campaign [see related summaries] against domestic violence." This campaign has been adapted in China, Pakistan, and Vietnam. "She has positioned Breakthrough - and Bell Bajao - as household names for human rights in India and worldwide. In her current role as the Vice President, Sonali steers the organization and provides strategic direction to Breakthrough. She has been instrumental in expanding Breakthrough’s regional and global reach and has been actively developing support for the organization, and has played a key role in extending the work of Breakthrough to focus on issues of early marriage and gender biased sex selection. Sonali represents the next generation of leaders in the Women’s Rights community who are bringing new techniques and diverse audiences to the movement for human rights and gender justice. Before becoming Breakthrough’s India country director and then VP, Sonali headed up the India office’s media and communication team. Also an accomplished business journalist, Sonali created programs and documentaries for networks including the BBC World Star Plus and CNBC. She has an M.Phil in political philosophy from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi."

Strategy overview: In her presentation, Khan discussed the fact that India is among the highest ranking in numbers of early marriages. And, though, as she states, the community and individual levels are important, scale is needed in India. She gives a cultural overview: parents feel that they are acting in favour of the girl in arranging her early marriage, and girls have no recourse for filing complaints because there is no legal system that includes them. She states that, because marriage is a social act, there needs to be a social solution involving communities, so that girls can feel empowered to speak about their rights. For example, in Bihar and Jharkhand, where Breakthrough is working at the community level, there is a mass media strategy being used to reach people at scale in support of ending CEFM.

From their work on domestic violence, Breakthrough found that it is possible to shift the national dialogue around these issues, and that domestic violence and CEFM are linked. Based on their previous work, Breakthrough is gathering evidence-based information through randomised controlled trials on bundling strategies: community mobilisation, mass media, training, etc. They are working on mid-line data gathering now and will have endline data in 2017, from which lessons learned will be publicly available.

Overview of this Summit Session: From the Girl Summit summary document: "We know community-led social change is an effective, long-term strategy to promote abandonment of FGM and child, early and forced marriage. Reaching millions of people will be a key element of success in the global movement to end the practices and change the futures of as many girls. Yet the intensity, cost and technique of community-led social change present important challenges. Experiences in taking what worked with hundreds in one setting and scaling it up to entire districts and nations will be presented in this interactive spotlight...."

The speakers, in order of appearance, are:
Sonali Khan, Vice President, Breakthrough.

Adama Ndiaye, Secretary-General of the Ministry of the Family, Women and Children, Government of Senegal.

Dr. Ben Cislaghi, Director of Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning, Tostan.

Ato Haileleul Seyoum, Director of Women and Youth Mobilization and Participation Enhancement, Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, Government of Ethiopia, and Dr Annabel Erulkar, Director, Population Council Ethiopia.

Hekate Papadaki, Grants and Development Manager, Rosa Fund.

The session is moderated by Rajesh Mirchandani World Affairs Correspondent/Anchor at BBC News."

Strategy points from the session outline include:

  • "Scale Matters. - given how widespread these practices are and the numbers involved.
  • Girls should be at the heart of any approach. Girls can’t and don’t register complaints after the act. Action must come first to enable girls to have a view - to be able to able to say no and for example resist early marriage for example. Girls clubs and other mechanisms can support this process.
  • How girls are valued matte.r (especially for child marriage) - dowry issues and how girls are seen matters. Push is to get families to invest in education of girls.
  • Discourse matters. - Issue is to shift the discourse on these issues and how they are talked about. Communities’ deliberations and discussions are crucial. These deliberations change communities’ views. 
  • Approaches can transform. - Rights based approaches on these issues can challenge the vision that communities have of gender issues and rights more widely.
  • How communities function matters. - However, when community spaces and debate is restricted and excluded it needs to be opened up before change takes place. Women must join the public space to become actors.
  • National leadership and political will matters. - governments changing laws and clear messaging has an impact without it things are harder.
  • Service providers play a role. - health providers (esp. Reproductive health) child workers, education systems etc. all have a role and should be included in any approach. These actors need a shared vision and ambition.
  • Religious leaders are important. - In the past child marriage was given support by the church. This must change.
  • Linkages matter. - Strong link between domestic violence, wider gender relations and CEFM.
  • Communications are important. - A clear communications strategy using media and other channels are important for scale. National schemes under which communities make public pledges have a role. They can tie in large groups of people.
  • Many interventions are driven by limited evidence. - Research and randomized trials are on-going and will give us more information on what works and how. However, these sort of programmes that involve community engagement need to be flexible and learn from the process of implementation using trial and error."

Footage of this (available below) and other "Spotlights" are available on DFID’s YouTube channel.

The Girl Summit is a project of DFID. Click here and scroll down to see the full list of individuals and organisations committed to working on girls' issues, as well as a list of Girl Summit Charter signatories.


DFID Girls Summit Outcomes website and the "Nation Against Early Marriage" slideshare, both accessed on August 11 2015. Image credit: Breakthrough

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