Why we work in India
Discrimination against women is widespread in India. Women living in the poorest areas have almost no access to finances, land and inheritance rights. Domestic violence, rape, harassment, acid attacks and ‘honour killings’ are frequently reported.
Women in India face extremely high levels of sexual violence. Shockingly, one rape is reported every 15 minutes on average, and countless more are committed.
This violence is closer to home than many might think; in 95% of reported rapes, the survivors knew their rapist.
Despite the large number of cases of sexual violence in India, there are relatively low conviction rates for perpetrators. Legal loopholes and poor implementation of the law mean that many survivors are unable to successfully prosecute their abusers and get access to justice.
Many women do not report these crimes at all, from fear of social stigma and the high cost of legal fees.
What we do in India
Ending violence against women and girls
In India, we run One-Stop Crisis Centres where survivors of violence can get access to immediate and comprehensive support, a safe place to sleep and emotional, medical and legal help all under one roof.
When ActionAid's Gauravi One-Stop Crisis Centre in Madhya Pradesh (the state with the highest reported rate of violence against women and girls in India) opened in 2014, it was the first of its kind in the country.
Since the centre was established, it has supported 39,777 women and girls. An estimated 90% experienced violence from someone that they knew.
As well as supporting survivors, our local outreach workers are changing attitudes and challenging stigmas to end violence against women and girls. They are empowering women to recognise different types of violence within the home, and know where to get support.
ActionAid is also working with communities and law enforcers to them help spot the signs of abuse, report violence and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted.
Building on the success of our existing Gauravi One-Stop Crisis Centre, ActionAid plans to support 11 One-Stop Crisis Centres in Madhya Pradesh in the next year and train more workers and volunteers to help survivors of sexual violence get access to justice.
Across India, ethnic minority and caste groups experience discrimination, abuse and violence. Known as India’s ‘hidden apartheid,’ one in six people are affected by ethnic or caste discrimination.4 This includes not allowing people from lower castes to go to school, own land or have certain jobs.
In the state of Karnataka, ActionAid is supporting the Koraga tribe to stand up for their rights. Traditionally, Koraga tribespeople are restricted to the profession of basket weaving – meaning that many live in extreme poverty.
Together with the Koraga community, ActionAid has fought to reclaim land stolen by high caste neighbours, opened the discussion on women’s rights in the community and set up centres where children can play and learn.
Witnessing discrimination against their classmates, students also organised a federation to protect Koragas children at school.
ActionAid’s cooperative scheme is providing a lifeline to women living in some of the poorest parts of India, where food is scarce.
With a small grant and business training from local staff, women choose a livelihood and re-invest the profits back into the cooperative for everyone to share, so that they can feed their families.
According to estimates by experts, there are 63 million missing women in India7 because girl babies are being aborted before they are born. India’s annual economic report found that there were only 39 girls born per 100 births between 2015 and 2016.8
Because girls are seen as a burden to their families due to the tradition of giving a daughter’s dowry, many mothers are forced into taking an illegal sex determination test. If the foetus is female, they can be pushed into having an abortion.
ActionAid’s ‘Beti Zindabad’ campaign aims to protect girls by stopping female foeticide. Beti Zindabad means ‘Long Live Daughters’ and celebrates the birth of a daughter in the same way that the birth of a son is celebrated.
In 2014, a Beti Zindabad campaign on Mumbai’s local trains reached millions of commuters with messages including: “If we don’t wake up now, it might be too late”.
Training women to become economically independent
When Talat, from India, got married aged 17, her husband’s family began abusing her. They would demand money from her and prevent her from leaving the house on her own – not even to see own mother.
After five months of abuse, Talat’s mother helped her daughter leave her husband’s house and got in touch with staff at the Gauravi One-Stop Crisis Centre, which had recently opened. Talat enrolled on a rehabilitation programme for women who had been affected by abuse.
As part of the programme, Talat was given an option to learn to make poppadums or train as an autorickshaw driver. “When this opportunity came to me to learn how to drive, I chose it because I wanted to learn something different and be a woman auto driver,” she says.
Talat lacked confidence when she first went behind the wheel, but now feels happy on the road. In the future, she hopes to transport women and girls to and from the centre, as well as teach other women to drive.
Supporting people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic
India has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic: there have been more than 44 million confirmed cases, and more than 530,000 deaths.2
In 2021 the country suffered an extreme wave of Covid-19 cases, which saw hospitals becoming overwhelmed and supplies of oxygen running out.
ActionAid has worked tirelessly to support the most vulnerable communities in India, including:
- Distributing thousands of safety and sanitation kits, including protective items for communities to use in sanitation work, burials, and other essential activities.
- Setting up help-desks to provide vital information and connect people with appropriate services (health, vaccination, ambulances).
- Providing direct cash transfers for immediate food and health needs.
- Arranging testing and vaccination camps to ensure widespread vaccination coverage.
- Reaching out to some of the most vulnerable including migrants in rural and urban areas, ensuring they have access to health check-ups and quarantine information.
Fish farming keeps rural women afloat
Mylapalli is a member of a fishing cooperative, made up of 40 women and supported by ActionAid in Andhra Pradesh, south-eastern India.
“My husband is a fisherman and I sell dried fish,” she says. “The cooperative has made life better for my family. We learn so many useful things in the training sessions, for example how much salt to put on the fish, where to dry them and when to dry. This helps us to enhance the quality of the fish, so we get more money.”Read more about our work on sustainable livelihoods
Celebrating the birth of baby girls
After a boy is born, it is traditional for an Indian family to throw parties, bang drums and give out sweets.
ActionAid India's campaign to celebrate daughters is centred around celebrating the birth of baby girls in the same way, to show that they are just as important and valued as boys.
“Many mothers say how we [made an effort to] congratulate them and say a few kind words on the birth of a daughter,” says Smita Khanijow, from ActionAid India. “These gestures go a long way for them as they get acceptance within their families and society.”Learn more about our work to end violence against women and girls
Women challenging discrimination
Sabita, 28, belongs to the Koraga tribe. Orphaned as a child, Sabita was forced to drop out of school twice because her uncle couldn’t afford the fees.
“But I always loved studying. The condition of the people in my community prompted to me study further,” she says.
Today, Sabita is an assistant professor of sociology at Mangalore University. Infuriated by the humiliating and discriminatory practices Koraga people face, Sabita lobbied for change. Now her people are treated with more respect in their community.
Sabita is a role model to aspiring students – she’s the first person from her tribe to become a professor.How education transforms girls' lives
Page updated 6 March 2023