?Asha?, 19, had long dark hair, an olive complexion and a black eye when she walked into the doctor?s office in Rajasthan, India. Her husband had beaten her up again, and this time, Asha was six months pregnant.
The doctor said, ?What happened? Asha?s father-in-law spoke first.
?She fell down,? he said, explaining Asha?s swollen face. But later with the doctor, Asha privately chronicled the history of physical abuse she had suffered living with her husband and his family.
Studies indicate that Rajasthan ranks fifth in the country for violence against women and such crimes are on the rise. In addition, for every case that is reported, countless other women suffer in silence or have their cases ignored or declared ?false reports? by authorities.
In response, IFES began working with Vishakha Group for Women?s Education and Research, a non-governmental organization in Rajasthan to establish centers that would support women. With USAID funding, IFES provided a grant to Vishakha last year, leading to the establishment of Women?s Guidance and Counseling Centers (Mahila Salah Evam Suraksha Kendra) in ten districts of Rajasthan. These centers were modeled after a pilot center, which was launched in Jaipur in 2002.
Jasveen Ahluwalia, grants manager for the IFES Gender and Law Project, has worked as a counselor at two of the centers. She said the program follows a three-step process.
First, the victim first needs to talk aloud about the violence. At this stage, counselors concentrate on re-establishing the woman?s self-confidence. Then the woman evaluates areas of her life that she would like to see change and considers what she is looking for in a future relationship with her husband, if any.
Finally, the counselor and woman work to form a plan, identifying points the woman wants to negotiate with her husband and then scheduling more therapy where the counselor mediates between the two parties.
?My biggest challenge was to prevent myself from deciding for the woman what was needed and keeping my anger at bay from the accuser,? said Ahluwalia.
Centers are staffed with two counselors with master?s degrees in social work. These counselors facilitate therapy services for patients and can coordinate medical treatment or legal counsel if necessary. If the woman is scared to go home, she also can find shelter at one of the centers. All services at the center are free of charge.
To date, the 10 centers in Rajasthan have handled 1,500 cases. Most involve domestic abuse, but rape, kidnapping and third party violence are among some of the other issues the counselors face.
Ahluwalia counseled Asha through the program?s three-step process. Then she met with Asha?s husband, Harish, to understand how the cycle of violence began. Together, the couple ultimately decided to move away from Harish?s family in order to rebuild a relationship of trust.
?Working with the realization that Asha only wanted to live with her husband because she was pregnant was a challenge,? said Ahluwalia. ?And then following up in a manner which would not pose as a threat to Harish and at the same time help them both start their lives afresh was difficult.?
However, Ahluwalia said the counseling program is designed to enable women to make their own decisions.
?The biggest reward is when the women demonstrate the strength to say no to that violent situation if it reoccurs and can negotiate without external help,? she said.