Imagine that any time you or someone in your community overheard a neighbor abusing his wife, daughter or mother, you rang their doorbell. Using a pretense such as asking for a glass of water, or asking for the time, you'd be interrupting an act of violence and putting the perpetrator on notice that his behavior was unacceptable. Moreover, you might even be saving that woman's life.
This elegantly simple action lies at the heart of a campaign to reduce entrenched domestic violence in India, where "dialing 9-1-1 is not really an option," said Mallika Dutt, executive director of Breakthrough, a non-profit organization devoted to human rights. Called Bell Bajao, Hindi for "Ring the Bell," the campaign has made men and boys part of the solution to India's epidemic of domestic violence, Dutt said.
The idea, she added, came after Indian women shared their feeling that "unless men get involved, we're not going to get anywhere."
Her organization commissioned a series of award-winning television advertisements to engage men in the fight against victimization of women. "It was the first time that they were asked to be part of a solution."
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The ads proved so effective – reaching an estimated 130 million people and raising by 49 percent awareness about a problem normally kept behind closed doors -- that Ring the Bell is going global, with help from the Clinton Global Initiative, Dutt announced Tuesday at the opening session of the Initiative's 2010 annual meeting in New York. In an interview afterward, Dutt said she was delighted with the opportunity to showcase the program "to some of the best and the brightest leaders. It's very exciting to be going global with something from a BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] country."
The strategy is just one of a number of simple solutions discussed at the meeting, many of which place women at the center of the equation.
Eliminating disease and improving health for everyone "comes down to women," said Melinda French Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation, which is the world's best-endowed charity, recently announced it would invest $1.5 billion to support women and girls. Specifically, the Foundation seeks to afford girls access to education, which has been shown to reduce the likelihood they'll marry early and become pregnant in their teens, when they're more prone to dying in childbirth, Clinton noted.
The relationship between health and a woman's traditional domain of home and hearth was driven home by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She announced the launch of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an international public-private partnership to improve health conditions for the 3 billion people in developing countries whose meals are prepared on old stoves or hearths, typically by women who breathe in "a toxic mix" of smoke and pollutants reaching levels 200 times "the amount that our EPA considers safe for breathing." Cleaning up that indoor air with cleaner-burning, fuel-efficient stoves means fewer women and children will die of lung diseases caused by smoke. It also means fewer women will have to forage for twigs and sticks in countries where just stepping outdoors puts a woman "at increased risk of sexual assault," Clinton said.