Two Women Are Calling on an Entire Generation to End Gender Violence

Mallika Dutt and Sonali Khan are tackling domestic violence, early marriage, and sexual harassment around the world.
Mallika Dutt (left) and Sonali Khan of Breakthrough. (Photos: Skoll Foundation)
Apr 11, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Britni Danielle is a regular contributor to TakePart. She writes on a variety of subjects for Clutch, Ebony, Jet, and others.

This profile is part of TakePart’s series highlighting the six winners of the Skoll Foundation’s Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, announced ahead of the Skoll World Forum, which takes place April 13–15. The award distinguishes leaders who are committed to driving large-scale change; each of the awardees’ organizations receives a $1.25 million investment to scale its work and increase its impact. Jeff Skoll is the founder and chairman of the Skoll Foundation and the founder of Participant Media, the parent company of TakePart.

Leading human rights innovator and lawyer Mallika Dutt’s goal for her organization, Breakthrough, is a lofty one: to create a world where all people live with dignity, equality, and justice. To get there, she’ll need the help of an entire generation.

“Violence against women is a global pandemic. It is the largest human rights pandemic on the planet in terms of the sheer numbers of people that it affects,” Dutt tells TakePart.

To help end the pandemic of violence, Dutt’s organization is hoping to create what she calls a “Breakthrough Generation,” an enormous group of people from all over the world who understand “that everyday norms—casual sexism, discriminatory laws and customs, rigid definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman—enable violence and discrimination” and are willing to do something about it.

RELATED: Why This Man Is Being Called ‘America’s Nelson Mandela’

Dutt, 54, has been on the front lines of the human rights movement for three decades. In 1989, she cofounded Sakhi for South Asian Women, an organization that addresses domestic violence in New York’s large South Asian community, and previously she was associate director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University. Each experience fueled her commitment to building a world in which violence against women comes to an end.

(Photo: Skoll Foundation)

At Breakthrough, Dutt and her team use traditional programming, such as on-campus workshops with fraternity members, to discuss ways to prevent rape, as well as innovative social and multimedia campaigns. Two popular ones include the group’s PSA “Be That Guy,” which asks men to end sexual harassment, and “Ring the Bell,” which encourages men around the world to share personal stories of how domestic violence has affected their lives. Not only does the multipronged approach hit a wide audience in the U.S., but the organization is involved in the global fight against gender-based violence as well.

RELATED: Inside the Group Secretly Helping People Expose Human Rights Violations

“The vision of the organization is to not just cut across geographical boundaries but also culture, religions, and other kinds of denominations,” says Sonali Khan, Breakthrough’s vice president and country director of India. “There is something that all women uniformly experience, and that in itself can help move beyond geographical boundaries.”

In India, Breakthrough tackles domestic violence, early marriage, sexual harassment, and gender-based sex selection through social media campaigns such as #Askingforit and “Mission Hazaar,” a program that aims to end discrimination to make public spaces safe for women.

RELATED: An ‘Avon-Like’ Approach to Lifesaving Health Care

The organization’s mix of pop culture, social media, and on-the-ground campaigns caught the attention of the Skoll Foundation, which tapped Dutt and Khan to be two of the six winners of its 2016 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. In addition to receiving a $1.25 million investment to continue Breakthrough’s efforts in the U.S. and abroad, Dutt and Khan will join an exclusive community of social entrepreneurs. While the financial component will be beneficial, Dutt said the award validates Breakthrough’s work.

“The Skoll Foundation really recognizes the cutting-edge nature of our work, the impact and scale of our work, as well as the importance of dealing with what happens to half of humanity on a daily basis,” she says.

Skoll’s emphasis on storytelling is in line with Breakthrough’s use of multimedia strategies to change cultural norms.

“We really needed to win hearts and minds in much deeper and profound ways,” Dutt says. “People respond to the arts, narrative stories, and different forms of cultural expression that is different from lectures or talks.”

Visit the Breakthrough website to learn more about the organization and support its work.