DAWN Worldwide, the Boston-based charity founded to tackle gender-based violence, held its first Diwali gala and fund-raiser on Saturday, November 4th. DAWN (Direct Action for Women Now) Worldwide was co-founded in early 2013 by Geeta Aiyer, the founder of Boston Common Asset Management, in response to a growing awareness of sexual violence, partly catalyzed by the infamous ‘Nirbhaya’ rape case in Delhi.
“This isn’t a women’s issue. It’s a societal issue.”
The event had over eighty attendees and showcased DAWN Worldwide’s multifaceted approach. Anu Chitrapu was the MC for the evening’s varied program. Comedian Ben Atherton-Zeman, a self-identified ‘recovering sexist’ who has worked all over the world, including India, China and even at military bases, kicked off the evening with an account of his work training men and boys to identify and speak out against sexism. Touchingly, a number of men in the audience stood up and recited a pledge to challenge sexism when they encounter it. DAWN Worldwide believes the roots of gender-based violence lie in complex, entrenched attitudes towards masculinity, patriarchy and the role of women and that understanding these is essential to effecting change. A film created by award winning film maker Gauri Adelkar was also showcased. This film shows the transformation of teenage boys in Mumbai and Pune, India, as a result of training programs conducted by DAWN Worldwide’s partner NGO, MAVA (Men Against Violence and Abuse). DAWN Worldwide supported the making of this film, and has funded MAVA’s campus-based gender sensitization program in recent years.
Keynote speaker Sujata Warrier then launched into a discussion of her incredible work as a rape crisis counselor and trainer in the U.S. and India. DAWN Worldwide has supported a number of training programs conducted by Sujata and others in India, to raise awareness of survivor-centric counseling, in collaboration with the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT) and Family Planning Association of India (FPAI). While expertise developed in the U.S. must be adapted by local organizations overseas as they see fit, the long-term hope is to share it with a cadre of social workers across India and perhaps the world. Sujata spoke eloquently of the complexity of challenges faced by survivors of gender-based violence, including an inadequate legal framework.
The evening ended with a striking dance performance by local danseuse and teacher, Urmi Samadar and her students. This began with an ode to the warrior-goddess Durga and featured elements of the classical dances, Odissi and Kathak. Amritha Kasturirangan and Purnima Thakre delivered concluding remarks to the engaged audience.
The gala was a success in publicizing the work undertaken by this thoughtful charity. Notably, many of DAWN’s committed volunteers originally had little expertise in gender-based violence, but were motivated to ‘do something’ about what they perceived as a global epidemic with complex roots. The funds raised will be used for DAWN’s ongoing dual strategy of helping survivors and changing public attitudes. To volunteer or donate, please visit www.dawnww.org
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