What We Do

Breakthrough
is a human rights organization
working to make violence and discrimination
against women and girls unacceptable.

Our cutting-edge multimedia campaigns, community mobilization, agenda-setting,
and leadership training equip men and women worldwide to challenge the status quo and
take bold action for the dignity, equality, and justice of all.

Join the Breakthrough Generation

The critical mass of change agents who will deliver irreversible impact
on the issue of our time, in this lifetime.

Who is the Breakthrough Generation?

YOU are the Breakthrough Generation.

Our Approach

HUMAN RIGHTS are universal and fundamental. More than a matter of oppression in far-off lands, they are intrinsic to the way we treat each other in our communities, in our families, and in our homes. For this reason, we use pop culture, multimedia, community mobilization, and leadership training to reach people where they are and ignite change in the world around them.

Our Focus

BREAKTHROUGH seeks to make discrimination and violence against women and girls unacceptable everywhere and in all its forms, including domestic violence, sexual harassment in public spaces, early marriage, and gender-biased sex selection. We address these issues through the lens of gender, sexuality and human rights.

Our Strategies that transform hearts & minds to inspire people to act for change

1

Media

We use media, arts, pop culture, and technology—animations, music videos, video games, social media and more—to reach mass audiences where they are, challenge norms, and make human rights values and issues real, relevant, urgent, and actionable.

2

Training

We train new generations of leaders in schools, neighborhoods, and civil society groups to ignite change in the world around them.

3

Partnerships

We develop strategic, game-changing partnerships with communities, governments, businesses, and entertainment leaders to reach maximum scale and lasting impact.

4

Community

We cultivate grassroots community engagement to raise awareness and inspire action for local and global human rights issues.

5

Impact

We measure our impact and share lessons learned in the broader field of innovations for social justice and human rights.

The Issues We Address

Did you know that often the most dangerous place for a woman is her own home?
In the least developed countries, nearly half of all girls will marry before age 15. And in India, 47 percent of women are married by age 18.
50 million girls have gone missing in India. You can help bring them back.
As many as 92% of women in India have experienced sexual violence in a public space.

Home. The one place that should always stand for safety, security and well-being. Isn’t it sad that for millions of women, home is associated with assault, pain and fear. For many of these women, violence is the only home they know.

1 in 3 murders of women across the world are committed by their intimate partners. Oddly, much of the world still doesn’t see this as something that needs to stop. Now. 60 nations now have laws regulating domestic violence. But the cultural environment in the other two-thirds of the world still sees violence against women as acceptable or justifiable. 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime (UN Women).

Would you like to know why? Patriarchal cultures, like India, have traditionally held that it is a ‘man’s world’. Media, entertainment, advertising, arts and culture reinforce gender roles and stereotypes.

“When my parents mentioned marriage I had no idea what marriage even meant,” says Kamla, a young woman in Hazaribag, in the Indian state of Jharkhand. They married her off, she says, when she was 12 or 13. More than half the girls in Jharkhand are married before they turn 18, making it the state with the third-highest rate of early marriage in India, which (though the practice has been illegal there for a century) is home to the largest number of early marriages in the world. “Gaon mein aisa hi hota hai” ( This is how it happens in villages) they say.

We believe we can change that. And we must.

Between 2011 and 2020, if current rates hold, more than 140 million girls will marry before age 18. That translates to 14.2 million girls annually — or 39,000 every day. Of these, 50 million will be under the age of 15. That adds up to a serious global crisis. Early marriage is a profound violation of the human rights of girls. It also means an early, and devastating, start to a cascade of related human rights violations – threats to sexual, reproductive, and maternal health; domestic violence; denial of education, mobility, self-determination, and more — that last a lifetime and cost girls, families, communities, and nations inestimable human capital. Fortunately, we have attention and momentum on our side. Shocking reports of violence from Delhi to Steubenville, from South Africa to the U.S. military have brought unprecedented public attention to the global pandemic of violence against women — along with an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the shared connections, causes, and consequences of all forms of such violence, including early marriage. If we can stop early marriage, we can stop some of those cycles early too.

What is the scope of the problem?

Globally, some girls are married before the age of 8 or 9. In the least developed countries, nearly half of all girls will marry before age 15. And in India, 47 percent of women are married by age 18. What is the impact of early marriage?

In many cases, early marriage is not only entrenched as a social norm, but also considered a means of economic survival or of keeping a daughter “safe.” But that “safety” actually means:

  • – loss of education
  • – premature and continuous childbearing
  • – maternal mortality
  • – domestic violence
  • – increased HIV and STI rates

While both boys and girls may experience early marriage, girls are disproportionately affected, and the practice is aggravated due to gender discrimination. Communities and societies feel the impact, too. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu observed, “Where child marriage is in vogue, six of the eight millennium development goals, you can forget about.”

What does Breakthrough do to challenge early marriage?

Through our pilot campaign in three districts in India, in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand, where early marriage rates are particularly high, Breakthrough will build youth, individual, family, and community support for ending early marriage — and for the rights, lives, and futures of girls and women.

How? Through national mass media, street theater, community engagement, youth leadership training, and more, we can raise awareness of the consequences of early marriage and build cultural support for ending the practice. The campaign will train young people — especially men and boys — to stand as human rights leaders and agents of change, helping create the cultural norms and conditions that can support alternatives to early marriage. Our key strategies:

  • – Target men and boys as leaders of change. Fathers and male elders make the decisions around early marriage. And the damage done by early marriage, while felt most directly and acutely by girls and women, ripples through families, communities, and beyond. We must train men, especially young men, to be leaders in challenging early marriage and for change that supports human rights and well-being for all.
  • – Focus on gender and sexuality. Interventions must include but go beyond increasing girls’ access to schools and skills. They must position girls and young women as full human beings with intrinsic value and inalienable human rights. An approach that includes and addresses gender and sexuality stands to challenge norms, break taboos, and pinpoint the deepest roots of this practice, creating an environment for deep, sustainable change.
  • – Call the problem “early marriage” (not “child marriage”) in order to address and emphasize the full range and personhood of the young people affected by it.

We believe that change starts in the homes and hearts of individuals. While effective laws are essential, early marriage is illegal in India. Only cultural change — driven by real people taking action — can end it once and for all, and build a world where all girls, families, and communities live up to their full potential. What can you do about early marriage?

Support funding for girls’ and women’s rights and development: make a donation.

Join the conversation — speak up in rejecting the practice of early marriage, whether in person or through your social networks.

Volunteer with an organization — Breakthrough or one like it — and help build a world in which all girls, boys, and families live fully, freely, and without fear.

Millions of girls silently disappear from India every year. In states like Haryana, there are only 830 girls for every 1000 boys. A normal ratio would be much closer to even. The worrying decline in the number of girls raises an urgent question: why are fewer girls being born when the life expectancy of adult women is on the rise in the country?

The causes are complex.

India is moving towards smaller families but still entrenched in traditional norms of dowry and inheritance. Male children are widely preferred over female. People also believe that it is a challenge to keep girls ‘safe’. Some people view child-bearing as a cost-benefit transaction. The cost of raising a child and the costs of marriage and dowry stack the odds against a girl.

Mothers-to-be often have little say in the matter. Without financial and social independence, they ‘do as the family says.’

In the final count, everyone is responsible. The entire community plays a coercive role in gender-biased sex selection. Fear of violence and rejection and the desire to be valued in the family socializes women to give preference to sons.

Who is affected?

People don’t realize that gender-biased sex selection affects everybody.

It increases crimes like rape, trafficking and abduction, practices like polyandry (more than one man marrying one woman), bride ‘buying’ and oppression and it creates an unsafe society.

It also puts women’s health at high risk.

Gender-biased sex selection is not just a women’s issue. It creates a dangerously imbalanced environment for families, communities and entire nations.

Meaningful change can only happen when the entire community pushes for it.

Breakthrough’s approach

Two years ago, Breakthrough launched a program to challenge gender-biased sex selection in Haryana, a state with one of the lowest sex ratios in India.

The program engages with everyone but addresses different people at different levels.

An upcoming mass-media campaign challenges gender norms and what people believe is ‘a woman’s place’.

Leadership training workshops train and build capacity in frontline field workers such as Anganwadi workers, Auxiliary Nurse Midwives and Accredited Social Health Activists.

Dialogue and partnership with village panchayats promotes enforcement of the law by Panchayati Raj Institutions (village-level local government).

Partnerships with the Government of Haryana , Department of Education, the Ministry of Women and Child Development and National Mission for Empowerment of Women, youth-based organisations, the media, and the art, entertainment and marketing industries, help build sustainable change.

Work with schools and teachers seeds awareness in new generations. A network of youth clubs in 150 schools teaches students to act for gender equality in their lives and communities.

Community mobilization drives, using street theatre, melas and local performing arts, create public debate and spark action against violations.

Sharing our learning helps other push for change too.

Every act, however small, has a ripple effect on the well-being of the community.

Here’s what you can do to challenge GBSS in your own environment:

Speak up for the rights of women and girls. Do not tolerate violence, abuse or sexual harassment of women and girls. Do not give or take dowry. Ensure equal property and education rights for daughters.

Marry your daughter only into a household that respects women. Parents want their child to be happy especially after marriage. But can a family that won’t allow girls to be born offer happiness to someone else’s daughter? Do not marry your daughter into a family that stops the birth of a girl child.

Make people see how the entire community benefits when girls progress. Give your daughters and girls around you the same food, education and medical care as boys.

The fear of violence keeps women in virtual curfew by denying them access to public space. It is a sad contradiction. On one hand, more women and girls are stepping into workplaces and educational institutions, making bigger contributions to their families, communities and the economy. On the other, an escalating threat of violence keeps pushing them back. As women steer clear of public spaces like parks, buses, streets and public toilets, a vicious cycle begins.

The spaces women vacate are filled by men.

This in turn leaves women with even less space to turn to. For example, because women fear harassment on a train, a separate ladies compartment is created. If women stop traveling on the rest of train, it becomes an exclusively male domain and the space given to women on the train has effectively shrunk. A woman traveling in a general compartment is now seen as ‘breaking a norm’, whereas in reality, public spaces are open to everyone by right. This is not just an Indian phenomenon. Sexual violence and harassment in public spaces is possibly the most underestimated global pandemic. In London, 43% of young women said they had experienced harassment on the street. In France, 1 in 4 women say they experience fear when walking on the street. 1 in 5 reports verbal harassment.

Breakthrough works to show people how the safety of women is not just a women’s issue. Cities that are safe for women are safer for everyone. It is time women and girls stepped out and used public spaces as freely and normally as they should. Come, join the drives for safer cities. You can start small – just by stepping out. Get on a bus. Read a book in a park. Walk through the streets.

It starts with you

Partners