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Using media and the arts to combat sexual violence: Mallika Dutt of Breakthrough

Mallika Dutt and Sonali Khan of Breakthrough use creative means to prevent sexual violence and gender discrimination.
Mallika Dutt

Mallika Dutt

For today’s Humanosphere podcast, we’re talking with Mallika Dutt, CEO and founder of an organization called Breakthrough, which is devoted to preventing sexual violence and gender discrimination.

The statistics on sexual violence against women and girls are stunning: The U.N. estimates that one of every three women or girls on the planet has experienced some form of sexual abuse or violence. Such abuse can impact men and boys as well, of course, but the threat is much greater for females worldwide. As awareness of this once neglected global scourge has grown, many organizations have been created to empower women and fight gender violence and discrimination.

What Humanosphere’s editor Tom Paulson found most interesting about Dutt and her colleague Sonali Khan at Breakthrough is how they are working to combat this massive scourge. Paulson met both of them at the Skoll Foundation‘s annual gathering in Oxford a while back, where they were honored for their work. Establishing laws and enforcing policies that prohibit such behaviors is important and needed. Raising public awareness, and moral outrage, about the problem of violence against women is also good and necessary.

But what Dutt and her colleagues at Breakthrough are doing – in India and the United States – is unique, using everything from street theater to radio talk shows and police training, to counter some of the cultural and social norms that fuel this problem. Violence against women and girls is not a women’s issue, they emphasize, but a human rights issue. They don’t just aim to empower women; they enlist men and boys as well. Dutt and her colleagues at Breakthrough are going after the hearts and minds of both genders to challenge the cultural norms, the popular narratives and stereotypes that continue to fuel these destructive attitudes. Listen in!

Before we talk with Dutt, Paulson and KPLU’s Gabe Spitzer review some the week’s top news beginning with Lisa Nikolau’s story on the refusal of the world’s leading public health agencies, the WHO and CDC, to recommend moving the Olympics from Brazil because of the Zika virus.

We also take note of London correspondent Charlie Ensor’s analysis piece on the push in Britain to cut or even eliminate foreign aid spending. Try as we might, sometimes an idea is just so bad we can’t muster a strictly objective traditional journalistic response. Britain, along with many Scandinavian nations, has always been a leader in demonstrating the value to their country of assisting the poor and disenfranchised overseas. This is likely just another symptom of the global rise in isolationist and nationalist thinking. (Maybe if we just ignore Zika it will ignore us?)

Speaking of what happens when you try to ignore crises in other countries, Tom and Gabe discuss a number of stories that should remind us of how massive and critical is the worldwide refugee and migrant crisis. More people are on the run due to war, violence or other forces of privation today than has been the case since WWII. We note the spike in deaths of migrants in the Mediterannean, but also emphasize that the problem persists on the Mexico-U.S. border and that children are especially vulnerable. It’s time for the international community to recognize that business as usual re migration ain’t working.

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About Author

Imana Gunawan

Imana Gunawan is Humanosphere's social media manager and podcast producer. A University of Washington graduate in journalism and dance, Imana's interests include underrepresented communities, the intersection between politics and culture, global-local issues and the arts. She can be reached at @imanafg on Twitter or