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  • Awarded: 2016
  • Issue Areas: Human Rights · Peace and Human Rights
  • Countries Served: USA · India
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    About the Organization

    Violence against women and girls is a largely unrecognized human rights abuse, affecting a third of the world’s female population. Policies and education are not enough to accomplish change in the face of deeply held cultural norms.

    Breakthrough prevents violence and discrimination by changing norms. Breakthrough engages the whole community, especially men and boys, to become agents of change, shifting the perception of violence against women from a “woman’s issue” to “everyone’s issue.” Media, arts, and technology target places where social norms are shaped—schools, churches, workplaces, social media. Programs include classroom modules, leadership development, educational entertainment such as interactive theater, video vans, call-in radio shows, and online games, and mass media public service advertising. Breakthrough also trains police, government officials, teachers, and frontline healthcare workers as a means of preventing future systemic violence against women and girls.

    Discrimination and violence affects more than a billion women and girls. Social norms often block the recognition that violence is occurring.

    Breakthrough uses theater, social media, and pop culture as well as training and education to nurture cultural change.

    Mallika Dutt and Sonali Khan have seen awareness increase, and believe that the millennial generation offers great promise.

    Media campaigns have reached tens of millions of people, and demonstrated influence on cultural norms, including an increase in the age at which girls are married in India.

    Ambition for Change

    Social institutions embrace and reinforce positive cultural norms. Audiences expect and demand that pop culture and media portray positive images of women and girls. Individuals speak out, breaking the cycle of violence. Government is accountable to enforce laws and policies.

    Path to Scale

    Policy Uptake and Influence

    Integration of gender equity into development agendas and national health and education outcomes. Public agencies address issues including early marriage and sex selection; individual behaviors change with cultural norms.

    Attorney and human rights advocate Mallika Dutt was working in human rights and social justice at the Ford Foundation in India when it struck her that the broad global media coverage of the United Nations' 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing had not reached or influenced everyday people—her family, her friends. After asking herself what could engage whole societies in facing and changing the cultural norms that drive the enormous but rarely acknowledged human rights issue of violence against women and girls, she produced a music video that brought the taboo subject of domestic violence into pop culture and founded Breakthrough in 1999. Sonali Khan joined Breakthrough from a high-profile broadcast journalism career, bringing a focus on measurable impact and scale. Their partnership has resulted in a data-driven integrated media and community mobilization strategy. Both are sought-after human rights experts, invited to influence international and national dialogues that drive policy decisions.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • Media campaigns in India and the US have reached audiences in the tens of millions
    • 500,000 people have participated educational programs
    • Breakthrough’s early marriage work in India has been associated with an increase of nearly a year in the marriage age for girls in villages where the program operates


    Mallika DuttFounder & Board Member, Breakthrough
    Phoebe SchreinerVice President & US Country Director, Breakthrough
    priyanka kherHead - Media Hub, Breakthrough, Breakthrough
    Rajshri SenDirector Resource Mobilization, Breakthrough

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