“The way a boy treats his sister is how he will treat his wife later on in life,” says Noorjahan Siddiqui, a senior counsellor with My Choices, an NGO based in old city. She reviews a group of women, also known as ‘PeaceMakers’, as they convene periodically at the NGO’s centre located opposite Falaknuma rythu bazaar to talk of the obstacles and progress they have made in their cases.

According to them, an estimated 40 per cent of women in India suffer from domestic abuse i.e., nearly every second house. Also, Andhra Pradesh ranks third in rate of violence against women and first in trafficking of girls.

“Women are most likely to talk to other women from their neighbourhood than the police or any NGO volunteers,” says Elca Grobler, founder of the organisation. Out of the 40 women trained in the old city, 23 women from the first batch were hired as PeaceMakers and are paid a monthly salary. “A lot of the trainees come from abusive families and so the training proves to be a healing process for them too,” says Elca.

The PeaceMakers are equipped to talk to women who need help and encourage them to share their stories. Once a woman shares her story, the PeaceMaker tries and talks to the perpetrator of violence.

“We start by building the self-esteem of the woman and showing her the purpose of her existence,” says Pearl C., another senior counsellor at the centre. Women are given a four-week basic training and are introduced to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

To be hired as a PeaceMaker, they have to complete an eight-week internship where they begin to implement intervention methods under the guidance of the senior counsellors. “A neighbour of one of our PeaceMakers had been married at 13 and was being locked, beaten and sexually abused for almost a decade. After learning that the PeaceMaker had been trained to help in such cases, she spoke of her story for the first time and sought help,” says Elca. She says most often a PeaceMaker’s first case is an extended family member or a neighbour.

Not wanting to miss out on helping younger girls who may be in trouble, 22 and 23-year-old Zehra and Sohra, the youngest PeaceMakers, are all set to fire up the ‘Girl School Programme’ wherein they will talk of abuse and violence to girls of all local schools.

Using technology to reach girls in college, My Choices has teamed up with Mxit, a social mobile platform, to introduce an app that girls can use to chat anonymously with counsellors. The app can be downloaded even on low-end feature phones and leaves no trace of the conversation on the cell phone once the app is closed. To download the app, go to m.mxit.com on your phone browser.

My Choices also partners with other local organisations such as Lotus Women’s Association and SAFA with whom they will start centres in Lakdi-ka-pul and Masab Tank in February and May respectively to train local women. To get help or contact the organisation, call 8498044630 or write to info@mychoices.asia.

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