Indrani Goradia, a philanthropist and women’s advocate, meets with PSI India’s Managing Director Pritpal Marjara during the launching of Wajood, a program that addresses violence against women in New Delhi, India. Photo by: PSI

It’s been just over a week since philanthropist and advocate Indrani Goradia landed in India. She’s been many times before, her husband’s family is Indian and she is from Trinidad and Tobago, of Indian descent.

But this is a different trip and fifty-plus years in the making.

Not long ago, gender-based violence was viewed as a private, domestic affair. Even in the United States, legal protections against violence toward women were not enacted until 20 years ago in 1994.

Today, survivors and their allies — both women and men — spearhead advocacy initiatives to help the world understand that gender-based violence is a systemic, public health and human rights issue. Not only does it jeopardize the lives of women and children but it also has a profound effect on entire families, communities and impedes a country’s progress.

In India, gender-based violence is often seen in the form of dowry violence, sex-selective abortions, intimate partner violence and sexual harassment, or “eve teasing.” Thirty-five percent of women in India experience physical or sexual violence and only one in four seek help. Of those that suffer sexual violence alone, only 8 percent seek help. Of that small percentage of survivors that ask for help, they primarily look to their families, their spouse’s family or neighbors for support — avoiding formal health services available in the community.

Goradia knows all too well the impact gender-based violence can have. She lived it for the greater part of her childhood and the effects shaped her permanently.

After a diagnosis of depression at the age of 50, she decided she had to deal with what happened. Slowly, she turned her pain into determination and began to live her dreams. With no prior training, she decided to compete in an Olympic-distance triathlon. Though nowhere near the head of the pack, she crossed the finish line. And there, her journey as a philanthropist, advocate and mentor began.

Shortly after, she created Indrani’s Light Foundation to address gender-based violence in her community of Houston, Texas. She knew one day she wanted her work to help women across the globe.

Last year, Indrani’s Light Foundation formed a partnership with PSI to do just that. Beginning in 2014, Indrani’s Light Foundation and PSI will pilot projects in India and Trinidad and Tobago.

Goradia joins a growing network of committed female philanthropists tackling the issues facing girls and women.

“If we are to eliminate extreme poverty in our lifetime, we must lift girls and women. Eradicating violence based on gender is critical to unlocking girls’ and women’s potential,” Goradia said.

A primary focus of the pilot project in India, called Wajood, includes spreading messages about prevention and support services available for victims of gender-based violence. The campaign will use a combination of public messaging, person-to-person channels and new technologies, such as connecting survivors and their supporters through tablet computers that can measure project process and allow for extra mobility.

The project will also engage boys, men and other community members with creative campaigns on how to prevent gender-based violence. Survivors will have the information and opportunities they need to seek support and share their own stories.

Check out the stories of three women Goradia met during her time in Delhi, and follow her @Indranis_light. Want to learn more? Check out She Builds and tweet us using #SheBuilds.

She Builds is a month-long conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, Creative Associates, JBS International as well as the Millennium Challenge Corp., United Nations Office for Project Services and U.K. Department for International Development.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Marshall Stowell

    Marshall Stowell is the director of external relations and communications at PSI, the global health NGO headquartered in Washington, D.C. He also serves as editor-in-chief of PSI's Impact magazine. Previously, Stowell served as the director of creative enterprises and marketing at Share Our Strength, an NGO working to end child hunger in the United States.