“It is vitally important to engage with the community to let them know about the consequences of sexual violence.”
A new Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in India gives refuge and care to victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
Canadian project coordinator Marise Denault and her team have been networking and talking to the local community in order to increase awareness of the accessible, confidential and quality treatment that MSF provides.
By Alexandra Sirois
For Marise Denault, an MSF project coordinator from Ottawa, an average day includes taking rickshaws, or auto-taxis, through the streets of Delhi, India. As the head of a clinic for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, a large part of Denault’s role involves community outreach, particularly to women and children. So when she first met Fatima, one of the only female rickshaw drivers in the area, she saw an opportunity. “I immediately thought how relevant it would be for us to have a female rickshaw driver in the project,” she says.
The MSF project that Denault helps run in Delhi is the Umeed Ki Kiran clinic in Jahangirpuri, in the city’s north end. Meaning “Ray of Hope” in Hindi, the clinic has been providing support to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence since November 2015, and has become a safe space for vulnerable women, children and men in the area. Staffed with local nurses, doctors, counsellors, clinical psychologists and social workers, the clinic is the first of its kind offering free and comprehensive support 24 hours a day.
Incidents of sexual and gender-based violence are unfortunately not uncommon in Delhi. Local newspapers provide frequent accounts of women who have been assaulted or abused — a grim indicator considering the fact that most such incidents go unreported. Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are also often reluctant to come forward due to stigma and a lack of confidentiality.
To address this, Denault and her team have been networking and talking to the local community in order to increase awareness of the accessible, confidential and quality treatment that MSF provides. As Denault points out, “it is vitally important to engage with the community to let them know about the medical and psychological consequences of sexual violence.”
Community outreach and street theatre
To do so, the team has used a variety of methods, including street theatre, plays, puppet shows, stories and presentations. Advertisements for the clinic have been placed on rickshaws, on wall plaques and on local television networks, and health educator teams often go door-todoor giving out leaflets.
Denault and her team have also been reaching out to local police, child welfare agencies, women’s groups, religious leaders and other non-governmental organizations to inform them about the services the clinic offers in case a patient needs to be referred. In November, the clinic ran a training course for local community health workers where 178 Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers learned how to identify “silent abuse” and how to support survivors in order to help them seek care.
Now that Fatima has joined as an inhouse driver, the team has been able to reach more people. “What’s been great for us is that she knows so many people in the community, and so having her as our driver has also helped us with community acceptance,” says Denault.
Canadian project coordinator Marise Denault with an advertisement for MSF's clinic for people affected by sexual violence on the back of a local rickshaw in Delhi, India.
As the community becomes more familiar with the Umeed Ki Kiran Clinic, the MSF team is starting to see more patients. For many, the clinic provides an urgent service that would otherwise be difficult to come by. Denault thinks that by making the effort to engage with people in the community, the MSF team is building trust — and, she hopes, starting to create a better understanding of the need for a comprehensive approach to treating survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
“You hear lots of horrific stories, but everyone can also understand that what is reported is only the tip of the iceberg,” Denault says. “We are here to offer a world-class standard of care that can supplement the efforts of local authorities. But it’s not only about the numbers: From the survivors we have seen, I know we have already been able to make a difference.”