Waiting for a Breakthrough: Transnational NGO Builds Human Rights through Culture

By Simpson, George | UN Chronicle, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Waiting for a Breakthrough: Transnational NGO Builds Human Rights through Culture


Simpson, George, UN Chronicle


TRANSNATIONAL NON-GOVERNMENTAL organizations (NGOs) are participating in a "migration of values", as different regions exchange human rights and development goals. This can bring about change in unexpected ways. Breakthrough--an international human rights organization that uses media, education and popular culture to promote the values of dignity, equality and justice--helps bring migrant rights that is often associated with the global South to the United States, while simultaneously bringing reproductive health often associated with the global North to India.

The innovative structure of Breakthrough, based in New York and New Delhi, promotes a truly transnational way of looking at human rights. Both affiliate agencies share the same vision, mission and strategies, but do not work together on projects unless it makes sense. Although this structure offers some challenges, according to its founder, Mallika Dutt, it can also give a transnational perspective and shed light on the importance of intersecting identities across cultural and geographic boundaries.

The Breakthrough office in New Delhi focuses on women's rights, with an emphasis on gender-based discrimination, sexuality and HIV/AIDS. Intersecting identities, such as gender, sexuality, race, religion and nationality, must be taken into account when tackling these issues. In India, about 2 million women have been infected with HIV, mostly by their husbands. In May 2005, Breakthrough India launched its "What kind of man are you?" campaign, encouraging men to wear condoms. In attempting to create a culture of equality and male accountability, the campaign used music videos, television spots, print advertisements, radio jingles, public service announcements in cinemas, calling cards, slogans posted in mass transit centres, and a campaign website hosted by a popular portal.

The New York office, on the other hand, emphasizes the inclusion of immigrant rights as an essential part of human rights, focusing particularly on detention and deportation. International migration is a truly global issue and State policies can have a transnational impact. Migrants have intersecting identities that reflect both their origin and destination, and an organization based in two cities can use its transnational knowledge to address the unique concerns facing each migrant. Breakthrough's ongoing campaign, "Value Families", uses multiple media, such as cartoons, pod-casts and pamphlets, to reach out to young people and educate them about the importance of civic engagement and the human rights consequences of United States immigration policies. …

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