New Delhi: In 2012, the Indian strategic philanthropy foundation Dasra published the results of its study on the threats faced by adolescent girls in India. The findings were troubling. “Adolescent girls in India are a large invisible population, amounting to 113 million, or 20% of the world’s adolescent girls," the study said. They “are trapped in a society with socio-cultural practices and contrasting stages of development that leaves them powerless to make essential life-choices."

Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh were pinpointed as particularly regressive states, “where over half of all adolescent girls are married before the age of 18, up to 95% of drop out of schools and over 50% face domestic violence."

As a result of that study, over the next couple of years, Dasra has created 15 so-called giving circles of interested philanthropists in areas affecting these young women, from nutrition to child marriage, menstrual hygiene, early marriage and even sport for development.

“At the time, the idea was to focus on an area that doesn’t typically get funding," said Deval Sanghavi, partner and co-founder of Dasra, of the impetus to focus its energies on adolescent girls, “but we soon received a tremendous amount of push-back from high net-worth individuals. We thought it was up to us to create a sense of urgency around that area."

Since that time, the issue of violence against women has repeatedly made headline news, but beyond a general decrying of rape and other sexual violence, little attention is paid to the struggles faced by many women through early marriage, domestic violence, inadequate healthcare and poor nutrition.

Over the next month, a five-part series on adolescent girls will address these issues along with commentary from some of the leading philanthropists and experts who are working in the field. To begin, Jennifer and Peter Buffett write about their decision to commit their time and money to the cause of adolescent girls globally, and Swati Piramal describes some of the empowerment efforts made by her foundation in rural India.

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