NYU alumna advocates for women’s rights

Mallika Dutt is founder of, Breakthrough, a human rights organization striving to end violence against women and girls.

For more than 30 years, NYU School of Law alumna Mallika Dutt has been influencing discourse on women’s rights. Through founding her human rights organization Breakthrough and producing educational written work, Dutt has been dedicated to ensuring a safe and equal environment for women.

Breakthrough’s interdisciplinary approach has allowed Dutt to transform her commitment to women’s rights into a catalyst to establish various collaborative projects.

“The way in which we treat women undermines everyone — it doesn’t just undermine women, it undermines men as well,” Dutt said. “So at Breakthrough, we create multimedia campaigns — we use video games, music, social media strategies, comedy — a whole range of tools to create dialogue and to create conversations to bring people together.”

Breakthrough also has two community groups — Breakthrough Catalysts: Campus and Breakthrough Catalysts: NYC. Campus collaborates with Greek organizations to spread sexual assault awareness. Meanwhile, NYC engages the city’s community by teaching participants how to handle and prevent violence as well as discrimination in daily situations. Trainings are regularly provided, with the next one scheduled for Oct. 15 and 16.

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Adopted as an unconventional method, the organization’s comedy campaign — Dudes Against Violence Against Women: Because DUH 2015 — combines stand up comedians with gender-based stereotypes to unite people against violence and discrimination faced by women.

According to Breakthrough’s website, more than half of the show attendees became inspired to take action after seeing the campaign, suggesting that Breakthrough’s message was able to reach millions of men and women.

Reflecting on the expansion of new projects and the encouraging response from supporters, Dutt is excited to work with more groups and individuals. However, dealing with these serious issues every day has taken a personal toll. Dutt was not fully aware of the pain she had been unconsciously suppressing until a realization while trekking along a mountain range in Peru during her 2015 sabbatical — the culmination of a human rights career that has spanned over three decades.

“I just felt that my body was full of the pain of all these thousands and thousands of people I’ve worked with,” Dutt said. “I cried for almost four to five hours. I cried nonstop. I literally felt every story, every experience of women and men talking about how violence plays out in their lives.”

No matter how great the emotional burden, Dutt is steadfast in her commitment to promoting women’s rights.

Speaking on behalf of her own childhood, Dutt discussed growing up with the expectation to marry and leave her hometown. Her brothers were expected to run the family business and to inherit the family property. Despite these deeply rooted cultural traditions, Dutt sees hope for younger generations and strongly encourages individuals to pursue their passions.

“Very often, we get caught up in ‘shoulds.’ There are a lot of ‘shoulds’ in the plans that we create for ourselves and sometimes those ‘shoulds’ get in the way,” Dutt said. “Pay attention to what’s really alive inside of you, pay attention to what sings in your heart, pay attention to what makes you feel alive.”

A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 5 print edition. Email Diamond Naga Siu at [email protected]

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