India's Five Most Creative Campaigns To End Violence Against Women - Homegrown

India's Five Most Creative Campaigns To End Violence Against Women

Before the gang rape of a physiotherapy student in Delhi last December, most Indians were reluctant to have that critical but uncomfortable conversation about violence against women. I was living in Delhi at the time, and in addition to the usual suspects -- journalists, students and activists -- everyone from the auto drivers to vegetable sellers to expat businessmen wanted to talk about women’s rights in India. Most importantly, there was a deliberate shift from the precedent of blaming the victim -- “she was out late with a boy” -- to a resounding national uproar that a grave crime had been committed against a woman.
When a journalist was gang raped in Mumbai this August, India’s urban youth was reminded, once again, that rape does not only happen to poor, rural women in the clutches of Haryana’s khap panchayats. It happens on our streets, in broad daylight, interrupting us when we try to pursue careers we dream of. In the protest marches and candle vigils that ensued, the underlying question that young, educated, urban women started asking was, but what can we do to stop the violence?
If we want to reduce violence in the long term, we have to look for the multiple roots of misogyny buried deeply in the country’s social fabric. One of the first, critical steps we can take is to find a vocabulary to talk about sexual abuse and rape that is honest, empowering and does not place the culpability of assault on the assaulted. A slew of initiatives, from a satirical video to anti-rape underwear have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to change the way we think about violence against women. Many of these initiatives gained traction on social media -- most notably, the abused goddesses campaign. While the “like” button on Facebook is not a magic wand to wish violence away, it is a point of departure for a much larger movement to make our cities and villages safer for women. Here are five creative campaigns that got people thinking and talking:
It’s your fault: In sickeningly sweet and patient tones, two beautiful actresses explain to Indian women why rape is their fault: “Scientific studies suggest that women who wear skirts are the leading cause of rape. Do you know why? Because men have eyes,” they say. Barring the small possibility that an unimaginative viewer will miss the point that the video is a joke, it sends an incredibly powerful message about a culture of blaming the victim. The comedy group All India Bakchod takes on ludicrous proclamations that cell phones and chow mein lead to violence against women, and ends with a series of women boldly acknowledging, “It’s my fault.” The video gets to the crux of victim blaming and takes on patriarchal norms like advising women not to work late at night, or at all, drawing attention to the fallacious links between working women and sexual assault. In empowering women to take on these stereotypes, the video has initiated a deeper reflection on who bears responsibility for rape (in case you were wondering, it’s not women).
Abused Goddesses: This campaign struck a chord on global media platforms, perhaps because it combines the mysticism and brutality that India is best known for abroad. Life-like images of Hindu goddesses Lakshmi, Durga and Saraswati with black eyes, bleeding lips and bruised cheekbones defiantly meet the viewer’s gaze, as if to say, “would you ever beat a goddess?” The same men and women who worship these holy women for their wealth, strength and wisdom perpetuate violence against the flesh-and-blood women they encounter in their daily lives. The campaign, first developed for the NGO Save our Sisters, has been criticized for creating a women as goddess/ women as slut dichotomy without making space for women as humans and citizens. I beg to differ -- the campaign takes goddesses off the pedestal we are so quick to place them on, blurring the rigid line between the sacred and worldly, to illustrate that no woman deserves to be abused. Bell Bajao: One of the problems with the narrative about the repression of women in India is that men emerge as one-dimensional oppressors. The Bell Bajao campaign makes space for progressive and humane men to take action if they suspect a woman is being abused. Men are asked to ring the bell or find another way to interrupt if they hear screams coming from a neighboring house, reminding us once again that the demon does not lurk in dark street corners but in our own homes. The overt message that men can actively participate to reduce violence against women is vital to the bigger movement, but the practical implementation of Bell Bajao will undoubtedly pose challenges. Do you really want to intrude on your neighbor’s privacy, even if he is beating his wife? If the campaign can inspire men to promptly and resolutely answer “yes,” then it is working.Gulabi Gang: The misconception that women in rural India don’t push back against patriarchy was turned on its head when a gang of women decided to take justice into their own hands. Wearing bright pink saris and wielding long bamboo sticks, the Gulabi Gang directly confronts oppressive fathers, husbands and brothers in Bundelkhand, one of the poorest districts of Uttar Pradesh. This grassroots movement demonstrates the power of collective action and transforms women from victims into negotiators of their own rights. The vigilantes do not hesitate to use their lathis if the men use force -- for a moment, throw social correctness to the wind, and imagine the glorious sight of a slight, sun-browned and scrawny-limbed woman beating the crap out of a pompous, pot-bellied man who usually operates on the presumption that he is the center of the universe. If women are doing it in UP, nothing stops us city women from investing in a solid stick.Anti-rape Underwear: A bra with an inbuilt circuit board that delivers 82 electric shocks when it detects unwanted force seems like an extreme and risky measure to prevent rape. Will the bra really be able to tell who is taking it off, and decide if he or she deserves to be shocked? Anti-rape attire elsewhere has been criticized for going down the slippery slope that connects sexual assault and clothing, or leading to further violence once the rapist realizes he can’t get the panties off. In some ways, the Indian bra is similarly problematic, but the sudden electric shock it can deliver alludes to a hidden superpower. Most women are unlikely to opt for this bra -- underwire is uncomfortable enough. But the noble attempt of three engineering students in Chennai to make women feel safer in public spaces is a gratifying sign that Indians everywhere are putting their most innovative ideas forward.Words: Shanoor Seervai

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