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Indian Women Rise Against Violence in the Virtual World
Source: southasia.oneworld.net
Source Date: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government, Institution and HR Management
Country: India
Created: Oct 23, 2012

No longer is Facebook, or any other social media platform, just a place to hang out, chat or share pictures. Innovative campaigns, which refrain from the usual 'lecturing' mode and speak in the language of the youth, are encouraging youngsters to connect with social issues like gender violence and spin the wheel of change.

Delhi: One initiative that is using Facebook to engage with the youth on violence against women is the on-going One Billion Rising (OBR) campaign, launched internationally by Eve Ensler, American playwright and founder of V-Day, the global movement to end domestic violence. Women from 160 countries, including India, have responded to this global call by launching OBR campaigns in their respective countries.

No one today, especially the youth, likes to be talked down to. As Sanyukta Das, a Delhi University student puts it, "Nothing puts me or my friends off more than a long winding speech by a person claiming to know it all. If anything, such speeches end up getting youngsters disengaged from, rather than connected with, an issue." So, instead of giving advice on what to do, these new-age campaigns involve people in active discussions on a particular subject.

The online OBR campaign does just that. Elaborates Jagori's Prabhleen, who has been working on creating OBR Delhi's Facebook page, "The OBR campaign is spread over a few months so we have designed it in a way that people can get involved with fighting violence for a longer period of time. The idea is also to create synergies. It's essentially a people's campaign and those who join in are free to share their thoughts, stories and even give updates of any events being planned around the issue of gender violence in their community." Jagori, a Delhi-based women's resource centre, that has previously launched successful online campaigns like the Safe Delhi campaign, has partnered with SANGAT, which is anchoring the OBR initiative in South Asia.

How Facebook specifically works is that the greater the number of people who access the page, the more popular it becomes on the search list. So once a page is set up, links are sent out to as many people as possible, at times accompanied with a personalised message asking them to join. Adds Prabhleen, "It's a rigorous process and it takes at least two weeks for people to start joining in. Now we are in the process of making an India page although the Delhi page has already been created."

The Youth Collective's Manak Matiyani, 28, who is the brains behind the now well-known Must Bol (must speak) campaign, a by-the-youth/for-the-youth movement on gender violence, also understands the relevance of going online. "We went online because we realised that youngsters spend a lot of time on the Internet, chatting and networking," he says. As an experiment, they thought of using this space to raise awareness about violence in young people's lives, talk about it, and then address it.

Led by 30 youngsters - all college-going kids - one of the campaign's themes that got a huge response was violence in intimate relationships. Underlining the fact that violence can be of varying degrees, the core members threw open a discussion on the social media with simple questions: Does your boyfriend read your SMSes and tells you whom to talk to and whom not to? Does your girlfriend know your Facebook password and screen your female friends? Where does concern end and control begin?

The topic touched a chord immediately, and the responses and discussions began to roll. Based on the comments, the campaign team held workshops in colleges across Delhi, and then made short films, which were uploaded on the Internet as well as screened in colleges and public spaces. "We have reached across to 3,000 people till date and are partnering with youth organisations in other states on similar initiatives. Every time I see youngsters talking to each other on social issues on our social media page, and learning from each other, I know we are bringing about change," Matiyani adds.

On a similar subject, Breakthrough has been leading the Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) movement against domestic violence since 2008. The campaign, which has become popular, courtesy interesting print and TV advertisements, and through the social media, asks people to ring the bell of a home where a woman is being subjected to violence.

Besides such pan-India campaigns, there are some that focus on a particular geographical area, dealing with specific yet crucial issues. Like the Gurgaon Girlcott movement against sexual harassment of women, an innovative campaign launched this year that caught the fancy of the public and the media. Richa Dubey, who initiated it, says that while she always understood that the social media was one of the best tools for mass awareness, she could not fathom the extent of its power until her own campaign was born. "I remember sending out just one email. The rest was taken care of by the social media. Friends were telling their friends, there were discussions, and before I knew it I was giving interviews about my campaign," she says.

What attracted her most to the campaign was its non-conventional way of protesting. Following a case of gang rape of a 25-year-old woman in Gurgaon, a satellite city of Delhi, Dubey decided to bring together a protest by putting the onus of safety of women on mall owners and shopkeepers, so that they in turn put pressure on the authorities. "The idea was to ask women not to spend money on themselves over a weekend. No shopping, no eating out, no beauty parlour visits – all weekend activities that shop owners benefit from. Instead of a boycott, it was a girlcott," she explains. The protest made authorities sit up and promise to take action by forming a task force to ensure safety of women.

Although many now acknowledge the importance of going online with their cause, there are apprehensions, too. Says Prabhleen, "Initially, we were skeptical of the fact that Facebook caters to a very specific audience. But we gradually realised that it is this very audience to whom the information needs to reach. Civil society organisations are doing tremendous work with people from the community but at the same time it's important for the college-going youth to also know what is happening around them and form their own viewpoints on it."

Christina Jha was one of the many youngsters on the Delhi University campus who was really not concerned about the "harsh realities of life". Today, influenced by the Bell Bajao campaign, she is happy that she 'rang the bell' to stop domestic violence in her neighbour's home. She says, "Frankly, I was completely detached from a subject like domestic violence because I didn't know how to stop it. But this campaign, instead of preaching, advocates a simple act to change things - that's when we stop being indifferent spectators and get involved."

The OBR campaign, too, hopes to create a significant impact. Says Prabhleen, "It's early days yet for us but we will start by posting stories on violence that appear in newspapers daily. This campaign may be geared towards a single day - February 14, 2013. But at least on that one day people will stand up against violence. And that in turn will motivate others to work towards a violence-free world."
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