Do We Need Public Service Announcements About Sexual Abuse And Rape?

IJMEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #ViolenceNoMore, a campaign by International Justice Mission and Youth Ki Awaaz to fight against daily violence faced by marginalised communities. Speak out against systemic violence by publishing a story here.

One (wo)man’s rape culture is another man’s political agenda

In April 2018, India was awakened to the reports of a charge sheet being filed in a part of the country most people knew nothing about. Suddenly, Jammu was thrown into the limelight for its proximity to a small village where a heinous crime shocked the nation. The people of India were catapulted into a panic-driven, emotional frenzy of candlelight marches and national debates about the sorry state of affairs we had found ourselves in.

The charge sheet outlined the unimaginable horrors a child had to endure at the hands of men, some of whom had been commissioned to protect and serve this country.

Protest march against Kathua rape case

She was not only raped and sedated but brutally murdered in the woods, after being held captive and gang-raped by eight men for several days. Her distraught parents who had been looking for her for days had even circled the temple where she was being held captive but decided not to look for her there. They assumed that the temple being a holy place could not possibly be the location of their missing eight-year-old daughter.  

In the aftermath of this crime, India was in pain. Pained by the suffering of a child, by the trauma of her family, and pained by the support given to the rapists by politicians and right-wing nationalists. This is just one example of an incident that has seared itself into the minds of conscious Indians. Perhaps it was the age of the victim and the professional positions of the perpetrators that made this particular crime stand out from the rest. Perhaps it was India awakening from a deep slumber.

As we battled the scorching summer heat in April, many Indians began questioning where our country went wrong and how we failed to protect our women and children. Over the last couple of years, gangrape has (unfortunately) become a household word in India, and more recently, the Metoo movement has found its way to our country, shining a bright light on the injustices that women have to face in professional spaces throughout our nation. As a result, women have been exposing men in power and narrating their harrowing accounts of abuse at the hands of men who worked alongside them.

In the wake of these confessions, our Government, our lawmakers are silent. They watch from their privileged seats of honour as women are debased and disrespected, silently hoping that this phase of women’s empowerment will quickly move on like a grey cloud on a sunny day. As a country, we are adept at gaslighting serious problems; believing that if we ignore something long enough, it will cease to exist. But, you cannot hide the truth, it exists in the minds of survivors, in the voices of the wronged, in the echoes left behind by the women who are fighting for justice. The truth is recorded and cannot be washed away no matter how successfully you ignore it.

Consider These Statistics:

  • In 2016, India recorded 106 rapes a day (That’s 42340 women raped in one year)
  • 116 were girls in the age-group of 0 to 12 years
  • In 94.6% of cases, offenders were known to the rape victims including neighbours, family members, relatives, husband/live-in partner, employer/co-worker etc.
  • Across India, one in four rape trials leads to a conviction
  • In February 2016, a woman within hours of giving birth by C-section was raped in a hospital near New Delhi.
  • In 2015, the Government of India banned a documentary about the brutal gangrape of a young woman in the nation’s capital

In a country where the nation’s politicians condition people to blame the victim; where coercing your wife into sex is legal; where religious texts glorify rape; where women are systematically weakened by sexist traditions and societal pressures, should we be shocked by 42340 rapes in one year? They are simply a representation of an infected society and a broken system.

Since this has clearly become such a massive thorn in India’s social condition, why aren’t we developing government sanctioned awareness programmes to tackle this festering social issue?

Isn’t It Time For Social Awareness?

Our health ministry will spend crores of their budget on no smoking ads and public service announcements, and disturbing interruptions at movie theatres and on TV screens. The question I’d like to ask today is, why don’t we have PSAs about sexual abuse and rape? Why not interrupt movies on the big screen and small screen to warn Indian men of the penalties and punishments associated with these heinous crimes? Let’s go one step further, why not make ads with graphic images of what rape does to the insides of a woman’s body, just as we subject our audiences to graphic images of the after-effects of tobacco?

Smoking is an individual choice, and yet we are so empowered to stop people and so concerned about the harmful effects of this habit. Why then are we not equally concerned about the safety, health, and security of the women in our country? Why don’t we want to teach men to take responsibility for their actions?

Why can’t we have billboards and short films and advertisements and flyers about how not to rape a woman or why not to rape a woman?

Eight months ago, throngs of people in Jammu were protesting and trying to deter the police from filing a complaint against a group of rapists who tortured a young child. Is this the new norm?

What has become evident is that India is leaving behind a legacy, a legacy of how it treats its women and children and how it protects and supports its rapists. We are a proud country, one that has used our subjugation at the hands of the British for a few centuries as an excuse for everything from being economically backward to being religiously polarised. Today, whom are we going to blame for our increasing crime rates and the sickening popularity of gang raping? And when is our government going to find a voice against it?

What policy reforms do you think would help eliminate instances of daily violence and improve access to justice in India? Send us your suggestions and we’ll take a manifesto to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Let’s spark the change together!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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