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What We Found After Reading Through 1500 Articles On Violence Against Women

In the film “Judgemental Hai Kya”, Kangana Ranaut’s character Bobby Grewal obsessively collects stories about violence against women and girls (VAWG) in the news. The number and brutality of these stories seem to drive her crazy. Watching the film, I thought of my colleague, Niharika Pandit, who scoured four newspapers – two in English and two in Hindi – for articles about VAWG, every day for two months. She managed to hold on to her sanity and collected over 1500 articles.

When we analysed these articles we were struck by the high proportion of what we call ‘episodic’ or ‘incident-based’ reporting. There was an average of six stories about violence against women appearing in each paper daily, but the overwhelming majority of these articles – 85 per cent of English articles and 94 per cent of Hindi articles – focused on individual incidents of VAWG without providing information about the social context or the underlying drivers of violence. When VAWG is represented as a series of one-off incidents, readers are unlikely to understand VAWG as both as a systemic social problem and as something that occurs over a long period of time for many victims.

Media guidelines for coverage of VAWG around the world recommend more ‘thematic reporting’ rather than incident-based reporting. Thematic articles about VAWG contextualise the story by explicitly challenging the myths surrounding VAWG (such as victim-blaming), providing statistics on the prevalence, and informing readers about factors influencing VAWG, legal and institutional contexts and help services.

Such elements were very rare in our study. The very small number of thematic articles that we did come across were focused on the case of Varnika Kundu, who was stalked by the son of a BJP politician. This implies that it is high profile cases involving famous perpetrators that are perceived as warranting a thorough analysis of the systemic, gendered nature of VAWG.

The problem of incident-based rather than thematic reporting on VAWG is closely related to whose voices journalists include in their stories. Representatives from organisations working on VAWG are more likely to comment on the problem as a social issue. Police and lawyers, on the other hand, are much more likely to focus on the specifics of the crime and the individuals involved in the violence. The vast majority of the articles in our study cited legal and criminal justice professionals and only a handful of cited representatives from organizations working on VAWG.

Although the vast majority of VAWG is perpetrated by someone known to the victim, most often a family member, there were relatively few domestic violence incidents in the articles in our study. This perpetuates the myth that women are most at risk from strangers and can be kept safe by staying at home. When violence perpetrated by family members was reported, the term domestic violence or ‘gharelu hinsa’ was almost never used. Globally, media guidelines for reporting on VAWG advise journalists to use such terms because if they are used regularly, readers will get a better sense of the extent of the problem.

A few samples from the study on Indian newspapers’ reports on violence again women and girls by Niharika Pandit and Amanda Gilbertson.

Sensationalism in reporting on VAWG is used to increase the article’s ‘unusualness’ and make reports more appealing to audiences. In our study, many of the cases reported were in themselves sensationalist – involving young victims, multiple forms of violence, and particularly brutal violence. Sensationalist headlines were also an issue in eighteen per cent of English over a third of Hindi articles in our study. The most common form of sensationalism, however, was excessive detail which we found in 45 per cent of English and 57 per cent of Hindi articles.

Rather than entertaining readers with shocking details of endless, seemingly unconnected incidents, we hope that journalists will take up the broader topic of VAWG more often. This will help readers to understand not just the scale and systemic nature of the problem, but also that this is a problem whose solutions lie in tackling patriarchy rather than curtailing the freedoms of women and girls.

Full details of this research can be found in our article published in Economic & Political Weekly. You might also want to check out the toolkit that Feminism in India recently produced to help journalists improve their reporting on VAWG.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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