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4 Things We Can Do As Citizens To Curb The Menace Of Gender-Based Violence

TW: Mentions of rape, domestic violence

2020 has been a roller coaster of sorts for everyone. For some, it was the pandemic and its ensuing worries of job losses, work from home, salary cuts and of course the fear of the virus itself and the fear of the growing number of infections. All this affected every one of us in ways no one could imagine and they were justifiably the biggest concerns for most of us. But alongside this, there was a surge in a parallel world of exaggerated violence against women and children.

For the first time in history, the incidences of violence surged across the world and people were forced to think deeper and delve on what was causing this surge and how must each of us address these incidents of rapes, molestations, female infanticide, child brides, domestic violence/ intimate partner violence, online sexual harassment, sexual harassment outside, acid attacks, trafficking, and more.

For the first time in history, the incidences of violence surged across the world and people were forced to think deeper—representational image.

While the problems seem to be growing, and in many cases seems exacerbated due to the pandemic, finding solutions seems distant. We look up to the policymakers, the legal systems, civic society to help deal with this burdening reality. But have we considered the youth?

They make up a large part of the population. Think radically. They are more than willing to adapt to new societal norms. They are breaking barriers in every field of study. They are the real change-makers. At Durga, the youth are at the centre of all our work because this group, when steered in the right direction, will be the ones who can be the torch bearers of positive change in society. They are eager, enthusiastic and ready to march forward to bring the change we need to see.

To garner and channel their energies, we try and build awareness around the problems that exist and allow them to explore the likely solutions to these issues. Since each one has a responsibility towards themselves, we navigate through the solutions together. And here is where small efforts in the right direction will go a long way to eradicate these injustices meted out to those who are vulnerable and help bring about a longer-term change towards this end.

When someone suggests that change is necessary, there are shrugged shoulders and ‘how-can-I’ questions that get thrown around.

Each one of us has been responsible for creating this problem either directly or indirectly and as only as by keeping quiet. Other times, we have in some sense perpetrated the existing narrative of “boys will be boys” and “women are the fairer sex and must be protected”. These statements are problematic and have in many ways caused a large part of the population to believe that any form of violence perpetrated on a woman or child existed because they needed to be “kept” in their place and that they needed to be policed at all times.

coronavirus lockdown leads to more violence against women in india
Representational image.

This has only led to more violence and a very skewed gender perspective. It is time these are questioned, unlearned and changed. Here’s how we can make a difference as individuals.

Listen

Most often, when survivors reach out for help or even to talk about their experiences, many of us choose to either play it down or encourage her to ignore the abuse. And worse, we also justify the instance in some ways by questioning the survivor if she was out at a time that was “inappropriate”, how was she dressed, what did she do to provoke the perpetrator and on and on.

The first step as an individual whom a survivor has reached out to is to listen. With no judgements and no bias. Allow her the space to express herself. Support her. If you have information that may help her, local police contacts, legal aid, a safe space to stay or any other kind of support she may need at that point of time, share with her. This small gesture will ripple into the community you are a part of and eventually everyone around will also start responding in a similar manner. There is great power and strength that a survivor can derive from a small act of support like this.

Intervene

Many times we are advised against intervening in any untoward situation. Be it a street harassment instance, an online harassment instance of domestic violence. In every one of these situations, we are asked to keep quiet, mind our own business and move on. This inaction has led to emboldening the perpetrator from going about his harassment with impunity, knowing fully well that no one will stop him at any point of time.

This inaction has led to making women feel that they are alone in this situation and that they do not have any recourse. Imagine the power you will instil in a girl who is being bothered if you only reached out to her and asked if she was okay. In that brief instant, she will feel assured that someone is watching over her and in that very instant that perpetrator will be forced to step back in fear that his actions are no longer going to be tolerated. One doesn’t have to fight off the perpetrator at all. Leave that to the movie heroes. In real life, you can be a hero by just reaching out to the survivor. And that’s all that matters.

Protect

If every one of us takes a pledge that they will have zero tolerance for any form of violence against any woman or child, that in itself is an assurance that they are protected. Look around you and question how or what the women and children are feeling around you. That will give you a fair amount of idea if there is any form of abuse or harassment that they have been subjected to. Build on empathy. Communicate more and broaden your mind and learn about the various forms of violence that exist and decide to take charge of the community you are in.

Raise Awareness

One of the most important elements to eliminate violence is awareness- of the problems and the likely solutions to them; awareness of the policies available, awareness of your legal rights and awareness of how the other communities/ nations are tackling these issues. Learning more about the problems will also help you understand the depth of the issues and how at each level, we as ordinary citizens can do our bit to make a change.

Raising awareness in the communities you are a part of will also help build stronger systems to be able to tackle this better. Most forms of violence are systemic and deeply entrenched in community behaviours and norms. Even one person standing up and questioning these will start a ripple effect of others joining in the chorus. And eventually would lead to more communities adopting the new roles and gradually building a nation. This sounds simplistic but this is a start.

All these years, all we did was “allow” the violence and turn a blind eye to these instances that perpetrated violence against the vulnerable. But this must stop and this must stop at the earliest. This violence must end and we the young citizens must do all we can to stop it.

Now is the time to engage in meaningful conversations to understand the root cause of these behaviours.

NGAGE – a first of its kind online forum from Durga – is aimed at bringing these conversations to as many youths as possible from Dec 10th to 12th. Across the country, many esteemed speakers will take the participants through three days of enriching conversations, panel discussions, insightful learnings and in-depth knowledge sharing. Veteran activists and young changemakers who work on gender-oriented issues will collectively tell us what we need to know and could do to move towards a gender-equitable future.

For more details about the forum visit – www.ngageforum.com.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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