Wednesday, December 7, 2016

When generations share...

Last Friday, we partnered with the Inner Wheel Club of Chennai Presidency to organise a conversation that engaged more than one generation. We had grandmothers, mothers and daughters--figuratively--in one conversation that flowed across several subjects.

At the heart of the conversation was an invitation to share. What was the first time you realised there was inequality in the world? When did you first encounter gender violence and how did you respond? What does it feel like to resist?

We had not posited a conflict between generations when we conceptualised this. Our premise simply was that we do not get to have conversations in our homes on this subject--because of shame, stigma and silence--and therefore, we lose opportunities to learn and share. This was vindicated by the easy sharing and understanding that flowed within the group. Moreover, there were some differences of opinion but no generational conflict.

Did we arrive at a consensus on anything? No, because that was not the point. What we did decide was that this was something we simply must repeat and regularly. And possibly with our wonderful partners at Inner Wheel Club!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Rewriting women into history

Our favourite activities, in campaign and beyond, are those that plant or those that teach. 'Women on Wiki' was a bit of both. We partnered with The Red Elephant Foundation, which had organised a wiki editathon recently. The plan was to create or edit Wiki pages for women activists or women's rights organisations in Chennai who did not have a web presence (that wasn't entirely how it worked out!). Radhika Bhalerao helped us generate some basic research resources that met the Wikipedia criteria. Kirthi Jayakumar was our tutor.

Prajnya values favour process over outcome and a few serious participants over a crowd. But having said that, it is always disappointing when you put together a really fun activity, which also teaches valuable contemporary skills, and people appear too apathetic to show up. Did she fall or was she pushed--did we not publicise enough, did they not care enough--ultimately, does not matter.

Even the few who participated ended up putting together quite a few pages in just a couple of hours, as the list in our event report suggests.

I worked on Forum against Oppression of Women, the pioneering Mumbai/Bombay women's rights group where I first volunteered as a teenager. I never thought I would be able to learn the skills but the interface is actually quite intuitive if you have a patient teacher to show you, and I was happy I got involved with this activity because I was able to give something small back. The FAOW page could use fleshing out by those who have worked there for a long time, but I was happy to have started the process of documenting their work in the public domain.

Would I do this again? I think so! My technical learning curve might be slow but the research process is familiar and I realise that having a Wikipedia presence is going to be more and more important, especially to really small groups.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Letterbox Resistance: A Campaign after my heart!

True confession: Through the first three decades of my life, I was what one might call an inveterate, unstoppable letter-writer, where letter was a composition written by hand on paper. You might say, therefore, that the Letterbox Resistance activity was bound to be something I enjoyed.

First, the preparations! The design of the little cards with the campaign logo. The campaign logo stamp. The colour paper and envelopes. The bonafide 50 paise postcards. This may count as the most fun campaign prep ever!

This was the first activity of the 2016 Campaign. Ragamalika and I were the core group of letter-writers that went through all three sessions on the 25th.

We met the first group at Chamiers Cafe, where we ended up occupying two long tables. Enthusiastic and full of ideas, we churned out a variety of letters here--postcards addressed to specific offices, letters addressed very generally to categories of people, posters and flyers. Some of these needed to be sent to the addressee, but a few were tucked away here and there, to be found by other diners. One participant handed over a letter to another group explaining what we were doing. And we also shared cards and stamps with some of the staff. We hope everyone wrote the letters they were planning to write! Most of the group then disbanded.

Our second stop was Coffee Central, a cosy cafe in T.Nagar. A much smaller group met here, but the words continued to flow... mostly! We wrote reflective notes, we wrote apologies and we wrote to our kids. We also got others in the cafe to write a note, addressed to parents around the world!

The third stop was at the Food Court in Phoenix Mal and by now, there was just the core left. We were joined by Prajnya's Administrator, Santha. As we settled down with our papers spread out, a security attendant very politely requested us to please leave. People were not allowed linger in the Food Court doing anything other than eating and taking selfies. Out of consideration for her, we packed up sooner than scheduled, quietly placing some of our letters around the mall.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this activity and on how many levels. First of all, picking out stationery is always delightful. Then, the physical pleasure of writing deliberately on a sheet of paper--taking trouble over both the words and their transcription-constitutes an almost-meditative experience. Third, the process of identifying what you want to say, who you need to say it to, how you want to phrase it and the tone you want to adopt, and finally putting it down on paper is an empowering one. It cuts to the heart of the helplessness we feel faced with something as huge as 'one in three women face abuse in their lifetime.' It gives each of us a sense of agency. Finally, it reminds us of the geneology of online petitions. They began with letters that were copied by hand laboriously and mailed to decision-makers and editors around the world. This power remains with us. We should exercise it more often!

To read all the letters we wrote, see our Facebook album.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Marital Rape: A tweetchat on Day 6

by Michelle James

Marital rape is NOT a criminal offence under the IPC (Indian Penal Code). In fact, Section 375 of the IPC that criminalises rape as sexual intercourse without consent, actually makes an exception to rape within a marriage; it says, "Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape."

On Day 6 of the 2016 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence, we decided to do a chat on twitter about marital rape, whether or not it should be criminalised, and the issues around implementing the law if marital rape is criminalised.

The discussion was flagged off by questions about marriage being viewed as a sacred vow, and how almost anything is permissible under it – violence, rape, abuse. Many questions were raised: Does Indian culture reject the idea of consent? What happens after criminalisation of marital rape?

But a recurring argument against criminalising marital rape was: Will the law be misused?

Building into the patriarchal notion that when a woman reports sexual violence from her partner, she is inherently lying to seek vengeance, this is a question that gets asked again and again. And our answer is consistent: just because a law can be misused (which is true of any law), is not reason for the law to not exist.

The question of the rural-urban divide also came up. Is marital rape a rural issue?

Reported cases suggests it is not. Rape happens not because of the lack of awareness. Rape is an act of sexual violence to perpetrate power and dominance over the victim. A gift of inherent patriarchy.
Another point of discussion was if divorce is the answer to rape. What about justice for the victim?

Many voiced the opinion that Sexual and reproductive health and rights education is the need of the hour. Suggestions were to make “consent” a part of school curriculum.

There were many questions, answers and suggestions, even from “Men's Rights Activists”. But this chat opened us up to the various opinions on marital rape and the assumption of perpetual consent in marriage.
We closed the chat in the hope that we have created a small yet important dialogue regarding marital rape. To think, ponder and maybe, in the future, lobby for criminalising marital rape because rape is rape. Sex without consent. Our definitions matter. Our mindsets matter. Our opinions matter.

Read the full chat here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

International Women Human Rights Defenders' Day: Resource Creation at Prajnya

November 29 is International Women Human Rights Defenders' Day, and as part of the 2016 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence, we used the observance date for resource creation on the subject. Please do read and share!

Women and their right to lead
Column by Dr Swarna Rajagopalan @ The New Indian Express
Excerpt: "A woman who remains politically active in the face of threat to her body and her family must surely be a person of dubious character. There is no more effective barrier to a woman’s active and effective participation in public life than the contempt of family and community. With the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day falling on November 29, we should take a moment to recognise the contribution that women in politics have made to our lives."

Column by Dr Swarna Rajagopalan @ DNA
Excerpt: "All over the world, women put their lives on the line, risking everything to stand up for their political values and to fight for other people’s rights—but no one wants to learn about them or remember them. They are not our heroes, even though their work is heroic... (we) ignore the tremendous cost at which women undertake any public sphere work, whether it is mainstream politics, social work or that large, grey minefield that lies between the two, human rights advocacy. Charitable work by women who otherwise work at home is acceptable and almost an extension of the private sphere insofar as it evokes the same stereotypical feminine roles—mother, nurturer, provider of nourishment and caregiver. Working to alter social power relationships or to seek political power both defies the private-public dichotomy that allocates the former to women and the latter to men."

Violence against Women in Politics (#VAWIP) and Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD)
An Annotated Bibliography by Radhika Bhalerao
(Download PDF)
The intent in compiling this annotated bibliography was to identify and summarise academic as well as non-academic literature easily available in the public domain on the topics of gender-based violence in politics and elections, against Women Human Rights Defenders (HRD), including violence by extremist groups. The publication of this annotated bibliography as a public document is to assist other researchers, the donor community and others who have an interest in aforementioned arenas. This annotated bibliography contains resources from international organisations, news articles and peer-reviewed academic publications available in the public domain. The arrangement of the bibliography has also been made in this order and not alphabetically or chronologically.

#StopVAWIP: Profile of Wajeha Al-Huwaider
A profile by Emma Kingscott
(This post was sent in response to the 2016 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence’s call for profiles of women human rights defenders.)
Excerpt: "Al-Huwaider is one of the few Saudi women who courageously stand up for the rights of women which are so explicitly denied. The suppression of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia is well documented, yet the state is still given the freedom to implement laws which prohibit women from going anywhere without the permission of a male guardian, being allowed to drive, given the right to vote or participate in sports. As a journalist and a campaigner, Al-Huwaider makes her voice heard in a state in which the authorities look to silence women. She became an activist and campaigner for women’s rights in order to free women from what she describes as the virtual jail of Saudi Arabia."

2016 Blog Symposium: Education, Gender and Violence

This year’s campaign blog symposium centres around the global 16 Days of Activism theme: “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All!”

The blogposts we’ve compiled are primarily reflections on how education can be made more inclusive and how teaching inclusiveness can be a way to prevent gender violence. We also have an interview with Vidya Reddy of Tulir, whose pioneering work with schools has put child sexual abuse on the social change agenda.

1. The Inclusive Classroom, by Priyadarshini Rajagopalan

3. The Story of Janishala, by Purnima

4. Life in a Girl's Porta-Cabin, by Rashmi Kumari

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Dummies' Guide to Sexual Harassment

The mannequin at Chamiers.
Picture courtesy: Sreelekha Raghavan
If street sexual harassment was a visual, how would it look?

This is the question behind our art intervention, "The Dummies' Guide to Sexual Harassment." As part of the campaign this year, we've placed 4 mannequins in different parts of city, inviting people to mark the parts of their body where they've been touched without their consent.

This idea for a city-wide mannequin placement was born in a conversation with Aditi Surendra, who wanted to use mannequins to start a conversation about women's experience of street sexual harassment.

Special thanks to our partners, Sundari Silks and Tranz Mannequins for providing us with these mannequins! And a big thank you to our location partners - Chamiers, PCVC, Shree Ayurvedic Multispecialty Hospital and Women's Christian College - for helping us take this vision forward.

Thanks to the following publications for covering this initiative!

The News Minute: These Chennai mannequins show how often women are groped on streets

The Times of India: What are these mannequins doing in Chennai?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Stories on Wheels: Day 3 focuses on street sexual harassment

On Day 3 of the 2016 campaign, Prajnya volunteers took to the streets on 3 different routes from Guindy to Semmozhi Poonga with one thing on their mind - getting stories from women about street sexual harassment.

The videos from the programme will be edited into a film and screened at the public forum on street sexual harassment, on December 10 at 4pm, at Thakkar Bapa Vidyalaya in T Nagar.

Thanks to the following publications for covering this initiative:

The New Indian Express: Women on wheels take the streets


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Women on Wiki: A Wikipedia Editathon on Day 2

On Day 2 of the 2016 campaign, Prajnya decided to put Tamil Nadu's women's rights activists and organisations on Wikipedia with 'Women on Wiki', in association with The Red Elephant Foundation.

While participation was low, the team did manage to create and edit a few pages, and also learned how to make pages in Wikipedia that pass their extensive guidelines. Here are some of the pages that were created and/or edited.

Rani Annadurai

Durgabai Deshmukh

Elsa D'Silva

Vasanthi Devi (to be linked)

Forum Against Oppression of Women

Mangai (to be linked)


Thanks to the following publications for covering the event:

The New Indian Express: An Editathon for social change

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Letterbox Resistance

November 25, 2016. 10.15am. A group of people gathered at a cafe in Chennai, with writing supplies, colours, paper and postcards. Their agenda: The Letterbox Resistance!

The first day of the 2016 campaign started with letters written to loved ones, to state authorities, to people in positions of power like school principals and hostel wardens, and to absolute strangers who might come upon these notes, and perhaps spare a moment to think about gender violence.

Do check out the photos here!


Thanks to the following publications for covering this initiative:

Deccan Chronicle: 16-day campaign steps up awareness on gender issues