Friday, December 8, 2017

Beyond Heteronormativity: Day 9

On November 3rd 2017, we hosted our 9th event in collaboration with the Orinam collective, an open mic and discussion on defeating stereotypes and finding safety in solidarity, for a small group of LGBTQ+ identified individuals and allies. We started off with the open mic, where each person spoke or performed for about 2 minutes, ranging from poetry to personal narratives. We then moved into the discussion where we spoke about various issues relating to violence directed at people who identify with a non-normative gender or sexuality, legal aspects, creating safe spaces, and the trivial use of certain phrases that irk, hurt and invalidate people's gender/sexuality identities. We concluded on a happy note, by expressing solidarity and promising to stand together; and in the hope of creating more such safe spaces.

For more information on the Orinam collective, click here.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Discussion on Sexual and Reproductive Rights: Days 7 & 8

On the 1st and 2nd of December, Prajnya in collaboration with SIAAP (South India AIDS Action Programme) conducted three workshops over the span of 2 days: two at MMM Nursing College, and one at the Asian College of Journalism. The workshops were very different from each other; each was enlightening and educating in its own way, but structured differently to accommodate the type of audience in question. Both workshops were conducted by Dr. Shyamala of SIAAP.

At MMM, with the students of the first workshop, she started off with asking them to introduce themselves, and share with everyone how they felt when they woke up that morning. With the second group, she talked about how one would take steps to prvent dengue first, and then used the same metaphor to talk about STI's. She eased them into conversations about sex and sexual health by starting with an introduction to the history of AIDS and the first detection kit. This evolved into a discussion about sexual rights, and the usage of contraception. The girls of the college were a bit apprehensive at first but the discussion soon became an open one. The girls were then divided into groups and asked to brainstorm on ways to initiate safer sex, and came up with the following points:

1. Screening before engagement and marriage.
2. ‎Improved femidoms
3. ‎Pre marital councilling
4. ‎Open conversation
5. Sex education in school
6. ‎Periodic community counselling
7. ‎Compulsory STI screening before marriage by the government
8. Parents' education
9. ‎Pre marital counselling
10. Distribution of female condoms

The second workshop, at the Asian College of Journalism, was starkly different. We ended up with 5 students, and it turned into more of a safe space, where one could share her concerns about sex, sexuality and sexual hygiene. After a good, long session of personal sharing of experiences, Dr. Shyamala left us with some information on the types of female contraception available, and how it was so less, so expensive, and not readily available. The students who attended felt a bit taken aback at hearing about the situation, but promised to take it forward as journalists, in the future. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Consultation on Women and Work: Day 6

On November 30, scheduled for perhaps the biggest event of the campaign; we set out amid slightly heavy rain to Manapakkam, to set up for the consultation on women and work. A good 2 hours later, we were all assembled and ready to start. This consultation was done in partnership with Sujata Mody and Penn Thozhilalar Sangam (Women Workers' Union), and brought together women from various sectors: white collar workers, garment industry workers, academicians, journalists, filmmakers and lawyers. We started off with a brilliant keynote by Dr. Kalpana Karunakaran delivered in Tamil; which started off with a history of women and work, and moved on to the biases, stereotypes and challenges a woman faces within and outside the workplace. She also covered issues that crop up due to the intersectionality of caste and class; and quotes case studies from developed countries as well.
After the keynote, we divided up into groups to share experiences of being in the workplace. This involved women of different sectors coming together to share and understanding issues faced by their counterparts in other industries.

Moving surprisingly ahead of time, we broke for lunch where we were able to find a more informal setting to interact. After a light lunch, we set our groups down again to discuss about points and agendas which can apply to women workers across sectors, from which would evolve a solidarity manifesto which can be taken forward. The three groups came up with a wide variety of important issues, including but not limited to: sanitation and hygiene at the workplace, working and clean bathrooms, exploitation across sectors, sexual harassment, union memberships, whether unions in corporate spheres are viable, mutual learning and benefits for domestic workers.
We developed a common charter from the concerns, experiences and issues expressed by everyone, as a conclusion to the day long consultation.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Debate on Women Human Rights' Defenders: Day 5

In memory of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, we held a debate at Ethiraj College for Women. We started off with a small talk by Swarna ma'am on Prajnya's beginnings, and the importance of having conversations on gender. We then moved into the debate, which had 4 speakers on each side. We all felt the research that went into the speakers' arguments could have been a little better, but there were some vociferous voices among them; and as Archanaa (one of our judges) pointed out: it took a great amount of courage and initiative to even present for a debate, let alone one on gender equality. Swarna ma'am took over again, to gently remind them of the workings of a debate, and how preparation will take one far in terms of career growth. We were especially excited to present the winners with Nivedita Menon's Seeing Like a Feminist, and the best speaker with Zia Mody's book on judgements that had changed India. 


Letterbox Resistance: Day 4

On 28th November, Radhika, 3 interns, and I set out to write, but mostly encourage other people to write, letters to end gender violence. We started off with Cafe Coffee Day in Ispahani Centre, where we made the mistake of trying to ask the management if we could interact with the customers. He made a snap decision and said we could, if we gave them business for Rs. 1000. Of course, to that we told him that we would not: but we decided to do it slyly anyway. I ordered a lemonade (which I must say was a lemon soda and not quite appetizing) for Rs. 144 (mentioning prices because we did not even touch Rs. 1000), and put it on the table as something to share between about 6 of us.

Thus having completed this small formality, we started writing: luckily, the couple right next to us was immediately interested, and listened to us, and joined us. Emboldened by this, Radhika and I proceeded to go one by one and (subtly) talk to customers while the waiters weren't watching. Although our plan failed about an hour into this exercise, we had covered atleast 6 tables, and the interns decided to speak to people outside CCD, so they couldn't prevent us from doing that!
We moved to Tea Trails where Swarna ma'am was waiting for us, alongwith another person who had arrived specifically for letterbox! We spread out our material; and before the Tea Trails management could ask us anything, Swarna ma'am (using diplomatic skills level: ninja, I must say) convinced them into tying a ribbon for our gender violence solidarity tree, and encouraged them to write a letter! They were a bit taken aback and realized they couldn't tell us not to set up, since she very swiftly and subtly won them over, so we spent quite a bit of time there. We even bumped into Prajnya's first ever volunteer!
We moved on to Forum Mall Vadapalani, where we had our first upsetting experience: a man who thought it was necessary to tell us that gender violence is not valid because women dress vulgarly. But as Radhika aptly put it. "These men are exactly why we're doing this", and that got to me: so much I even repeated it to our audience at Ethiraj the next day. So, ignoring the stares he kept giving us, we continued with our work, and thereby reached out to so many others.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Tweet Chat on Consent: Day 3

We did a tweet chat on the politics of consent, on November 27th 2017. It was facilitated by Radhika Bhalerao, our GRIT Research Fellow from the @prajnya account.

Here are some excerpts:

Read the entire conversation via Storify!

Men Talk Consent: Day 2

On the 26th of November, we finally hosted an event exclusively to have conversations with men! We spoke about ideas of consent, relationships and navigating sensitive terrains with regard to love and sex. We were thrilled to have 3 speakers: Vetrivel Karthikeyan, who spoke on "The ‘Yes/No’ mystery: So does s/he mean yes or does s/he mean no?", Ganeshkumar M, who spoke on "Guy Talk: What it means to me to be a man" and Sandhiyan Thilagavathy, who spoke on "Man in the making: The challenges and travails of adolescent masculinity"; moderated by Peer Mohamad. 

The discussion started off with a basic introduction to consent, and why men specifically have to engage with these ideas. It then moved into a series of interesting anecdotes and personal narratives. 
We heard a story about toys being gendered into blue for boys and pink for girls, such so much that one wanting another was seen as a complete shock. We covered issues of how a 'no' is taken as a 'yes', especially in professional environments, and how this is taught to us from a young age, in instances where children are forced to show physical affection to strangers just because their parents tell them to. We then moved into interacting with the audience where multiple questions were asked, like if men are complicit towards sexist actions when their friends do them, or do they call them out. The discussion also covered the role of the media, and how constant focusing on media attention moves us away from the issues that are important. The portrayal of women and consent by media outlets and how that outlook has changed was also a key discussion point. 
We ended with the men in the group promising to take these issues forward, and no longer remain silent when their circles made problematic comments. The session was enlightening, and we were thrilled to have a larger number of men turn up (thanks to Kritika Jain!) and participate. 


Shake Off the Silence: Day 1

When we first decided to do a flash mob, I thought that it would be a bit difficult, but not entirely impossible or time-consuming.
This was the first assumption that broke down about a week into trying to plan one.
We started off with an open call for dancers; which led to a rather large Whatsapp group of strangers we didn't even know, who would offer countless opinions but would not reply once on having asked whether they would come for practise.
Our first practise was scheduled for 2PM. Everyone turned up at 4.
An inane amount of begging, warning and policing later, after 15 days we had a semblance of a dance, with songs having been edited multiple times to accomodate multiple requests. Again, we faced the problem of people being very opinionated on virtual spaces, but refusing to turn up when it came to physical presence. I was almost on the verge of 1) tearing my hair out, and 2) doing the more sane thing and telling the team the flash mob wasn't going to happen. We had practises where not more than 3 people had come, at that come very late, and promise me vehemently that they could not come for the next practise.
And then my saviour came in the form of eight wonderful girls: our interns from WCC.
After an unfortunate episode with the original group, we had to disband it, and I called one of our interns (who was especially excited to dance) to inform her that there would not be as many as we had thought. She took it into her hands to hustle up as many of her own friends from WCC, and soon we had 12 dancers: when I had originally hoped for 6 (and expected 4). From resigning myself to the idea that there might be a meagre amount of dancers, to actually finding my excitement again because of the wonderful girls of WCC (who managed to learn the orginal steps, choreograph another part, and manage excellent formation in 5 days!), the planning of this has been nothing short of a nightmare turned into a dreamlike miracle.
And we finally did it!

Watch it here:


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Thoughts for Posterity: 2017 Campaign

A day ago when Swarna ma'am reminded me to write the opening post as campaign associate, and I put it on my list for things to do once I got home as usual. But when I opened the blog up to write, I experienced this sense of euphoria: because for once, after years of purely academic writing, legal writing, purely non-experience related writing; I was finally at a place where I could write about what I was doing, and what I was excited about! I stared back at my laptop for a few minutes because I needed that time to get into the writing personally-mode.
I use the word personally because working with Prajnya has also become personal, in a sense to me. Just two days back I experienced this sense of outrage when I thought that someone had tried to co-opt a certain event (all misunderstandings cleared) that we had meticulously planned and were almost ready to execute: such so much that I realized that I was so involved with work, I didn't stop to think that perhaps I was feeling extremely over-protective of the campaign and of Prajnya's work! It made me laugh a little in my head - mainly because I remembered going for a workshop a year ago on emotional intelligence, where the facilitator told us that the one take-away from the day should be, never let your professional life affect your personal life, and always separate your emotions from your work. While at the time I thought that was sound advice; working with Prajnya, somehow I feel that I have learnt to appreciate the emotions and accept the ones that come along with planning this campaign.
One thing I have noticed, however, is that sometimes while one is in constant touch with something, its intensity and significance is greatly diluted in their heads. I was telling a friend about the campaign and how it works, and she was so awed by it, and was so happy that the campaign initiates dialogue on such a large scale, she proceeded to tell all her friends in Madras about it. For a moment I was shocked; because working with it, I suppose I had somewhat gotten used to the idea in my head, but when I actually sat down and thought about it: the reality of it hit me. The idea that while people have been debating and arguing about so many things online; Prajnya has been doing this for 8 years offline, going on-ground, changing norms, breaking stereotypes - and to think of the number of people who have been educated because of this, and the number of people that soon will be - the mind boggles. I am almost ashamed that I normalized this in my head - I remain constantly amazed by the work Prajnya does, and will do; and with this I hope the 2017 campaign continues to do this - educate, raise awareness, initiate change. When I first interviewed for the job I was almost sure I would not get it; I don't have a Master's degree, I was afraid that I came off as a little too immature for a job like this, and perhaps in some part of my head I did think that I might be, too young to handle something that initiates such large-scale awareness in Madras. Now that I'm here, I can't believe we are almost ready to release the calendar and more than that, I can't believe I ever got used to the idea. Writing this post brings back all the anticipation, excitement and astonishment: we're here, we're ready and we're good to go.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Welcome to the 2017 Campaign!

It feels like one of those winter mornings, when you know it's day but the sky is so heavy with clouds and snow that it feels like night, and you end up staying in bed longer than you intended, longer than you ought.

And so it is that we are opening the Campaign Chronicle only on the 20th of October this year. Much later than usual, but amid the same old, same old combination of excitement and anxiety that we always feel as the Campaign Calendar bubbles and boils its way to something like 'done.'

This year's Campaign Associate is Malavika Ravi. She is putting together a calendar that looks a little bit like the campaigns of the first and second cycle, re-cast with the confidence of the third.

Prajnya has also celebrated our tenth birthday in September (that is why the late start on the campaign) and we bring into the 2017 campaign, the celebratory mood, the renewed connections and a new energy.

I hope you are following us on Facebook:
That is where we now post news, research and commentary. This is where we document our work and post content that complements or belongs to the Campaign Calendar.

Do stay in touch and join us wherever you can!