Maun Nahi, Awaz Do!

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Supported by PRIA and HED, SAKAR (Social Action for Knowledge Building and Awareness Raising) undertook Kadam Badao Campaign (KBC) in Bareilly with an group of youth. Nitika Pant, co-founder and Secretary of SAKAR, reflects on the six month journey of implementing KBC, which she says has been one of successes and challenges for SAKAR.

 

KBC is a very good example of how youth energy can be harnessed and constructively used to take up sensitive and important issues like Violence Against Women (VAW).

‘Youth harbours change and is the constructive energy of our country, having the power to challenge!’

This thought triggered the process of undertaking such an initiative with PRIA to engage youth on the issue of violence against women.

We began by engaging with the community in the rural area, where we identified leaders amongst adolescent girls group. These girls belonged to the five villages where SAKAR was already working with adolescent girls. SAKAR had got support for its initiatives in vocational education, tailoring and stitching for adolescent girls. Though we had held meetings, trainings and workshops with these adolescent girls on gender, violence, etc, they had never led a campaign, that too on such a sensitive issue. Forming a core group consisting of youth from urban and rural areas and then the possibility of them leading the whole campaign seemed a formidable task. A youth led campaign within a specific framework seemed do-able on paper but, too much flexibility could make the campaign clumsy and directionless. Moreover, that Muslim girls would come out and speak on VAW seemed a distant dream! Needless to add, I was apprehensive.

But…. we started and persevered. When I look back on that journey of engaging with the youth, building a collective mindset to confront the structures of patriarchy, leading to collective action I can view the challenges we faced as opportunities.

How did we do it, I asked myself?

  • Creating conscious opportunities to raise the issue

There was no better day than national adolescent girl child day (24 January) to mark the beginning of the campaign. We organized an event in Rohilkhand University where adolescent girls from our kishori groups and students from the university participated. During this event, a list of 25 youth volunteers were identified for the core group.

On 14 February (Valentine’s Day) (#onebillionrising is a day to rise, voice and dance against violence on women) girls tried to break the rules by flying kites in public places (in villages where majority were Muslims and Dalits). This was met with curiosity, comments and congratulations by different sections of people.

  • Reaching out and involving maximum stakeholders

VAW can be addressed only when all stakeholders come together and plan to end the menace. The youth engaged with community leaders, elected representatives, ASHA and anganwadi workers, women in SHGs to discuss the issue of VAW and what each such stakeholder can do to make a change.

Linkages with the government administration and interpersonal communication as well as public relations help to strengthen these processes. The adolescent girls groups prepared social maps to locate those spaces where they were scared of going. This PRA exercise of mapping safe and unsafe spaces was done in 5 villages. The girls prepared the social map of their village and did the identification exercise and analysis on their own. They took action by meeting their pradhan and shared the map with him, asking for support.

Engagement with universities, schools and colleges is a difficult task which needs constant push and attention. In trying to include the urban youth, we decided to take the campaign to colleges and universities. SAKAR had no direct presence in urban areas, so we involved Rohilkhand University as part of the campaign.

It was important to take the campaign to schools, so that even children are sensitized on the issue. We identified two inter colleges and sessions on gender and VAW were organized in both the schools.

But a youth festival organized in the university was a near disaster! Students did not turn up. Only a few came and they limited themselves to the drawing competition. The core group members from the towns unfortunately were not allowed to take part.

  • Bringing the rural and urban youth together in a core group

On the one hand SAKAR was already working in the rural areas on the issue. Urban core group members (from the university) were going to join in to create and put into action a campaign. The number of core group members from the university who had shown interest had dwindled in less than a month. The “non-event” at the university had not helped.

To energise the core group members, a signature camp was organized in the university to raise awareness on the issue and to make them feel they were part of the campaign. A visit of urban core group members to rural areas to meet the core group members from those villages was helpful. It was an interesting learning experience for them, particularly since two of them had never been to a village!

Selection of the core group should be given adequate time for bridging the rural-urban divide among the youth. The challenge of bringing rural girls to this platform however remained.

  • Effective capacity building of core group influences the output for the campaign

Initially, members of the core group come confused, interested and inquisitive. Interactive sessions with them on gender, youth leadership and how to organise campaigns help to build cohesiveness within the group. The group discusses what is the difference between sex and gender, what are gender stereotypes, which gender roles can be challenged and changed. A film on gender built further understanding on gender roles and acceptance by society. The road map of the campaign became clearer over several meetings.

  • Innovativeness is the success of campaigns

Interest of the youth has to be nurtured and used for best result and performance. Sometimes quick actions overpower processes, but a balance is always required. Proper planning with regular activities during the campaign is central to success.

The youth created newsletters, pamphlets and hoardings as part of IEC material. Amit, a core grop member, used social media and started two WhatsApp groups — one for core group members and the other for any other stakeholder who was interesting in being part of the campaign. These WhatsApp groups acted as a discussion forum for the core group members, as well as a way to communicate. During the campaign, these groups exchanged opinions, shared newspaper reports and poems. In fact, they were also used as a means to know what society thought about violence against women and its root causes.

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Despite such challenges, in a short span of six months, SAKAR was successful in:

  • Bridging the rural-urban gap.
  • Quality IEC material was developed; social media was innovatively used to engage the general public.
  • The core group took the lead in rescuing a seven-year-old who was employed as a domestic help.
  • Road shows, conducted for the first time in Bareilly, had a tremendous response.
  • Multiple stakeholders were brought together on a common issue.

The KBC model highlights two important aspects for SAKAR’s work in the future:

(1) that opportunities and platforms can bridge the rural-urban divide, and

(2) innovativeness and risks in organizing a campaign can be a strength.

The energy of the campaign has not ended. It has brought a spark to the work that SAKAR does, has built relationships and has recommitted us to SAKAR’s cause and motto:  Maun Nahi, Awaz Do!

 

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