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From Spectators to Change-makers: Youth Leadership on VAWG

Oisin Tucker, an intern at PRIA from University College Dublin, is impressed with the youth leaders under the Kadam Badhate Chalo program who are taking charge in the fight to prevent violence against women and girls in Jaipur.

For much of my time in Jaipur, as part of my internship with PRIA, I have been conducting interviews with high- and low-level police officers, RPF commanders and youth leaders who have all been involved in the Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC) project. I have also had a lot of casual conversations with local friends about Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). It was surprising that many of them are unfamiliar with what is and what is not legal in this country. When I talked about “anti-Romeo squads”, police helplines and the presence of female constables in every station, I found myself educating them, as all of this was new information.

It is important that people become knowledgeable about their rights, as knowledge is a strong source of power. When it comes to VAWG, I personally believe a stronger emphasis should be placed on youth acquiring such knowledge. We know that women of all ages face forms of violence and sexual harassment, but studies and work on the ground by civil society organisations like PRIA show that college girl students are the most vulnerable. By targeting the youth we can help them protect themselves and encourage them to help others by advocating for necessary social changes.

In Ireland, like in other countries, the youth often fail to participate in social activities that directly affect their lives, such as voting. This ‘apathy’ can often be resolved by giving them a little push in the right direction. University College Dublin (UCD) is a university in the capital of Ireland. One of the ways the college encourages youth participation is through student debates, which are a long established college tradition. Every week hundreds of students fill the theatres to debate current and controversial topics as a way to engage and challenge the presumptions of a wide range of ideas, opinions and beliefs through rational and intellectual exchange. On many occasions the selected debate topics relate to women’s rights. A few examples of the debates that took place in 2016 are: the house would ban porn, the house would decriminalise prostitution, men can’t be feminists, and the abortion debate. What is impressive about these activities is all of them are organised and run by students.

When students become knowledgeable about the problems they face, they become active. In 2016 the UCD Student Union conducted a year-long campaign to publicise the importance of sexual consent and lobby for the university to establish a policy that deals with sexual assault on campus. One of the main events of the campaign was the ‘slutwalk’. Hundreds of students came together to stand against sexual harassment on the streets of Ireland. Many individuals who took part wore ‘skimpy’ clothes and carried banners with slogans such as “It’s my hot body, I will do what I want” and “My clothes are not my consent”. The purpose of the protest was to tackle the misguided belief that a woman’s clothing is an invitation for sex or sexual comment.

Raising awareness on issues related to the rights of women – how and when they can access public spaces, and feel safe and secure while doing so – is a crucial objective of KBC. KBC is working to sensitise people from all walks of life (families, local communities, educational institutions, government, the judiciary, police, public transport systems and commercial establishments) about the problems females face in public spaces. It is also trying to advocate for the implementation of new security measures such as policy changes, better street light, more police patrolling or any other issues that are jeopardising the safety of women and girls.

During my interview process in Jaipur, I have been amazed by how motivated and dedicated the KBC youth leaders are in preventing VAWG. What is even more impressive is that they are using what they have learnt to spread awareness and teach others. For example, three weeks ago the group of male youth leaders from Rajasthan University I interviewed were in the middle of trying to organise a workshop on VAWG.

The KBC project has been a great success in providing the youth with the necessary knowledge to campaign for female safety. These youth are no longer spectators in this world. Each one of them is now an active participant playing their part in reshaping social norms.



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