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The Role of the Civil Society: Changing Social Prejudices.

  1. Tanya Malik.

The focus of the Streedhan Association of Women’s Development is on educational intervention and social advocacy. Prior to this, I worked with an organisation in Mumbai, which dealt with women who face domestic violence in Maharashtra. What I realised with my experience, is that there is an immense knowledge gap when it comes to our legal rights, reproductive rights, and such. There is a huge gap, even though there is legal reformation in the country, laws are being created, changes are occurring on that front. Yet, this does not translate into actual change for women, for there is a huge gap in understanding.

The idea was for Streedhan to do whatever possible to fill that gap, be it by conducting workshops, or by utilising the youth to make sure that the right and correct information is translated and spread across areas, specifically in low-income households, where there is a huge gap. Then, we realised that even when it comes to utilising your legal rights, there is a structure in place. Again, not many know how to utilise the law or what one must do to take a stand for themselves. Putting such information out there is what we focused upon through education intervention.

We’ve been very lucky, as certain state governments have been quite active with putting information out, and supporting organisations like ours. This is also where social advocacy comes into play, wherein we work on advocating for the right kind of change and policies that need to be created.

For example, one of the social advocacy campaigns we’ve been working on since lockdowns began is in the MHM (menstrual health and hygiene) space, as the government did not mention sanitary napkins as part of essential items. Due to the aforementioned, along with issues such as lack of affordability (an ongoing issue) and lack of accessibility, MHM became a large-scale issue during the lockdowns. In order to end “period poverty”, most of the state governments are working on the distribution of disposable pads, without considering the environmental issues and the need for a sustainable solution. Currently, most of our social advocacy efforts are focused on getting the state governments to shift their policy to incorporate sustainable menstrual hygiene products, along with the menstrual hygiene products on informed choice, calling for the availability of correct information, so that women are able to make their own choices and decisions. And we believe that this stands true, irrespective of the space we are working in.

Most of our focus is on education intervention, be it through supporting individuals, social advocacy and advocating with state governments on issues. What we have been actively working on is menstrual hygiene and reproductive rights, as well as domestic violence, which is a continuous process, as it is an unfortunate issue which is quite prevalent across the country. This was our focus point since we started, which we continue to focus on, specifically in Maharashtra and the NCR region.

One of the most important things for us to do is to know our rights, to stay educated and to know what our rights are, and the other thing that I constantly young students is to use every possible platform you have around to have a dialogue to discuss issues and raise awareness and educate others around you. There is no particular method or platform to have this dialogue, we have to use every possible platform out there to be possible to have this dialogue and make sure it becomes a normalized conversation. Sometimes, when we do work with, or have a lot of young volunteers, we tell them that other than the active workshops that we conduct, make sure that you’re doing something to help daily. It could be something as simple and easy as your household help, or somebody around your own house and colony. Just having a normal, regular conversation with them can empower people in ways which go a much longer way than what workshops actually end up doing.

  1. Himalika Mohanty.

I would define gender-based violence as any kind of violence that is directed towards members of a particular gender. For a long time this meant women, but now slowly with increasing knowledge about the spectrum of gender and the large number of genders that are still getting to know of. Instead, it could also include people from the LGBTQIA+ community.

I believe that the social norms and their direct manifestations to be harmful towards women, that is the basic reason for any kind of gender-based violence, that is, patriarchal social norms. This begins from the moment a person is born and assigned a particular gender at birth, it is almost like a race to see which person best adheres to the social traits of their gender. Those who adhere best are almost ‘rewarded’ than those who do not, who are punished. So, social norms and their direct manifestations in the form of assigned roles are harmful.

For instance, the assigning of gender at birth based on reproductive organs as a social norm, and its direct manifestation on the idea of women behaving a certain way, and the cliches of pink for girls and blue for boys. This can lead to further issues. Take education and the workplace, statistics indicate that more men occupy higher positions in companies and organisations, but that is often the direct result of the fact that girls don’t have access to schooling and education, or they are not the first choice in the family for schooling. So yes, the social norms translate into harmful repercussions towards women and the genders that are being targeted adversely.

Personally speaking, I’d say that since my masters I’ve been working with women issues. My M.A. was in Women’s Studies and my M.Phil is also in Women’s Studies. My B.A. was in Sociology, so knowing and learning about gender form that sociological viewpoint and then movie into a more streamlined discipline was one of the first ways I started understanding violence against women and other marginalised communities. That understanding, I feel, is one of the most subtle but very important ways to be able to counter such violence in any way. To counter violence is quite a broad term since violence could mean anything, and range in terms of what it contains. Personally speaking, from knowing about and understanding the different aspects of genders and how it shapes everything, from people, interactions, to personalities, to everything, was very important.

I’ve always personally been interested in intimate relationships and since my masters and also in my M.Phil right now that’s the area I’m focusing upon. I feel that area is such an important area to understand gender-based violence and discrimination that works out in a very subtle understated manner that is often not automatically recognised. It is very cuckooed, the violence, just as the sphere of intimate relations have been. But, there is one of the most significant places where discrimination and violence take place. Following that, I also worked a year in a legal organisation called Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives, wherein I was in the team for research and advocacy.

This is all very personal, it is what I am doing, but there are myriad ways, through which one can counter such violence in any way, because, again, to counter such violence is a really broad term and it could mean anything. Understanding the impact of sexist behaviour and harassment, as well as the ability to identify such behaviour, is needed. This is something in our own time, whether or not it is part of our discipline, we should become aware of, in order to help. Generally being aware of what is going on, there are so many laws, so many helpline numbers that help women, girls, members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Learning about these would be an important way to help you counter such violence, and these are just a few of the ways.

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