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Educate to Empower – A reflection of SNEHA’s 16 Days of Activism activities

Dec 15 2021 / Posted in Gender Violence

Authors: Unnati Machchhar (Associate Programme Directors, Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, SNEHA) and Shilpa Adelkar (Associate Programme Director, Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, SNEHA)

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day.[1]

According to the latest estimates, nearly 1 in 3 women aged 15 years and older, around the world have been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, non-partner or both, at least once in their lifetime, indicating that levels of Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) have remained largely unchanged over the last decade.

COVID-19 has exacerbated all the risk factors for VAWG, including unemployment and poverty, and reinforced many of the root causes such as gender stereotypes and harmful social norms.

This year’s global campaign theme Orange the World: End Violence against Women Now!”[2] will:

Advocate for inclusive, comprehensive and long-term strategies, programmes and resources to prevent and eliminate VAWG.

Amplify the success stories demonstrating that VAWG is preventable by showcasing effective strategies and interventions to inspire all actors to scale up what works.

Promote the leadership of women and girls in their diversity and their meaningful participation in policy making and decision making from global to local levels.

Engage Generation Equality Forum commitment policy makers in country or region collaborate in the implementation of bold new commitments and to inspire further action to deliver progress on the Gender-Based Violence Action Coalition Blueprint.

SNEHA’s programme on the Prevention of Violence against Women and Children has been working on similar lines. We create high‐impact strategies for primary prevention which ensure survivors’ access to protection and justice, empower marginalised women to claim their rights, mobilise communities around ‘zero tolerance for violence,’ and respond to the needs and rights of excluded and neglected groups. To prevent violence from ever happening, it is imperative that we act at all levels and with an understanding of intersectionality.

Our multiple research initiatives indicate that women are put at risk of violence through a complex interplay of factors - individual, relationship, community, institutional, and societal - and within the intersectionality of poverty, religion, caste, gender, sexuality and disability.

In 2017, SNEHA initiated a large cluster randomised controlled trial of community mobilisation to prevent violence against women and girls in urban informal settlements in Mumbai, in which over 40% of Mumbai’s inhabitants live.

In our baseline survey of 5122 women, 13% had suffered physical or sexual domestic violence, 19% emotional domestic violence and 23% economic domestic violence. Only 8% had disclosed to a health worker.

In the trial, we are reaching out to 12000 households directly through our work in two locations. In all, there are 72 women’s groups comprising of about 2200 members, 12 men’s groups having about 500 members and 12 adolescents’ groups with approximately 500 members. There are 360 Sanginis (women volunteers). These volunteers are from our intervention areas who actively participate in the activities, mobilising and influencing other community members to participate. They are self-driven, passionate and committed to the cause.

The team believes that the intervention and sensitisation have to go beyond groups and direct beneficiaries which will enable and enhance the process of community mobilisation. Various activities are regularly done to cover these clusters and create awareness.

16 days of activism was looked at as a golden opportunity to strengthen the base, elicit optimal participation and involvement of the community in creating awareness on gender-based violence. SNEHA’s 16 days of activism comprised of various activities like performances by theatre groups, whistle campaigns, rallies, white ribbon day, signature campaigns, information desk on gender-based violence issues, snake and ladder games to convey various messages related to gender sensitisation reach to every corner in the community.

Performances by theatre groups:

We tied up with Asmita Theatre Group who performed plays on reducing violence against women and girls. The strategic spots were identified in consultation with community members and the play was performed in 24 clusters, in the middle of the community. The play helped create a platform for community members to see, reflect about themselves, their situation, talk to the theatre group members and relate to violence they face in their own lives.

About 4300 community members watched the performances. Many participants from the audience were in tears and speechless watching the play and at the same time promising themselves to come forward to raise their voice against violence and crime which they have faced in past or maybe still facing. It provided them courage and confidence and instilled a strong wish to act upon it.

Whistle campaign:

We identified the spots which were a hub for harassment of women and girls. About 1000 gat (community volunteer group) members, sanginis, adolescents and men blew whistles creating awareness and distributing pamphlets inside the community. Men whistling is a very common scenario in communities but women whistling attracted a lot of attention as community members came out of their houses and understood the concept behind it. It took a lot of courage and strength to blow whistles for more than an hour, talk about the concerns and get into dialogues with community members.

Rallies:  The rallies involved the participation of 1700 active community and gat members, shouting slogans using mikes and speakers, to create awareness. Rains and bad weather could not curtail the energy and spirit of a highly motivated team and community members. Rallies also stopped at a few spots, the volunteers interacted with community members, involved and engaged them in meaningful discussions about gender-based violence.

White ribbon day (men’s participation to stop violence against women):

Couples were encouraged to participate in games used to challenge gender roles and their impact on women. Games like segregating rice and lentil, balancing balloons, couples apologising and expressing their love in front of community members were played. About 153 couples participated in this activity. It made men value the unpaid care work which women and girls perform and never gets talked about. Some men admitted that women are always taken for granted and that they need to share the burden of chores. It made them realise the household chores are simple but time-consuming. It helped them look at the life they spent together, about the moments that they shared and also admitted to having hurt their partners for which they apologised. It has surely helped in building better bonds and respect for each other’s feelings. It was heartening to see men taking time out from their work routine to partake in the happiness of their partners.

Signature campaigns: To encourage the community members to stand up against violence, signature campaigns were held in all the intervention areas. Volunteers were inviting passers-by to write one line supporting the cause and put their signatures. We secured about 5000 signatures from people who wish to stand up against VAWG.

Snake and ladder:

An age-old interactive board game was converted to promote prevention messages and provide support to the survivors. About 2000 community members played this game.

Information desk: Located at a visible spot where community members can access, a desk was set up to seek more information about the prevention of violence against women and girls. Ways to support women facing domestic and intimate partner violence were also discussed.

We have been able to identify 62 women survivors of violence while conducting these activities who will be supported within the community and through our services. Although the 16 days of activism last only 16 days, we will continue to support the survivors of violence through our programme.

The 16 Days Activism have highlighted stories of courage in our communities and has promoted leadership of our women volunteers taking the mantle of standing up against violence. It confirmed our conviction that working with women, men and adolescents will catalyse change and communities will gradually learn to not tolerate violence.

[1] https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/take-action/16-days-of-activism

[2] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news-stories/in-focus/2021/11/in-focus-16-days-of-activism-against-gender-based-violence?gclid=Cj0KCQiA-qGNBhD3ARIsAO_o7ylH0eZpgcU-1WZmVc0Z_mQLGhSMerIQkkq2LDvKm2fUo-DJLdC0RJcaAoQ0EALw_wcB