Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Watching the sun set... again

It's the day we shut the blog down and declare the campaign season closed. It's a little bit like life's last moments are supposed to be, with images and voices and moments from the campaign flashing by--a happy moment that we managed to do something good and a sad moment because it also signals an ending. This year, it signals the end of this campaign cycle as well; as you know, we take a year off every three years just to reflect and replenish.

What a campaign it's been! Just 17 people extended our reach beyond our imagination, and reinforced our faith in each individual's capacity to make change. It's so easy to be cynical and say, "What difference can I make?" Too often, we go on to list the things we cannot do, but there are so many things we could do if we would stop focusing on what we cannot. New people brought new words, new ideas and new perspectives to enrich our own. And we think we may have enthused a few enough to take forward their engagement in other ways. Yes, I am gushing but to me, it seems like a minor miracle. Thank you, G.E.M.s!

This was also the year we finally managed to do a spotlight segment on gender violence as public health--a long-standing item on our campaign wishlist. The programmes we had as well as the resource we have created through this year's blog symposium are a source of great satisfaction.

None of this would have been possible without our generous donors, our partners, our resource people who made the time to be there, symposium contributors, participants and volunteers.

Read the 2014 Campaign report here.

But the person whose impress defines the campaign is the Campaign Coordinator, Swetha Shankar. This is Swetha's campaign, and that is how we will always speak of it. Swetha brought a great deal of domain knowledge to the campaign, having worked as a counselor and having written her thesis on sexual violence in conflict. To this unusual attribute, she brought a very centered presence, an understated way with people and great maturity. Her sharp mind, quick grasp, writing skills and most of all, willingness to write prolifically have been a huge asset for us this year. It has been a pleasure to have worked with her. Like I do every year, I close the campaign season ruing that we are unable to retain the talent that the campaign brings our way regularly.

I also want to acknowledge Santha Nallathambi's effort to learn on the job and provide the perfect back-up for the campaign. From organizing the printing of thousands of copies of handouts (and even bumper stickers this year) to preparing and delivering event-appropriate packages to hanging up banners and cleaning out venues, she has been tireless and undaunted by the newness of the campaign (and Prajnya) experience. Thank you, Santha!

Anupama Srinivasan and I have now worked on five campaigns together. I take for granted her domain knowledge, her attention to detail and her people skills. I do not take for granted her strong commitment to gender violence awareness work and to the Prajnya campaign. So I would like to acknowledge here her very, very large part in creating Prajnya's body of work in this area since 2008.

Shyamala Rajagopalan, as everyone notes, provides the tea and biscuits that fuel the campaign, and has until recently also provided the only office space we had. This year, the generosity of the Shree Ayurvedic Multispecialty Hospital has allowed us to have an additional meeting, operational and storage space--our new office. I would like to thank them too.

The sun sets on the 2014 and the 2014 campaign season. Tomorrow, it will rise in a new calendar year. But for us, a new campaign season will dawn only in September 2016. Until then, stay in touch with us on social networks and over email, and don't forget that you have the power to make a difference! Prajnya is only one of many platforms; you are the true agent of social transformation.

A Farewell Reflection

On the cusp of a new year, when possibilities seem untold and we turn to new prospects and challenges, it is my duty to officially sign-off from the 2014 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence.

2014 for us has been the year of individuals. This was the year  we sought to push for the ideal that each of us within our own lives and our own interests and careers can and should serve as change-makers.This was the year we took the campaign out of conference rooms and into people's drawing rooms.

Personally, this has been an exciting and educative experience for me as it challenged all my notions of what a campaign like this should be like and allowed for a more organic exploration of civil society engagement on issues of violence, inclusiveness and equality. It was anxiety-provoking but also exhilarating to make connections and witness the collision of what is and what could be. Small, individual changes CAN have an incremental effect and it can ripple out and touch people and communities in unexpected and unplanned ways. 

When we do this work, we talk tirelessly and rightly so about change and we direct all our energies towards it (as this campaign does every year to be and do better and to make us all more equal citizens and stakeholders). What was reinforced with greater certainty for me is that we cannot  always direct or predict change but it is important to keep engaging anyway.

Before I sign-off for good,

 Swarna Rajagopalan, played mentor, friend and cheerleader in equal measure and made this a truly special experience. Her vast knowledge and experience and her incredible generosity in sharing both without any caveats has been a strength through this campaign. Many, many thanks! 

Anupama Srinivasan has been a constantly warm, steadfast and unfazed presence, tackling my panicked phone calls and endless questions with practiced ease. Thank you for the confidence, the support and the laughs.  

Santha Nallathanmbi, our administrator and co-newbie to the campaign was immensely helpful in helping organize everything and traversing new waters with me. Thank you!

Shyamala Rajagopalan, who tolerated late-afternoon invasions with grace and warmth and sent good wishes and thoughts every time we stepped out for an event. Thank you for the tea and biscuits. I am not a tea-drinker, but yours are an exception!

To all our volunteers, thank you for your enthusiasm, commitment and support, and thanks especially for picking up the phone and responding with a 'Yes'. 

As we sat down to take stock of the campaign, I was asked if we should do this again. And here's my answer: An Unequivocal Yes!



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tweeting up a Storm: Khusbhu on GV

by Shakthi Manickavasagam

As one of our G.E.M.s for the 2014 Campaign, actress, television host and producer Khushbu Sundar posted several tweets on gender violence. Providing practical information on identifying and addressing various forms of gender-based violence, Khushbu's tweets, which were enthusiastically retweeted, favourited and commented on, demonstrated the power of social media in raising awareness and initiating conversations.

Here are some of her tweets:

And some responses: 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Laughing Till it Hurts

The Thin Line Between Being Funny, And Being Sexist

Indu Balachandran

The other day I saw this cartoon of a couple of women astronauts, standing on an alien planet. They were trying to figure out where in the universe they had landed. Strewn around them were some clues: empty beer bottles, pinups of Kim Kardashian, car magazines, porn, pizza takeaways… “Hey. Looks like we’ve landed on Mars!” declared the ladies.

I laughed. The penny dropped after a quick moment of thought  (“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”), and on another level, it reinforced a funny view of the typical ‘manly’ male.
Come to think of it, I had smiled to myself, seeing the joke. But later that day, when I mentioned it to my sister, we both broke into a big laugh. The joke just became so much funnier when shared with someone of my gender.

Which got me thinking.  Wasn’t that a kind of ‘sexist’ joke--against men? Why did that seem to us quite light hearted and inoffensive—compared to many bawdy, even misogynist digs against women?  Which are the times men and women laugh at different things? What makes us all laugh out loud, together?

Anatomy of a joke

All humorists know, most particularly stand-up comedians, that a joke isn’t a joke until it has a victim, and funny isn’t funny enough unless it has a sting in the tail.

Consider this joke by a stand-up comedian on TV. “The news has just come in about a man who suddenly discovered his wife of 12 years, was actually born a man, and undergone a sex change years ago. The husband, who hadn’t suspected a thing, said, ‘I always found my wife so beautiful, so feminine. But now I realize something: she was simply no good at ironing my shirts.’

Every one in the audience, men and women alike broke into claps and laughter. In this joke, both the genders seemed ‘victims’ :women perhaps thinking: serve that stupid man right, expecting a wife to iron shirts, and men thinking, the ‘woman’ couldn’t get her basic womanly duty, ie ironing, right.
But later on in the show, another male comedian came up with this one: “How did the medical community come up with the term PMS? Because Mad Cow Disease was already taken.”  Women, I noticed, grimaced, while men guffawed right out of their seats.

And that brings me to think about the two different ways men and women make others laugh in public—there’s hardly a male standup comic whose repertoire doesn’t include sex, body parts, bodily functions (many times smelly emissions, yes). But I have seen the most hysterically funny women stand-ups who can hold a show without any sexual depravity whatsoever.

A sense of humour: sexy or sexist?

Ask any young man or woman, what quality do you find most attractive in the opposite sex, enough to be married to the person? You can be quite sure they are going to include ‘a sense of humour’ . And yet gender experts tell us this desirable, sexy trait means quite different things to males and females: a woman will define it as ‘someone who makes me laugh a lot’. A man will say; ‘someone who laughs a lot at my jokes’. 

But after marriage, it tends to reverse, say experts. Humour can even cast couples asunder. Men, no longer concerned with wooing and winning, tend to get cruelly funny, (jokes about women drivers or her relatives, for instance, distinctly unfunny to her). Or laughing at grossly sexual comedy on TV (You find that funny? Give me a break…) Invariably, the woman now becomes the prime producer of true wit, self deprecating and hilarious, even if it’s mostly in conversation with  her woman friends.

It’s all in the head

According to many psychological spinoffs that sprouted after the “Men are from Mars” best-seller, gender differences are primarily about our brains,  not just body parts, and how our minds are genetically structured to respond to fear, joy, challenge,…and of course humour.

Early man just went out and happily clobbered something on its head, whether it was a beast or a woman he fancied. Early woman however was thinking deeply about protection—both herself and her young ones. Fast forwarding several centuries later, early man evolved into the class clown. He played pranks, hit, got what he wanted, and became a hero. The female of the species evolved into the  protection-conscious thinker, running away from aggressive boys.

Now humour is largely aggressive, and pre-emptive—certainly not a basic feminine trait. Femaleness is ‘thinking’ things through…will I be harmed? Will I get into trouble? What should I be feeling here…and so on.

And that’s how some men thoughtlessly end up rubbing women up the wrong way (ladies, pardon the physical nuance to that expression) with not just sexually exploitive humour; but also gender-biased jokes that are annoying.

Consider this one:  Bob: Hey Joe, I heard you got a new dishwasher. Joe: Yes. I got married again.
Hearing this, men will laugh at the sheer wit of it; (it is indeed a cleverly crafted joke) but the woman, following her female hard-wired brain to ‘think through’ an issue, may dwell on her own life for a flashing moment, and recall that the jerk she married never ever helps out in the kitchen. And not really laugh that much.

Today’s ideal stand up comic

Nowadays I have started looking at standup comedy itself in a new light. It is no longer just the scruffy guy with a mike in the pub (a place largely populated by men), but funny women comics are storming the stage too and giving it back-- on stage, in parties, in coffee shops, even in weddings. And the clever or ‘sensible’ humorist is the one who makes a victim of neither men or women, but himself/herself—always a trick that works.

But men can still be gross as hell, even about their own body parts! So increasingly I find that ‘gender-free’ jokes, ie those that talk about classic, popular topics like man-woman relationships (always a sure-fire attention getter ) but with a fresh and witty connection--these are the ones that get me rolling on the floor.

I’ll give you an example: “Ok this one goes out to my Maths teacher, Mr Thomas, and what he introduced me to: ALGEBRA. I would like to tell Algebra to stop asking us to find X.  Your X is gone, she is married to someone else, and is never coming back…”
Ha Ha!

Indu Balachandran is an advertising person, a travel and humour columnist, a Prajnya GEM and has a bucket-list that includes doing a stand-up show some day. Maybe dying of laughter is a good way to go.

This article first appeared on as part of the 2014 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence. Thank you Womens Web!

Friday, December 12, 2014

GEMSpeak: #RunSafe - How Can We Make Chennai Safe for Women Runners?

by Preeti Aghalyam

It has been an honour and a privilege to be identified as one of the Gender Equality Mobilisers (G.E.M.s) for 2014 by Prajnya. I look forward to participation in the movement beyond the 16 days campaign as well. For now, here is a round up from me:


I am a runner and as a vociferous member of the Chennai Runners club, have been talking recently about the safety of women runners on the streets of Chennai. A safety that I have always taken for granted. In the past couple of years, with the number of women runners increasing fairly dramatically, the number of incidents of groping, pushing, pinching, shouting, scaring, and general harassment have increased. I often find that women take this as par for the course and try not to talk in public about it, sort of accept it. I hope to break that mind-set, and also of course, figure out ways and means of keeping ourselves safe, enjoying our runs, and sending a clear message to the population that we won’t accept any harassment.

What we did:
  • Safety Audits
  • Social Media Discussions
  • Signature Campaign 

A brief description:

If you drive or walk around in the Alwarpet/Mylapore area at normal times of day, chances are you will feel perfectly safe. It is busy, with commercial establishments, shoppers, pavement fruit sellers, and commuters. There aren't that many thriving tasmac shops. But we run at 5 am, when it’s dark and stray dogs are our only companions. A set of #SafetyAudits using the #SafetiPin app was a great way to kick start what I had named the #RunSafe campaign.

The discussions continued into the Social Media space then, targeting not only women runners in Chennai, but also all across the country. I invited friends to share their experiences using a googleform, which led to a discovery that some pockets of the beautiful Besantnagar area need a deeper look-in. I hope to spearhead some #SafetyAudits there in near future.

I also shared a number of ‘tips’ suggested by various people on how to ensure your own safety during runs. Such as from this handy site & sparked off discussions on what women are doing today in India. From knives to pepper spray to never running alone to this lady who resorted to violence there are many things to think about here. My daughter made us this pic to illustrate some of the very basic things:

Meanwhile, Anil, a friend of mine felt so enthused by it all that he wrote this blog post which is one of the best compilation of Safety Tips I have seen.

Finally, at The Hindu Health & Fitness Expo on Dec 6th, as a precursor to The Wipro Chennai Marathon 2014, when 1800+ women ran on the streets of Chennai in three races (10, 21 & 42Km), we ran a suggestion board/signature campaign.  This was at once educational (we should have included cyclists in this campaign, not just runners) and inspirational (children gave us suggestions that make a lot of sense!).

Final words:

There is lot more to be done. My aim these past couple of weeks was to get people talking about this important issue of safety, in a general manner. All the talk has to lead to action. Some of it is individual – we all have to make changes. But a large part of it is lies with the administration, and as democratic citizens the responsibility is on us to drive it. I am going to use the #RunSafe tag often in the future, for sure.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Community Cafe: Exploring GV - CyberSmart Parenting

On the 9th of December, we met with parents of prepubescents and teenagers to discuss cybersmart parenting and how to equip children to deal with online violence and more importantly, foster an open environment where kids feel comfortable opening up to their parents when they do encounter violence.

The session began with a presentation by Anupama Srinivasan of Prajnya. Some of the issues that were flagged up during the presentation were:

  • The online habits of both parents and children
  • Usage in terms of time and content and information shared on online portals
  • Cyber-bullying which includes abusive texts and emails, posting unkind or threatening images, videos or messages on social media websites, inappropriate image tagging etc..
  • Where to draw the line between what is private and what is public. 
  • The importance of digital reputations in securing higher education and career opportunities.
  • The crossover from offline violence to online violence and its repercussions

In the discussion that followed, the following opinions and concerns were shared:
  • Many parents had no idea what their children did online
  • It was believed that parental controls were not really useful in regulating online behaviour and children found a way to bypass them. Other measures, such as a 9 PM ban on all electronics, no whatsapp after 9 and placing computers in living rooms or having an open door policy when kids were on the laptop were suggested.
  • Related to this, a majority of the group felt that their children were far more tech-savvy than they could ever be and therefore felt that it might not be easy to navigate behaviour on a medium that they were unsure of. In this regard, a parent commented that while "they were internet immigrants, their children were internet natives".
  • A recurring concern was the need to make sure that children approached their parents when they were being bullied or harassed on cyberspace.
  • The prevalence of closed confessions groups on social media where people could post anonymous rumours was also pointed out and many parents felt that the school needed to take some responsibility in sensitizing children about online violence and mediating altercations.
  • The issue of what to do when your child is the bullier rather than the bullied was also addressed.
  • In case of online-violence, it was emphasised that victim-blaming in these instances would lead to further alienation and hurt. 
  • Sexually explicit online content, cyber-stalking, victim-shaming and sexting were also touched upon.
  • A small group of young adults who attended the session had this to say: They stated that while much of the information provided made the online world seem very bleak, parents should not broach the subject with their kids with panic or fear. That policing internet use and the fear of punitive action would lead children to find other avenues to get online and hide it from their parents. Rather than taking away their children's freedoms, it would be essential to have open, honest conversations about online behaviour.
  • It was unanimously agreed that follow-up sessions with the kids as well as one with both groups together would be extremely useful to further the conversation.
A big Thank You to our GEM Rinku Mecheri, for being such a wonderful host!

An Index of Sound-Clips on Gender Violence

Conversations between Devasena ES and the Prajnya Team

A Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence Resource, 2014

Audio Resources that answer important questions about Gender Violence:

Community Cafe: Exploring GV - What can Men Do?

On 6th December, as part of the 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence, we held our first ever Men and Boys Community Cafe led by Sriram Ayer of Nalandaway. It was a conversation that touched upon some uncomfortable truths and built platforms for many more productive actions.

"Men are the protectors. It is their job to care for women" - This is a commonly held opinion that we find expressed in many forums and not many of us find fault with these kind of statements. In fact, we actively believe that the opposite of violence is a kind of chivalry characterized by a protective instinct. The group discussed how such characterizations impact men, women and the choices, opportunities and resources available to them.

The session began with a 'Spin a Yarn' session where a primer line for a story is given and everyone adds to it, in turn. It started with a young man on his way home from work, who spots a young woman smoking on the road. The story changed in perspective and tone as each of us took turns adding to it. It raised many problematic themes about how women are viewed, what we believe is appropriate behaviour for women and the conditions we place on their use of public spaces.

It was a great starting point for a brisk and practical discussion on gender violence and its many forms, from homes to workplaces to the street and the conversation centred on what can be done to change how things stand and what each of us can do, individually and collectively to make a difference.

Here are some of the points that were raised:

  • As a society, we have set standards for masculinity and femininity and this sets unfair and forced expectations for both men and women.
  • Girls and boys are raised with different sets of rules and this automatically impinges on women's freedom and choices.
  • As bystanders, how can interventions be made - The space between doing nothing and doing something extreme, such as approaching the police was discussed.
  • A question was raised about why interventions were skewed towards survivors and in what ways society can intervene to change perpetrators. While prevention mechanism in terms of education and attitude change and targeted interventions with young people were raised, the idea of changing violent behaviour among offenders was a far more complicated issue than could be discussed in 2 hours.
  • Individual actions were also discussed and many practical suggestions were made including the use of social media to spread messages about gender and violence as well as initiating many more dialogues such as this and engaging in sustained conversation about GV.

Thank you Sriram Ayer, for being such a wonderful host!

Thank You, EZ Vidya!

Prajnya is proud to have EZ Vidya as our Corporate Campaign Partner for the 16 Day Campaign Against GEnder Violence for the second year running. Here's what Chitra Ravi, Founder and CEO of EZ Vidya, has to say about our association. 

A Note from Chitra Ravi, Founder & CEO EZ Vidya

We, at EZ Vidya believe that a humane approach & sensitivity to fellow beings  are the most vital aspects for a peaceful society, where there is mutual respect and acceptance. Gender sensitivity is an important element even in education, the business we are in!

Prajnya creates awareness and works on empowering individuals to understand Gender sensitivity as well as sensitive topics like gender violence. We believe that our workplace should be harmonious, devoid of any gender discrimination and of course with a big NO to gender violence of any kind. So, Prajnya became our natural partner in creating a highly sensitive workplace. Thanks Prajnya!

Community Cafe: Exploring GV - Learnt Violence, Taught Equality

We co-hosted our first Corporate Community Cafe of the 2014 Campaign Season on 5th December with the lovely people at EZ Vidya. The Community Cafe is a format that allows us to approach gender violence from many angles and perspectives and each group of people we do it with put their impress on the conversation in different ways.

In prevention and response to Gender Violence, we often talk about multi-sectoral interventions. There are many layers and complications to traverse and requires work at every level. At EZ Vidya, we sat down with a mixed group of people of different ages, gender and experiences but with a common passion for education. As people engaged in re-defining the way teachers teach, children learn and content is shaped, the conversation followed two main themes:

  • The Gender Stereotyping that steers children towards certain hobbies, activities and careers as appropriate for their gender and the subsequent consequences for children of all genders was discussed at length. For example, men are often pushed towards Engineering or Management to gear them to being breadwinners and denying them avenues to pursue their passions and women are stripped of responsibilities and choices in this regard, leaving them free to choose careers in the arts or sciences but simultaneously denying them equal opportunities. 
  • A large part of the discussion focused on how children can be raised and taught in gender-sensitive and gender-equal ways. EZ Vidya's work on re-shaping curriculum was also highlighted. In their new social studies books for primary classes, men and women are both portrayed as heads of families and both have careers and do housework. The family is explained as a collaborative unit and no gender-specific roles are assigned, thereby challenging stereotypes that we often take for granted, such as mothers cook and fathers work. 
The people at EZ Vidya strongly believe that focusing on children and changing what we teach them, the manner in which it is taught and the people who teach are critical pivots in altering the discourse on gender and violence. We hope this is the first of many such conversations.