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Until we meet again...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Every campaign year, I get to write this last post. And as I do, I remember all the high points and low points, the excitement and anticipation and stress and disappointment, that have gone into that year's campaign. And with each year, I know--perhaps I alone now know--how we started, and how much easier this has become for us to do with all the friends and supporters we have added to our community, and how much more challenging we make it for ourselves by dreaming up new formats and trying to reach new audiences. Each year, I think, we've done this with less of everything--resources, people, friends, experience--and so it shouldn't be so hard. And each year, we manage to push the boundaries within ourselves, raise the bar, and kill ourselves (or almost) with exhaustion.

This must be a talent to celebrate. And I am grateful for it.

As I am for all the wonderful people who join and enrich our community each year, mostly never to leave again.

This year, I've worked with what has felt like the 'Dream Team' for a campaign like this--experienced journalists, unafraid to write and meet people, willing to work extremely hard and without egos to manage. Nithila and Ragamalika, you brought a great deal to this campaign and have left your impress upon it. We are happy you're not leaving Prajnya; there's so much more to do of this work. The real campaign never ends.

To all of you who have visited this revived and restored blog (thanks, Raga, for this especially!), stick around. We're going now, but will be back before you know it. I'll see you then! 

Not really a 'goodbye'!

On the second day of the campaign this year, I reached the venue for a journalists' meet, and slowly more and more people walked in. The conversation with Ammu Joseph was something I was looking forward to; and the minute that conversation started, I was introduced to a whole world of learning. This was where journalists from competing publications got together to discuss an issue that affects us all.

From then, the conversations were different at each event, and yet very much the same at the core.

For me, as Media Associate for the 2013 campaign, this is what I take back.

The chance to contribute to making this campaign happen, along with the chance to be a part of everything Prajnya did in these 16 days, more as a silent observer than anything else, has been an amazing opportunity.

Thank you, Swarna mam, for this. And Nithila, who has been an awesome Campaign Co-ordinator. Thanks are also due to Anupama, whom I first contacted rather blindly, starting off this amazing journey :) A big thank you to all the volunteers -- old and new -- who infused fresh energy into the campaign everytime we felt like we were running out of steam.

This is a goodbye -- not to Prajnya, but to 2013. Looking forward to a big 2014 with the team!

And so we come to the end of the 2013 edition…

When more than 3 months ago I started work as Campaign Coordinator for Prajnya’s 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence, Dr Swarna Rajagopalan and Anupama Srinivasan told me that ‘I’ll own the campaign.’ I didn’t really know what exactly that meant or how much they meant it, until now. Looking back, I realise the wonderful opportunity this campaign gave me to put together something that addressed concerns that were close to my heart, to interact with some fabulous people, and gave me the support to pilot programmes that I hoped would become a part of Prajnya’s work in the future.

It has been an extremely exciting and challenging three months, and the best part of the job was meeting so many extraordinary people – not only our resource people and volunteers, but also people in the audience for our various events, from whom we learnt so much. To say that it was a humbling experience would be an understatement.

This would be as good a time as ever to thank all the people who have made this wonderful journey possible. I’d like to thank Dr. Swarna Rajagoplan and Anupama Srinivasan for giving me the opportunity, for sharing their wealth of knowledge and experience, and trusting me with important campaign decisions. Immense gratitude to Subhashini Selvanathan, for being the most considerate, caring colleague she has been. I would have been lost if it weren’t for her organised ways. A big thank you to Ragamalika, our Media Associate, for doing far more than she had to and for being a pillar of strength in crunch times. A very special thank you to Shyamala Rajagopalan for being a kind and affectionate host, unfailingly enquiring about the campaign’s progress during the planning and assuring us that things would eventually work out fine, which it did.

Thanks to the Prajnya team: Nandhini, Sweta, Michelle, Vetri, Nirmal, Shambhavi, Krithika, Shakthi, Anand, Hemant and Vasughi.  Thanks are also due to all our enthusiastic volunteers: Prema, Vaishnavi, Shyamala, Saranya, Geetha and Cibi for being so generous with their time. Thank you Amrutha for your wonderful designs, they made the campaign look better. A big thank you to all our partner-organisations and resource persons for working with us to make the campaign a success. And most of all, much gratitude to all of you for following the Campaign Chronicle and for always supporting us.

The campaign is officially over, but it hardly feels like that for the Prajnya team. We are already busy planning work on initiatives that we piloted during the campaign, scheduling workshops and organising our calendar for the coming months! 

Next year, a different team will work on the campaign, but I hope to be around as a volunteer – as they say here, once a Prajnya Person, always a Prajnya Person. So, until next campaign – Tata! 

Report: Exploring Masculinities in South Asia: A Forum

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A report compiled by Nithila Kanagasabai
6 December, 2013

As part the 2013 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence a forum to facilitate conversations on men, masculinities, gender and gender violence was organized on 6 December, 2013.

While we have largely focused on women and gender violence in the past, we think it important to make visible and comprehend masculinities for a more rounded understanding of the issue. The discussions were an attempt to engage with the everyday performance of gender, and how this in turn plays out in the larger discourse of gender violence. 

We twinned two important new resources to inform the conversation at the Forum.

  • A UN Study released in 2013 found that male violence against women was pervasive across Asia. Men were most likely to rape intimate partners and this largely came out of a sense of entitlement. However, as local patterns varied, it was possible to also find that not all men are violent. Context matters, the study underscored.
  • Let's Talk Men 2.0 is a new film series aimed at drawing boys and men into discussions on gender and violence prevention.

Three films that are a part of Let’s Talk Men 2.0 were screened as part of this event.
1. Kesang Tseten’s Men at Work, a film that looks at the workplace of boys and men;
2. Rahul Roy’s Till We Meet Again, which explores through the everyday of four men the experience of a changing Delhi and how it intersects with their marriage, children, families and work.;
3. Prasanna Vithanage’s With you, Without you a feature film on how a Sri Lankan married couple, one of whom is a Tamil and the other is Sinhalese, grapples with ethnic differences.

Each of the films was followed by a discussion. The following is a report of the proceedings. We invited Anil Srinivasan to anchor the discussions. Anil Srinivasan is a classical pianist educated at the University of Southern California and Columbia University, New York. Anil is passionate about music education for children cutting across all strata of society. His work with schools is in association with Rhapsody – Education Through Music. Anil speaks regularly on music and its effect on human behaviour, organisational processes and related topics at various forums. 

Rapporteurs for the event: Prema Ravi, Bharati Kannan and Shyamala Sundararajan.

Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It?

The forum began with Dr Swarna Rajagopalan introducing the agenda for the day and making a presentation on the UN report.

The UN study of 10,000 men in Asia and the Pacific, found that overall nearly half of those men interviewed reported using physical and/or sexual violence against a female partner, ranging from 26 per cent to 80 per cent across the sites studied.  Nearly a quarter of men interviewed reported perpetrating rape against a woman or girl, ranging from 10 per cent to 62 per cent across the sites.  Men were interviewed across nine sites in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea. The study, entitled ‘Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It? Quantitative Findings from the UN Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific’ was conducted by Partners for Prevention, a regional joint programme of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Women and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme in Asia and the Pacific. It asked men about their use and experiences of violence, gendered attitudes and practices, childhood, sexuality, family life and health.

Till We Meet Again

a documentary by Rahul Roy
89 mins|2013|India

In 1999 the film, When four friends meet, ends with the promise that the four young men who are the main protagonists of the film and the director will meet again in ten years. They do meet again in 2012 and the world seems to have changed in the years that have gone by. The four friends are now married, have children and entirely new ideas like the share market have made an entry into what was a working class resettlement area of Delhi. The documentary explores through the everyday of four men the experience of a changing Delhi and how it intersects with their marriage, children, families and work. The documentary criss-crosses between 1998 and 2012 to set up a story that spans more than a decade and brings us up close to the unpredictability of life as well as continuities that belie any simple answers to the idea of the city, its working populations, change and men.

When the four friends meet again…they share with the camera stories from the past and their complicated present. Bunty, Kamal, Sanjay and Sanju, best of friends and residents of Jehangirpuri, a resettlement area of Delhi are trying to make their lives in a city that is no longer as distant as it was in their teens…it has consumed them and they are now the city, it’s everyday…their childhood memories of deprivation a source of amusement for the children…marriage that fearful future is now their present…relationships are no longer a romantic song sequence but an everyday negotiation, a reality…violence always lurks round the corner…responsibilities are not a romantic goal but a crushing detail…today is not yesterday…it cannot be…and tomorrow remains uncertain.



Tishani Doshi is a writer and dancer. Her first book of poems, Countries of the Body, won the 2006 Forward prize for best first collection. She was also the winner of the 2006 All-India Poetry Competition, and a finalist in the Outlook-Picador Nonfiction competition in 2005. She works as a freelance writer and has worked with choreographer Chandralekha.  She graduated with a Master’s in Creative Writing from John Hopkins University.

K Hariharan has directed films in Tamil, Marathi and Hindi. He has also made films for the Children’s Film Society. His 1982 Tamil film Ezhavathu Manithan won the National Film Award for the Best Feature Film in Tamil and was nominated for Golden St. George (Best Film) at the Moscow International Film Festival. Currently, he serves as the director of L V Prasad Film and TV Academy, Chennai.

Discussion Notes

Construction of Masculinities in a patriarchal society: The discussion began with an examination of the construction of masculinities in a patriarchal society. Normative conceptions of gender mean that boys are socialised into a certain kind of masculinity at a very young age. For instance, they are reminded often on that they are the ‘stronger’ sex, they cannot exhibit emotions freely, they must eventually become the ‘providers’ and head a family. The film also throws light on how a culture of violence against women is considered integral to this idea of masculinity.
Imbrication of different kinds of violence: The forum discussed the many kinds of violence that the filmmaker had tried to forefront through the film. The violence of the city – the harsh conditions that the protagonists encountered in their everyday lives; the violence of capitalism – emasculation of men that happens within the family when the man of the house fails to provide for the family, or sometimes even if he is unable to meet the extreme expectations fuelled by a capitalist economy, and the violence within a household. In fact, the UN study on masculinities underscores this imbrication by reporting that a large proportion of the men surveyed reported high work-related stress, depression and suicidal tendencies.
Class asymmetry between the filmmaker and the protagonists: The participants in the forum were deeply discomfited by the apparent class difference between the director of the film (who also functions as the interrogator) and his subjects. While it was acknowledged that the director has had previous interaction with the four men (while shooting for When Friends Meet in 1999), it was felt that that was not enough to bridge the socio-economic imbalance between them. Issues of power equations and consent were discussed in detail.
Need to address violence against women in the upper classes: The discussion then veered towards the media discourse that emerged immediately post the Delhi gang rape case. Participants felt that the popular discourse on masculinities always tended to focus on a certain class on people and superficially link socio-economic conditions to the propensity to violence. In light of recent events, with men like Tarun Tejpal and Justice AK Ganguly accused of sexual harassment , the participants felt the need to address the prevalence of violence against women in educated, upper middle class households. The incessant profiling of only certain masculinities under the rubric of gender violence, the tendency to speak of masculinities only in relation to gender violence and the abject absence of other narratives, the audience felt, needed to be redressed.
Entitlement: The discussants said one of the most striking features of the documentary was the  sense of entitlement that the men exhibited towards the women in their lives. From making a silent wife answer the questions of the filmmaker-interrogator, to giving her instructions about everyday things, to even making decisions regarding birth control without discussing it with her. This resonated with the findings of the UN report that points out that the most common motivation that men reported for rape perpetration was related to sexual entitlement – ‘men’s belief that they have the right to sex regardless of consent.’ 
Resistance of the women: The participants pointed out that while the women in the film were subject to violence, their resistance was also evident in small but significant scenes. For instance, one of the women laughs uncontrollably when her husband claims that he partakes in household chores; in another instance, an outspoken wife clearly denounces her husband for not caring about her desires.

Men at Work

a documentary by Kesang Tseten
64 mins|2013|Nepal

The film looks at the workplace of boys and men and in doing so becomes an ode to the remarkableness of the everyday. By its framing of routine work settings of boys and men, the four distinct chapters of the film become narratives of the making of the self and its relation to the work space. A young male domestic worker creates an imaginary and magical world for himself, even while he attends to his lonely daily chores; men in a motor garage repair and refurbish vehicles that have long seen their best days; boys at a residential institution learn the adult rituals of becoming Hindu priests; and young Gurkha men vie desperately to become soldiers in the British army. With its intimate gaze of the ordinary, the film becomes witness to the everyday rituals that make up the world of men. 



Raj Cherubal is the Director-Projects for Chennai City Connect or CCC.  At CCC, he has initiated and participated in various projects on traffic, transportation and urban planning. Raj has written and worked to promote decentralisation and good urban governance. He also focuses on promoting economic freedom for entrepreneurs, especially the poor, such as street vendors and others in the informal sector.
Poongkothai Chandrahasaan , actress, humanitarian and filmmaker, was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Chennai with her family when she was three. Poongkothai’s films are usually political in nature or centred around human rights issues. She has also served as director or writer for a number of feature-length documentaries. She is actively involved with social causes through her work with the refugee community in Chennai.

Discussion Notes

Production of masculinity: The discussion began with an exploration of the condition of dominant masculinity. The need to understand the different spaces that produce different masculinities was articulated. The director, stating the objective of the documentary, writes that he wanted to take a few situations and settings that are ‘men-ly,’ that have the ‘smell of men’ and film observationally, allowing action to speak. The four narratives that are covered include: a young male domestic worker, men in a motor garage, boys at a religious, residential institution and young Gurkha men trying to make it to the British Army.
Cycle of expectation and conditioning: The discussants felt that the film foregrounded the cycle of conditioning and expectation that men were subject to in a patriarchal society. This, they felt, was highlighted best in the part that dealt with boys in a religious institution. The young age at which they are separated from family and even that rare phone call home is time to discuss his progress in studies, the near-complete absence of women in these spaces, the rigidity of the system and the absence of a space for emotional learning were discussed. Methods of training, control and discipline which are a part of the systems were also debated; for instance, when a young Gurkha tells his interviewer -- a woman from the British Army -- that he cannot think of anything that would make him above-ordinary, he is reprimanded strongly for his lack of self-esteem. Thus issues of religion, caste and colonialism play an important role in shaping masculinities.
Relationships amongst the men: The film also focusses on highlighting the relationship that young boys share with their male mentors. In most cases, this was a rigid, strict, relationship with conversation limited to ‘work.’ There is almost always an underlying sense of the young boys being bullied. According to the UN report 86% of the men surveyed reported experiences of childhood emotional abuse and neglect. Though the film does not tackle this issue head on, it remains a constant subtext of the film.
Absence of women: The absence of women for most part of the film is telling of the clearly separated realms the genders are forced to occupy. Inclusion, and thereby de-exoticisation of a gender, it was discussed, is an important step to bridge the assumed gender-divide. 
Structural Violence, Intersectional Violence: The film also addresses violence that is embedded in socio-cultural practices and sometimes not even considered ‘violence’. The film also looks at how different identities are woven together to form a complex matrix of power and powerlessness; how religion, caste, capitalist economy, globalisation interact with masculinities to produce layered identities and realities. 

With you, Without you

a fiction feature by Prasanna Vithanage
90 mins|2012|Sri Lanka

When lonely, distraught pawnbroker Sarathsiri (Sinhala) meets and marries the beautiful, enigmatic Selvi (Tamil), he thinks he has finally found a way to put his past behind him. But a chance visit from an old friend opens up wounds that threaten to tear open the barely healing fabric of a mutilated nation coming to grips with the unspeakable cost of a thirty year civil war. Will love help them cross the bridge? Or will the past continue to colour the present?



A S Panneerselvan is the Readers’ Editor at The Hindu and Executive Director, Panos South Asia which has a presence in five countries and works in three more with the help of local consultants. Mr. Panneerselvan, apart from being a regular columnist, is also a journalism teacher and is an adjunct faculty member of the prestigious Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. He has been covering Sri Lanka since 1984. Travelling extensively all over the island, his reports from Colombo, Jaffna, upcountry and Ampara were widely reproduced in the Indian and international media. He has presented more than 20 major papers on the question of devolution in various national and international seminars. As an advocate of global nuclear disarmament, he has written extensively on nuclear issues.

Discussion Notes

Conflict and Gender Violence: The relationship portrayed in the film was discussed in the context of the conflict situation in SriLanka. The power relations within a household that are influenced by the conflict outside of it, the different ways in which this power equation is reinforced time and again (when the man reminds his wife that he saved her from getting married to an old man, dismisses her small joys and exerts his power over her in business matters). Mr Panneerselvan said that he was not being able to see the film without thinking about it as a Tamil who was conscious about the war and what it meant. He talked about the peaceful idyllic surroundings asking if they were chosen to obfuscate the violence of the situation that obtained just a little while ago.
Multiple victimisations: The participants drew attention to the multiple victimisations that the female protagonist was subject to. She loses all members of her family to the war, she is viewed as a burden by the family she lives with, her husband thinks of himself as her saviour and only later accepts that he had married her in the hope of redeeming himself from his past.
Legal systems to recognise gender violence: The panel also discussed the need for the judicio-political system to recognise and address the various forms of gender violence that areas in conflict are prone to.

Concluding Notes

Wrapping up the discussion the participants suggested a few things that could take this conversation forward
1.       Need to promote non-violent masculinities from a young age
2.       Need to broaden conversations about masculinities to go beyond the rubric of gender violence
3.       Need to have the conversation on masculinities in varied settings
4.       Improve communication between different groups – men & women, young & old, between different classes, between politico-legal structures and grassroot activists
5.        Address male sexual entitlement
6.       End impunity

Other Resources:

Thank you, PIL

This thank you note goes out to Pacific International Lines (PIL), one of our Corporate Campaign Partners, who distributed the Call for Help listing on their campus.

Revathy, a senior executive with PIL says,

"It's important to create awareness about Gender Violence, especially sexual harassment at the workplace. We spoke to the people in our building about the issue, because 90% of them are not aware, even about the rules to form an Internal Complaints Committee. The Workplace Sexual Harassment training that we had at PIL was an eye-opener for many of us, and we hope that every company now constitutes a complaints committee and trains employees on the issue."

Nancy, a senior executive in the HR department says,

"We had put up a stall in our premises in the lobby area on 29th November 2013. We had quite a few positive responses from most of the offices, who collected the posters for their office, as well as for distribution to their staff. We also had interesting responses wherein people were keen to know more about this law (Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment at the Workplace, 2013) and about the formation of ICC."

16 Days 16 Tweets: Index

Report: Digital Media and Gender Violence Colloquium

by Nithila Kanagasabai

As part of the 2013 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign Against Gender Violence we organised a colloquium that was imagined as a forum for a conversation bringing together those who are concerned about gender violence and those who work on issues relating to digital security, freedom and privacy. To be in the small group in this closed conversation, we invited a mix of women's rights activists, mediapersons, bloggers, lawyers and technical experts.

The event began with a round of introductions. The discussion was kick started with Dr Swarna Rajagopalan reading out a short write by the former High Court Judge Justice Prabha Sridevan (she wasn't able to make it to the colloquium owing to ill health) on law and freedom in the digital age. In her essay titled Privacy, Security and Gender Violence, Sridevan notes,

Surveillance, interrogation, telephone tapping, collecting bio-metric data and more goes on in the name of security and on parallel track it is increasing intrusion into privacy…. Violence against women is one of the enduring factors which come in the way of women’s empowerment. A dignity based response is muted by repression, denial and manipulation, and women themselves are blamed for the violence and consequently silenced from protesting or seeking justice for the violence that has been done to her. This silence in turn contributes to more violence and accentuates the negative impact it has on a woman socially, psychologically and otherwise. So, it is really a culture of silence and not a culture of violence. The Internet space also increases the risk of vulnerability. “The underpinning of a claim not to be watched without leave will be more general if it can be grounded in this way on the principle of respect for person other than on a utilitarian duty to avoid inflicting suffering.”[1] If we use “watch without leave” as a metaphor for any unwelcome behaviour or an act without her consent, we will see that the basis is Respect for the Right to Dignity and Equality of Women.

This was followed by a session on 'Emerging VAW Challenges in the Digital Age' facilitated by Usha Srinivasan of Empowering Women in IT (eWIT).

Letika Saran, Former Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu, spoke about the trends in cyber-crimes against women. She addressed issues of cyber stalking, cyber bullying, morphing, spreading of private videos containing obscene material through MMS and abuse of children online. She said that due to the anonymity afforded by the net, a large number of people indulge in cyber-crime. Offenders also assume that laws against cyber-crime are ineffective (which is untrue), and that cyber-crime often goes unreported (true). She reiterated the importance of reporting cyber-crime.

She also pointed out that according to a recent survey conducted in city schools (corporations schools, government aided schools and private schools) it was found that over 90% students admitted chatting with strangers online, and 85% said they went on to meet the strangers they had chatted with in person. She drew attention to the fact that most of these students were first generation internet users and that their parents and teachers were unaware of their online activities. She called for more awareness among parents and teachers and better communication between them and the children.

Syed Nazir Razik, Vice President, Marketing, PMI Chennai Chapter spoke about online safety in the age of smart technologies. He spoke about preventive measures against cyber-stalking/bullying. Mr Razik also spoke about the Becoming Sweetie project in which researchers carried out a 10-week sting near Amsterdam, posing on video chat rooms (using a computer generated image) as "Sweetie", a 10-year-old Filipina girl. Some 20,000 men contacted her, with 1,000 found to have offered her money. 103 were from India. He discussed the internet of things and how consumer wearable devices, like those that monitor health, could make one’s personal health data available to all. He also spoke about apps that make available data usage, that monitor cognitive behaviour and make available location information. In terms of preventive measures he advocated the use of two factor authentication and tools like TOR for web and Orbot for mobiles to maintain anonymity.

Dr Debarati Halder, co-founder and managing director of the Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling spoke about the legal remedies available for victims of gender violence in the cyber world. She pointed out that the legal options are often not the preferred line of action due to fear of revealing victim’s history, social ostracisation, media and privacy issues, and preconceived notions of the judicial system. She outlined other options like reporting to the website concerned and self-protecting measures.

In the next session Dr Anja Kovacs, Director of The Internet Democracy Project (IDP), spoke about gender and online abuse. She spoke about one IDP’s research projects titled, Keeping Women Safe? Gender, Online Harassment and Indian Law. According to this research, the kinds of abuse women faced online was very varied and so were their responses. The research found that women with strong opinions, about national politics, feminism and sexuality, were the ones most subject to online abuse. The abuse tends to focus on the targeted person’s body/sexuality. She pointed out that among the women surveyed, legal options were the last resort. Women reacted to online abuse in various ways – some ignored the abuse, some others moderated comments, some blocked or reported the abuser, while some others resorted to naming and shaming. She pointed out that contrary to popular belief, these women did not view anonymity as a threat, but as an enabling factor – empowering them to voice their views more freely. All of them also emphasised the importance of an online support group, which they thought was more of a support-system than family or friends. In most cases the women’s families were unaware of their online activity and the women felt that taking their problems to their family would only lead to increased policing.

The next session consisted of short invited presentations on online initiatives against gender-based violence and/or for women's rights.

1. Hollaback and Hollaback! Chennai
2. Take Back the Tech
3. GotStared.At

Hollaback is a movement to end street harassment powered by a network of local activists around the world. This initiative is spread across 71 cities in 24 countries as of December 2013.

Hollaback! Chennai is spearheaded by Prajnya, a Chennai-based non-profit organisation working on issues of peace, justice and security.

Take Back the Tech is a global campaign that connects the issue of violence against women and information and communications technology (ICT). It aims to raise awareness on the way violence against women is occurring on ICT platforms such as the Internet and mobile phones, and to call for people to use ICT in activism to end violence against women.

GotStared.At (GS.A) is a counter culture movement that raises awareness on social issues of violence, gender and discrimination. The campaign was given distinction at the World Summit Youth Award (WSYA) 2012. GotStared.At aims at giving women in India a platform to speak out against violence and sexual assault and to prove they are not at fault. Saransh Dua, the co-founder of GotStared.At was part of the colloquium. Dua spoke about the need to harness the power of India’s youth and co-opt men into the fight against gender violence.

Harini Calamur, spoke about the still very prevalent gender imbalance amongst users of the internet in India (approx. 3:1). She said the challenge was to get more girls to use technology. She mentioned the proactive role played by certain organisations like Breakthrough, CGNet Swara and Bell Bajao in this respect.

Gayatri Burgohain, the founder of Feminist Approach to Technology and co-founder of Joint Leap Technologies spoke about the whole new world that was made accessible to women and girls from socio-economically underprivileged families when they were taught to use technology. She spoke about the different empowering ways in which these women employ technology. Speaking about how the girls at FAT scripted and recorded a radio show on domestic violence, Burgohain emphasised the cathartic effect it had on the girls. They were using a new tool in a way that made sense to them. They were effectively empowered to find their own solutions and did not need to look to someone else.

Concluding Notes:
  • Girls and women from all sections of the society must be given an opportunity to learn to use technology.
  • Peer group training for young girls can break culturally established myths about girls not being good with technology.
  • Parents and teachers must be given crash courses in internet usage
  • Peer support for feminists, social workers, women bloggers is a huge advantage
  • Children and adults with disability have found space, voice and solidarity online. In fact the net enables disabled people to address the issue of violence perpetrated against them.
  • Using online platforms is a great way to get across to the large number of urban Indian youth on issues such as gender violence.
  • Visually effective material can convey complex issues in a simple fashion and must be employed in social media to address the issue of gender violence
  • Different ways of reacting to violence online: while legal action is possible, women choose to employ various other methods as well.

Participants tweeting from the colloquium on 'Digital Media and Gender Violence' created a record that we could share.

About the participants:
Letika Saran is the former Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu, India. She entered the Tamil Nadu Indian Police Service in 1976 as one of the first two women to be admitted. She is the only woman to head a metropolitan police organisation in India. Saran's postings include Additional Director General of Police; Training and Project Director, Tamil Nadu Police Academy; Inspector-General of Police and Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC). She became the Commissioner of Police, Greater Chennai, on April 20, 2006. On January 8, 2010, she was appointed as Director General of Police (DGP) for Tamil Nadu, becoming the second female DGP of a state in India and the first for Tamil Nadu.

Syed Nazir Razik is the Vice President - Marketing at PMI Chennai Chapter. He is Principal Advisor - Project Management and Value Creation at SEDIN TECHNOLOGIES - RAILSFACTORY. He is also Co-Founder-Secretary at The Knowledge Foundation. Syed Nazir Razik has 15+ years of cross-functional experience and working with multi-disciplinary teams. His areas of expertise include strategic planning and tactical leadership with proven Project Management, Software Product Development, Quality Assurance, Product Support, Technical Marketing and Business Development experience. He is currently consulting on Best Project Management Practices for a few IT organisations. Syed has been a Project Management Professional since 2005 and Certified Scrum Master since 2007. He has also received the National Award for the best ICT initiative on Egov on Social Media for 2011.

Debarati Halder is the co-founder and managing director of Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling, India's first-ever counselling centre for cyber crime victims. Debarati holds a PhD degree in Law from the National Law School of India University, (NLSIU) Bangalore and a Master's degree in Constitutional Law and International Law from the University of Madras. She is also the Vice President of the Kids and Teens Division of the Working for Halting Online Abuse (WHOA). Debarati is a Member, Working group on Violence against women, International Scientific and Professional Advisory Council of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme (ISPAC), Italy.

Usha Srinivasan is a founder member and advisor of eWIT (Empowering Women in Information Technology). She has over 25 years of experience working being Project management and operations professional for IT start-ups, in various functions like Infrastructure Development, HR, Training, Corporate communication and Community development. Having worked in various organizations like HCL, eFunds, iNautix and Thinksoft, she currently consults as a strategic advisor for IT start-ups. She has also served as the Chair of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, TN.

Prabha Sridevan served as the fifth woman judge of the Madras High Court for ten years. During her time as judge of the Madras High Court, Prabha Sridevan made important steps for women’s rights in many landmark judgements, including one legitimising women’s work as homemakers and another on mandatory marriage registration. She was named one of the fifty most influential people in the IP world by Managing IP. She also served as the chairperson of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) between 2011 and 2013. She is a member of the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) in India.

Harini Calamur is the Head of Digital Content with the Zee Media Corporation and based in Mumbai, India. Harini is a successful media professional with 18 years of experience across educational media, social media & entertainment and is also a columnist, writer, blogger and film maker. She is a trainer on the use of Social Media for communication and development. She is also the University of Mumbai Chairperson for Broadcast related subjects; she is a visiting faculty at Sophia College Mumbai and Whistling Woods. Her areas of speciality include live interactive media, social media, media strategy, children’s programming, film production and production management.

Dr. Anja Kovacs directs the Internet Democracy Project. Her work focuses on a wide range of questions regarding freedom of expression, cybersecurity and the architecture of Internet governance as they relate to the Internet and democracy. Anja is currently also a member of the of the Investment Committee of the Digital Defenders Partnership and of the interim Steering Group of Best Bits, a global network of civil society members. Prior to focusing her work on the information society, Anja researched and consulted on a wide range of development-related issues. She has been a Research Associate with Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi; has lectured at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, and Ambedkar University, Delhi; and has conducted extensive fieldwork throughout South Asia.

Gayatri Burgohain, a B.E. in Electronics and Telecommunication, realized that there was a huge gap between the women empowerment movement and technology, and that efforts aimed at empowering women were proving to be inadequate more often than not. She started Feminist Approach to Technology in 2007. FAT works to empower women by enhancing women's awareness, interest and participation in technology. Gayatri co-founded Joint Leap Technologies which works closely with FAT to provide quality web technology advice and consulting to non-profits.

Saransh Dua is the co-founder of GotStared.At, a campaign recently given distinction at the World Summit Youth Award (WSYA) 2012. GotStared.At aims at giving women in India a platform to speak out against violence and sexual assault and to prove they are not at fault.He currently serves as a Consultant to the Principal Secretary, Department of Education, Govt. of Haryana, heading a pilot project of setting up a model education system in Babain, Kurukshetra.He is also a Fellow of the 2014 Batch at the Startup Leadership Program.

[1] Stanley L.Benn” Privacy Freedom and Respect for Persons”. 

Report: Moving Safer

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


A workshop on women's safety on the streets and in public transport

From left to right: Shiamala Baby, Caroline Samponaro, Shilpa Ranade, Kalpana Viswanath and Swarna Rajagopalan

As part the 2013 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence, we in partnership with the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy organised ‘Moving Safer – A Discussion on Women’s Safety on the Streets and in Public Transport’ on Saturday, 7 December, 2013 at Jivana Jyoti in Chennai. More than 40 women belonging to various localities in Chennai participated in this event. The following is a summary of the discussion. 

Through this event we hoped to facilitate a platform to discuss issues at the intersection of urban development, planning and gender violence. We envisaged this programme as a panel of expert presentations by urban development specialists and followed by break-out discussions with members of the audience on street and public transport. 


M. Shiamala Baby offered a perspective on Chennai women’s experiences as they access public infrastructure, especially transportation and streets. Her comprehensive listing of problems included: 
  • Missing footpath – in commercial areas, space meant or walking often taken up by parked vehicles and street vendors 
  • Lack of usable public toilets
  • Rampant problem of chain snatching
  • Due to recent development of one-ways and the lack of enough zebra-crossing, in the absence of traffic police, women, especially the old find it difficult to cross the road
  • Continuing street sexual harassment, especially outside women’s colleges
  • CCTV cameras in trial rooms of certain shops
  • Elderly, physically handicapped – though there are reservations on public transport nobody takes it seriously. Places reserved for these groups often occupied by able-bodied young men
  • Absence of ramps and other facilities like braille notices for the physically challenged
  • Lack of security in local trains late at night 
Shiamala Baby’s presentation also made some suggestions on tackling these problems. Women’s groups and groups representing the disabled should be consulted in the city planning process. Traffic police should be sensitised about gender violence, and in general, there should be better deployment of police. Active steps should be taken to induct women into transport service jobs and to train them as drivers/conductors. 

Shilpa Ranade in her presentation showed how the design of public spaces can serve to discourage and exclude women from their use. Not just sexual assault, but denial to access public spaces is gender violence, she stated. Access to public spaces is predicated on multiple identities – caste , class and gender. She pointed to some persistent design-related challenges women face while accessing public spaces. 

One challenge relates to the tendency to design closed spaces—with fencing or even shrubbery that closes out the view. Public spaces need to opened out, not closed in. Women tend to avoid fenced in areas as they think it will be difficult to escape in case of a bad situation. They prefer open, crowded areas and feel safe on roads with street vendors and lights. Solutions include: 
  • More spaces like parks and beaches opened up to the public rather than closed at a certain hour, because deserted places make women feel unsafe more often than crowded spaces
  • Don’t close off parks with huge walls/railings/grill, but make it more open and well-lit
  • Zoning makes certain places deserted at particular times of the day and night. A mix of residential and commercial ensures that the place is ‘alive’ at all times of the day or night. 
Another challenge Shilpa Ranade highlighted was that there are far fewer women’s toilets than men’s toilets and they are often closed post 10 p.m. However, research shows that there should be twice as many women’s toilets as there are men’s because women tend to use the toilets for longer, they also take their young children to women’s toilets irrespective of the young child’s gender. Some obvious solutions: 
  • More women’s toilets
  • It must be ensured that the toilets have running water, that they are located in well lit places and have hooks on the doors so women can hang their handbags

Kalpana Viswanath reiterated the point that women are most insecure in “everyday” places like bus stops, and on buses and trains. Young women are especially vulnerable in these spaces. 

This presentation introduced the idea of safety audits, now carried out in cities around the world. It introduced the use of mobile apps for safety audits and safety information to the audience. Apps like Safetipin, which the speaker helped develop, allow women to do safety audits of various areas on the go. Safetipin provides a map to its users which shows areas of the city that are unsafe (in red), moderately safe (orange) and safe (green). Users can also record instances of harassment and security hazards, including broken street lights, open sewers etc. The creators of the app hope to share information to public service providers (such as the PWD) with access to information from the app — such as non-functioning streetlights, to help them improve their level of service ( 

Kalpana Vishwanath pointed to five dimensions of better infrastructural and urban planning for safety: 
  • Gender inclusive urban design (lighting, toilets)
  • Increasing policing and improving legal frameworks
  • Improving support systems – counselling centres 
  • Educating youth – both young women and men
  • Training women conductors and auto drivers 

Caroline Samponaro was concerned about the impact of heavy vehicular traffic on both the natural and social environment of cities. Most cities lack protected cycle spaces that give women and men an incentive to take up cycling for everyday commuting. The heavy, badly regulated traffic that results has a negative impact on urban communities. She quoted research that showed that on streets with heavy traffic, neighbour socialise less with each other, as a result of which those streets are less safe, more polluted and the both children and adults get less physical activity. 

Building cycle tracks on city roads would help deal with several challenges of urban life. 


Problems articulated: 
  • Pedestrians find it difficult to walk given the near-complete absence of footpaths.
  • Pedestrians also face difficulty because in recent times roads have been dug up for the Metro construction and are then not levelled properly. The monsoon worsens this problem. 
  • Crossing the road becomes difficult due to the increased number of one-ways, few zebra crossings and inadequate deployment of traffic police. 
  • Street dogs continue causing a menace in non-central areas of the city. 
  • Subways and MRTS stations are poorly lit, leading to concerns over safety for those who use them. 
  • Foot-overbridges are poorly placed and are too few in number, inconveniencing train users. 
  • Police protection on local trains, MRTS trains and MRTS stations is inadequate. 
  • Buses are infrequent, leading to overcrowding on most buses. 
  • Not only are there not enough bus shelters but the ones that are there have poor lighting and seating. 

Solutions suggested: 
  • Traffic police must be sensitised in order to minimise possible harassment, especially of those who travel late at night. 
  • SMS/Toll free number must be provided to address complaints regarding transport/civic amenities.
  • When a person moves into a community, they should be provided with numbers of the local authorities so they can be contacted if necessary. 
  • Technology and apps like Safetipin must be used for better communication between the citizens and government servants. 
  • Bus drivers/conductors and other ground level staff must be sensitised on what action can be taken in case of a complaint of harassment. 
  • Planning must be inclusive. Consultations must be held with women, the aged and the physically challenged. 
  • Adequate footpaths, bus shelters, subways, lighting and seating must be provided. 
  • Encourage shops in subways to prevent them from becoming deserted, unsafe places. 
  • Plan and provide segregated toilets. 
  • Increase the number of well-maintained public toilets. 
  • Provide more police surveillance near TASMAC shops. 


It was agreed that women’s safety on the streets and in public transport was dependent on a large number of issues, infrastructural needs being one of them. The women felt that increased and regular correspondence between end users and planners was the only way forward. Women should be included in the planning processes and public meetings on local issues must be held before policies are put in place. Moreover, technology like apps, SMS and toll free numbers can be employed and publicised to enable easy communication between authorities and end users. And as Kalpana Viswanath summed it up, “While cities are experienced individually, solutions to problems involving urban planning can only be found collectively.”


M Shiamala Baby is the founder-director of Forum for Women's Right and Development. FORWORD is a secular and non-profitable Women's Organization in Tambaram, Chennai. FORWORD reaches out to oppressed women primarily through awareness and education programmes. Apart from counselling programmes and advocacy, regular seminars and workshops on domestic violence are conducted. FORWORD works with various groups, across Chennai and its suburbs and in Kancheepuram district, at different levels.

Shilpa Ranade is a practicing architect and researcher based in Mumbai. She trained in architecture at CEPT, Ahmedabad and did her M.A. in Cultural Studies at the University of Arizona, Tucson. She is founding partner with Quaid Doongerwala, of the Mumbai-based design practice DCOOP where her portfolio includes interior, architecture and urban design projects ( Shilpa is also an associate of PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research) where she has been involved with the seminal Gender & Space Project ( She has co-authored a book on women and public space, Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets (Penguin India, 2011) with Shilpa Phadke and Sameera Khan. Shilpa’s writing on architecture and on gendered spaces has been published extensively in academic journals and professional magazines. She has conducted design studios and humanities courses at various colleges including the J.J. College of Architecture, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and CEPT Ahmedabad.

Kalpana Viswanath is a researcher who has been working on issues of violence against women and safer cities for women for over 20 years. Kalpana has been involved with UN Habitat, UN Women and Plan International in planning safe city programs in Cambodia, Pakistan, Kerala, Mumbai and Kolkata. She is the Chair of the International Advisory Committee of Women in Cities International and has published widely. She is a consultant at Social Development Direct and is Co Founder at Safetipin, a mobile phone application which works to make our communities and cities safer by providing safety-related information collected by users.

Caroline Samponaro is the Senior Director of Campaigns & Organizing at Transportation Alternatives, New York City's leading transportation advocacy organization, with a citywide network of more than one hundred thousand supporters committed to reclaiming New York City’s streets for people. Caroline has helped spearhead New York City’s rapid transformation into a bicycle-friendly city since 2006. In her role at Transportation Alternatives, Caroline directs dozens of grassrootscampaigns to transform streets and adopt sustainable transportation policy in NYC. She manages the network of thousands of New Yorkers making that change a reality on the ground.

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