Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 1: Gender violence and Social Work

And before we know, its 25 November again. The first day of the third edition of the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence.

We'd decided to begin the campaign with a workshop for social work students, in partnership with the Madras School of Social Work. So 2pm, and we're in a room with 70 MSW students, including some from other colleges in Chennai. I was very happy to see that there were more young men than women in the room, and was really hoping I'd be able to keep them awake, interested and thinking about the issue.

First up, a brief introduction to Prajnya and the campaign, and most importantly, the answer to that frequently asked question: why do you do this campaign? Next, several 'activities' to get the group thinking about gender violence: a word association game, a drawing exercise, a quick group discussion. I then switched over the lecture mode briefly, highlighting some key conceptual issues, clarifying definitions (gender violence v/s violence against women, for instance), and discussing the many forms of violence.

One hour in, and it was Namitha's turn to take over. As a social work graudate herself, Namitha was really best places to discuss some practical, real-life situations with the group, drawing on her own experiences. What do you say to someone who asks you if your vocational training programme will help her earn more than she did as a sex worker? What do you say to doctors and nurses who don't even realise or document burn injuries inflicted on a wife by her husband? How do you help a woman who has been raped by her father get an abortion if your personal faith says its the wrong thing to do? The objective was to illustrate that you just can't find some answers in the classroom.

My turn again, and this time, we moved on to discussing the specific role of a social worker in addressing gender violence. I was keen to emphasise a few key points: that no matter what kind of organisation they joined after graduation, this would be relevant, it isn't just a women's issue; that they would have direct opportunities to help those who'd experienced violence and therefore ought to make sure they knew their facts and used the right vocabulary; and that they needed to understand the importance of keeping careful records, of respecting privacy and confidentiality, and above all, prioritising safety.

Several questions, some with easy others, others that didn't have any. But all in all, a wonderful day, and a great beginning to the 2010 campaign!

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