Source: The Red Elephant Foundation
Given the number of incidents one hears about, reads about, and watches reports of, on the news, it doesn’t take much effort to really arrive at the true conclusion: that safety is still elusive. Instead of sitting back and attempting to reach out to safety through measures doled out by another, Shruti Kapoor decided to get on the other side of the fence and make a difference for girls world over. The young lady shares her story.
Having lived in India for the first 20 years of my life, I’ve experienced sexual harassment first hand, and through my time, I understand that my experience is part of a broader social problem. I created Sayfty right after the horrific 2012 Delhi gang rape incident. The incident deeply impacted me, and inspired me to actively find a solution for this problem. I no longer wanted to be a silent bystander; I wanted to show Indian women how to take charge of their own safety.
Sayfty’s vision is to make the daily lives of millions women in India safer by preparing them to take a stand against violence. Whether it’s the urban office worker, the student or the rural traveler, our self-defense workshops not only teach easy self-defense skills, but they also instill a level of confidence that can improve life outcomes for women. Gender role discussions show additional ways to address violent situations. Women emerge ready to engage, listen and participate. Self-defense products give women a quick and effective way to build their self-confidence and get out of a sticky situation. A woman’s safety is her birthright and our vision is to ensure that she feels safe and free.
The major issues that need attention with respect to activism itself are the following:
- There is a lack of collaboration amongst various organizations and activist. Each one is championing their own cause and working individually towards their mission. Sometimes many are working individually towards the same goal. What we need is greater collaboration and trust amongst organizations. We lack a desire to work together and solve social problems collectively. There is power in numbers and change will only happen when we all work together rather than against each other. This is not a race to reach to the top. I encourage collaboration and appeal for the same. Let’s not try to re-invent the wheel.
- Change begins at the grassroots. One cannot sit in a foreign country and make policy decisions without knowing the ground realities. I see a lot of organizations sitting in the west trying to make change happen in developing countries. It’s important to speak with the locals, live amongst them, understand their problem and then find practical solutions. It’s important to include the people in the process of change. Only then will it truly work and solutions will emerge.
- Today the face of activism is changing with the use of social media. You no longer need millions of dollars to make change happen. People have risen for a common cause and revolutions are happening merely with the help of social media. Adapt and adopt the current means of technology to bring about change. Be creative in your solutions and engage the crowd. Young people are passionate, creative and full of idea; use them for raising awareness, for bringing about positive change.
There are many challenges that one faces in this line of work. The first challenge is changing mindsets and age-old practices and customs. How does one break these patriarchal beliefs and rules? Forget changing men, it’s so hard to convince women too. To convince women that their safety is in their hands and they must be aware, alert and equipped to protect themselves. The second challenge lies in changing the system and ensuring that there is a zero-tolerance policy for VAW at every level of governance and implementation. The third challenge lies in teaching and instilling the right principles at an early age in childhood. Parents need to lead by example. Education and awareness in school about VAW is important. Respecting women and breaking stereotypes must be encouraged very early own. The fourth challenge is to teach bystanders to take the right action when they see something wrong. Believe when your child complains to you about something wrong being done to him. Take immediate action. Believe when your friend tells you someone harassed her on the street and don’t ignore it, stand up against the harasser. Don’t be a silent bystander. If you see something, say something.
Shift in mindsets starts from home and starts at a very early age. Respecting people (whether women or men) should be taught at an early age. A child learns what he sees at home. If parents display violence or patriarchy and practice gender stereotypes it’s what the child also eventually learn and practices as an adult.
One cannot expect to change mindsets merely through candle light vigils and documentaries. The emphasis and teaching should start early on. Just like one teaches kids a language, it’s also important to teach this language at inception.
Change is always hard. The easier thing to do is make a documentary or march in protest. But to expect people to change their mindset, attitudes and behavior requires a lot more than a simple march. It requires discipline and sometimes doing things you don’t like. Personally, think of changing a small habit. How hard is it to make that small shift? Hence the importance of teaching the right habits in childhood!