Women, Sexuality and the Internet

This blog post is third in a series of ten blog posts to report on the EROTICS India workshop, recently concluded in Delhi. All the blog posts in this series are written by Richa Kaul Padte, the official rapporteur at the workshop.

 ‘We believe everybody uses the Internet in the same way – and that couldn’t be further from the truth’ – Maya Ganesh, Tactical Technology Collective

Within the arena of ‘women, sexuality and the Internet’, the usual suspects of pornography, indecency, and non-consensual videography are often the first topics that come to mind. But women aren’t just subjects on the Internet – they are users, too. A presentation at the EROTICS India workshop overturned some common assumptions by highlighting experiences of women online.

Research shows that the online world gives women agency in terms of their sexuality. Using social media networks, women portray themselves in different ways, play with the boundaries of speech, and dabble in online dating and relationships. What this agency does is to allow people to experiment with the idea of being sexy, which can range from wearing a sleeveless shirt to a towel in online images – because ‘sexy’, of course, has no universal definition. And it’s not only young people who are engaging in such online interactions. One woman in an unhappy marriage talks about falling in love online with a man she has never met, but chats to on webcam: ‘After [moving] after my wedding, I was so alone and I am still so alone…After marriage, children, no one is interested in you, no one is bothered and you also lose interest in your body. But the desire is still there for attention. When another person sees it and is interested then you also become more conscious and aware…I like it.’

Whether it’s a young woman putting up ‘sexy’ photographs of herself on Facebook or a married woman finding joy in an online relationship, what the Internet provides is not only a space to explore sexuality, but to find intimacy. Behind every photograph, chat request or ‘hot’ display name is the desire to get a response from other users online

But the Internet isn’t just filled with women looking for love. Mummy-blogging – a trend that began in America and is spreading fast across the world – is a way for Indian mothers to share their lives and stories online. One woman interviewed for a research study undertaken by EROTICS India says, ‘There is no support system (in cities) that women have, and they are often all alone, without advice, and wanting some validation that what they are doing [raising children] is okay or that their experience is shared by others also.’ Through their blogs, Indian mothers are able to reach out to other women across the world, and for the first time, tell their stories on their own terms. However, these women also experience a lot of backlash from readers, who feel they are unsettling ideas of Indian womanhood and threatening the stereotype of what a mother is supposed to be.

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Another group of people that has a complicated relationship with the virtual world and its inhabitants is the queer community. On the one hand, the Internet has allowed LGBTQI people living in India the opportunity to mobilise, organise, and explore their sexualities through anonymous identities. But on the other hand, virtual spaces are not divorced from the real world, and the prejudices that queer people face offline extend online too, leaving many people to question what it means to articulate a queer identity, and whether the Internet really is the democratic space many initially assumed it to be.

There are always tensions between the online and offline, though many Internet users may initially assume that the two arenas are entirely separate. Says Maya Ganesh, one of two women who worked on the EROTICS research study, ‘We believe that [the Internet] is a space that is completely divorced from the offline world, but I don’t think that’s true anywhere.’ Many young people often realise that their online activities aren’t as secret as they imagined, as parents or family members discover – often with disapproval – what they have been ‘up to’ on the Internet. The idea of the Internet as being a safe space that is free from the hierarchies and harms of the real world is one that most users discover to be false along the way. Says Maya, ‘For many people, the offline world is very heavily policed by the physical fact of your body…If you are a woman, who you are, what you wear, where you go, you are being watched by people…On the Internet, you can travel without people watching you. Or so they thought.’ While ‘the sexual stuff that people do online gives [them] the agency and space to do things, it is also the site of harm.’ This ‘harm’ can be anything from heartbreak to stalking (online and offline) to someone stealing and morphing your images.

The abuse of images is a big concern for many women on the Internet, but does that mean that they stop putting up pictures of themselves? In a survey that asked young people whether they were afraid of their images being misused online, nearly everyone said ‘yes’. But they also all said they continue to display their pictures, which is interesting when we think about the way in which using the Internet entails simultaneous experiences of pleasure and risk – just like entering any other public space as a woman.

But women aren’t just victims of abuse; instead, they are constantly evolving innovative strategies to deal with new threats – or new versions of old threats – rendered possible by the Internet. From fighting back to ignoring to finding support in online communities, women’s responses to the dangers of the Internet are diverse and inventive.

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Five principles for a feminist approach to technology

This blog post is second in a series of ten blog posts to report on the EROTICS India workshop, recently concluded in Delhi. All the blog posts in this series are written by Richa Kaul Padte, the official rapporteur at the workshop.

‘Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right’ – Ani DiFranco, singer-songwriter

When most people think about women and technology, the two things may seem incongruent: a cartoon visualisation of a woman struggling to use the toaster; a joke about women drivers; female executives calling in ‘the IT guys’ to fix their computers. At best, the relationship of women to technology is seen as one-sided – something that men have created and continue to shape, and that women (with difficulty) use.

In response to these myths and misconceptions, the APC Women’s Rights Programme has developed some feminist practices and politics of technology which were shared at the EROTICS India Workshop by Jac Sm Kee:

Recognise women’s contribution in shaping technology: Women have been instrumental in developing different technologies, but we hardly ever get to hear about them. As a result, it’s widely assumed that technology is an entirely male field, when it’s not. Ada Lovelace was the founding-mother of modern computing in 1843. ‘She was a visionary,’ said Jac. ‘If it wasn’t for her, a computer would just be a glorified calculator…She conceptualised the binary system.’

Ada Lovelace

Another important figure – known across the world for her theatrical rather than her mathematical performances – was Hedy Lamarr, who (in addition to her acting fame) was an accomplished mathematician, and co-founded early broad spectrum – the key to wifi connections. Closer  home, Kamla Devi was the first woman barefoot solar engineer, and trained countless illiterate women to use solar panels in Indian villages that did not have access to electricity. Kamla Devi’s success speaks volumes about the potential of technology. ‘We think of technology as just the tools of the rich, [but] it has the power to transform lives…’ said Jac. ‘What matters is who controls and shapes it.’

Understand feminist theorising of technology: How do women understand and relate to technology? In 1985, sociologist Donna Haraway published ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century’ – a seminal text that spoke about how rather than living on the edges of a privileged hierarchy that excludes them, women are deeply entrenched, exploited by, and complicit in networked systems of power. Writes Haraway: ‘[We] are all chimeras, theorised and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism: in short, we are cyborgs. This cyborg is our ontology: it gives us our politics. This is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction.’

Decades later, Haraway’s words still ring true within the interactions and contradictions of virtual spaces. In 1991, Maria Suarez Toro pioneered FIRE – Feminist International Radio Endeavour – across Latin America. Her writings and talks on how the feminist movement relates to new technologies are useful for women across the world. She says, ‘[Technology] has to [be] approached with a high degree of what FIRE calls interactive autonomy. Computers have their own intelligence, but they do not have the self-organised common sense that we need to have a feminist movement: no one will do for us what we do not do for ourselves and each other.’

Ground technology use in women’s realities and experiences: Finding ways to use and adapt technology does not need to take place in a high-tech, largely all-male laboratory. A great example of this principle are the D-Net Ladies. The well-meaning government of Bangladesh increased the number of cyber cafes in the country in an attempt to give more people access to the Internet, especially in villages. But given that large numbers of women were unable to leave their housework and families – and cyber cafes are perceived as being associated with pornography and immorality – most of the users ended up being men. To increase women’s access to information, the D-Net ladies were given bicycles, mobile phones and access to a resource centre. Using these tools of technology, they go from door-to-door asking other women what sorts of news they would like to know more about. Perhaps it’s less hi-tech than a cyber café, but this innovative use of technology has allowed countless women across the country to have access to news and information that matters to them.

Value shared learning and creation of knowledge and building women’s capacity in technology: Technology is often a male-dominated space, and girls are rarely given encouragement to pursue learning of or even involvement in ‘techie-matters’. Women who do venture into technology-related fields are often made to feel like they are entering a space that isn’t theirs. So finding spaces for women and girls to share information around technology is important in enabling more gender-equal participation.

Check out LinuxChix – an online ‘community for women who like Linux and Free Software, and for women and men who want to support women in computing. The membership ranges from novices to experienced users, and includes professional and amateur programmers, system administrators and technical writers.’ Similarly, within Wikipedia, where the majority of editors and contributors are men, Wikichix is a group that tackles issues of gender differences.

Connect women’s rights and technologies: There are many common feminist concerns across the world, including the right to bodily integrity, sexuality rights, public participation, and freedom of expression. The fights for these issues take place on various platforms and in different ways, and as more of the world’s population gains access to new technologies, it is important to ask, ‘How does technology connect to these things, and how does it inform our advocacy?’

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EROTICS India: meet the participants

This blog post is first in a series of ten blog posts to report on the EROTICS India workshop, recently concluded in Delhi. All the blog posts in this series are written by Richa Kaul Padte, the official rapporteur at the workshop.

‘For boys it’s like, “Take it apart, put it back together, play with it,” but for girls it’s like, “Don’t touch it, you’ll break it!”’ – Jac sm Kee, APC

Bringing together sexual rights activists, women’s groups and internet activists, the first EROTICS India workshop – organised by Point of View, APC (Association for Progressive Communications) and the Internet Democracy Project explored the relationship between sexual rights activism, sexuality, and the Internet. Focusing on issues ranging from rights to security to advocacy, the workshop provided the tools for activists from across the country to explore, understand, and shape their experience of the Internet. It also considered the ways in which access to and governance of the Internet takes place in a gender-unequal area, where as the opening quotation of this post suggests, from a young age boys and girls are allowed different privileges and boundaries when accessing technology.

Spread across four days at a venue in New Delhi, much of the first day was spent getting to know the participating organisations – in their own words, and interestingly, in their own pictures! Each participant designed a poster visualising his or her organisation, and shared it with all. Given the sensitive nature of the topics discussed during the workshop, only the names of organisations (as opposed to the individuals in attendance) will be listed in this blog series.

Sangama: Supporting various queer community organisations through an integrationist model, Sangama is based in Karnataka. The organisation works with working class sexual minorities, and looks at the sexual and reproductive health of female partners of men who have sex with men (MSMs). ‘Quite bad at using online spaces’ apart from Facebook, most of their work is done at a grassroots level.

Must Bol: Using youth-made films to talk about gender to other young people, ‘It’s a social media experiment to see what is actually possible…It’s about self development as much as it is about community development.’ Apart from films, Must Bol uses popular songs in order to convey messages to young people.

Got Stared AtDesigning creative posters, which include humour and striking graphics, to engage with people on the Internet, Got Stared At tries to see how the spaces in which offline work against sexual harassment is done can be replicated online.

Nirantar: ‘Based in the feminist movement with a queer perspective,’ Nirantar runs a resource centre, conducts training and workshops, and creates various material including reports and textbooks on issues surrounding women, girls and education. They recently began work with young Muslim women in Lucknow, who are being trained in the use of ICTs and are making their own films. Nirantar is in the process of starting up a blog.

Qashti: A non-funded, non-registered Delhi-based organisation for queer women and trans people, Qashti holds support group meetings, organises film screenings, and is currently starting a helpline for which members are being trained. They ‘use the Internet quite a lot,’ and have an active blog and Facebook account.

Sappho For Equality: A Kolkata-based platform that fights for the rights of sexually marginalised women and trans men, Sappho For Equality uses a ‘tridented’ approach to uphold sexual rights, focusing on their communities, mass awareness raising, and lobbying state machinery. They have a strong base of publications to reach out to people, including a magazine whose translated title reads ‘In Our Own Voice’.

group charts

TARSHI: With its beginnings in a call centre running a helpline, TARSHI believes that ‘all people have the right to sexual wellbeing and a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality.’ TARSHI provides trainings to different kinds of organisations and a range of resources for specific groups of people. ‘The website is very dull and dry; we weren’t sure about censorship in terms of projecting sexuality. We use Facebook for more fun stuff.’ In addition to this, they have done Tweet-fests with other organisations.

Wajood: The first queer organisation in Hyderabad, Wajood’s tagline is ‘exclusively inclusive’, and they work on creating safe spaces, peer counselling, changing attitudes through workshops and reading, and community building. They aren’t very active on their organisational website, but would like to be.

Blank Noise: ‘A volunteer-led network talking about street sexual violence,’ Blank Noise began with workshops and then created a blog, which is when ‘we realised that there itself [on the Internet] people were responding…It’s an open dialogue, a lot of which has happened through discussions online.’ In 2006, Blank Noise ran a blogathon where people shared their experiences of street harassment. Currently, they work with a range of media to gather testimonials and disperse them back into the public domain.

Internet Democracy Project: Working on a range of issues related to freedom of expression and the Internet, the Internet Democracy Project has done research and advocacy surrounding Internet governance, laws relating to Internet-rights, and gender-based abuse faced by women online.

Point of View: A Mumbai-based platform that uses a range of media to promote the voices of women and advocate for various issues, Point of View lists three current areas of work, all with online components – sex workers’ rights, sexuality and disability, and creating an online presence for a rural newspaper run by women, including ICT training workshops for the journalists.

Sampoorna: Presenting a poster with an ‘infinity’ sign which they hope will become their logo – symbolising the idea of gender as infinite – Sampoorna is a network of trans Indians (extending to South Asians) across the globe. Beginning with a Yahoo Group in 2004, Sampoorna currently have various Facebook profiles, including those for their allies. They ‘want to move to a situation where the website will be the central presence of Sampoorna online.’

LABIA: Standing for Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action, LABIA is an LBT queer feminist collective. They are non-funded with a floating membership based in Mumbai, and work on crisis intervention, various campaigns and events, hold monthly screenings of queer and feminist films and bring out a zine called Scripts. LABIA is closely associated with the feminist collective Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW).

CREA: A Delhi-based sexuality rights organisation, CREA builds feminist leadership through a threefold approach: ‘empowering women and girls so they can make choices and challenge the power structure; building the capacity of women leaders and activists; changing perceptions and practices of organisations and movements to make them more rights-affirming.’ CREA runs nine annual sexuality institutes, produces knowledge and resources in both Hindi and English, and runs advocacy groups.

Sangini India Trust: The oldest counselling and community support programme for women attracted to women and trans men, Sangini runs a helpline, and works to empower individuals, and creates awareness about human rights. They have an active Facebook page, a WordPress blog, and a Twitter account.

Sahodari: ‘A group of [Chennai-based] underprivileged trans women working for social, economic and legal rights,’ Sahodari empowers trans women to find alternative employment opportunities. Conducting training in music and dance, education opportunities, legal rights campaigns and community journalism projects, Sahodari also teaches trans women Internet skills – especially blogging – in Tamil.

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The YP Foundation: ‘A youth organisation that works with a feminist lens,’ The YP Foundation ‘tries to understand who young people are.’ Comprising 350,000 young people in 18 states, the organisation works through 5 programme divisions: know your body and rights, young homeless people, a digital media programme, right to information, and an artists’ rights programme.

Tactical Technology Collective: An international organisation that works with rights activists and bloggers, Tactical Tech Collective explores the perils and potentials of technology and information for activism. Many of their resources form the basis for this workshop’s sessions, and the collective describes its members as ‘information activists.’

AALI: Standing for the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives, AALI runs feminist legal advocacy groups as well as wider resource groups. Using case work as their advocacy base, AALI do trainings with lawyers and the government, and work through their website, Facebook page, and give legal counselling over the phone. One of their biggest campaigns has focused on the right to choice in relationships, with a focus on inter-religious, inter-caste, and inter-class relationships.

Change.org: Defining themselves as a tech platform along the lines of YouTube rather than an NGO, Change.org allows ‘anyone and everyone to start a petition.’ Partnering with organisations with similar theories for change – wherein if a certain number of people take action online change can be effected in the community – Change.org works on a range of issues in countries across the world.

Pratyay Gender Trust: A small Koltaka-based community organisation working on trans feminist community organising, Pratyay focuses on building the leadership of trans women and kothis, while documenting violations around the human rights of trans women, and running a night-shelter for trans women who are in sex work. They have ‘practically no presence on the Internet’, but recently launched a Facebook group.

APC: The Association for Progressive Communications is a member-based organisation that emphasizes, amongst other things, women’s role in the shaping and use of technology. Working on a range of policy and research around communications technologies, APC is based in countries across the world.

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Disability, Sexuality and Violence: from Mumbai to Honolulu

While working for www.sexualityanddisability.org I learnt many things about women with disabilities and the way the world viewed their sexualities.

In my chat with a queer feminist from the UK, I was told that the infrastructure abroad may be better, the facilities may be better, but human behavior doesn’t differ geographically.  This was what was playing on my mind when I disembarked at the airport at Honolulu. I was sure that the two days following my arrival would put my mind to rest. Attending the 28th Pacific Rim International Conference  on disability and diversity was an opportunity for me to present the scenario in India, and to gain a global perspective on the work we were doing.

The Hawaii convention center was buzzing with eager voices of around eleven hundred participants, comprising persons with disabilities, activists, film makers, organizations, parents, teachers, etc. with so many sessions –impairment-specific, cause-specific, workshops, and films, all taking place at the same time. The schedule made me wish that I could clone myself to be everywhere at once! Finally I focused on the sessions which touched on the intersection between disability and sexuality.

My presentation was scheduled for day two of the conference, and the sessions leading up to it only boosted my confidence in the work we had done and its global importance. Let me begin with my presentation and then I can draw parallels with the other speakers and projects.

Our Website

Point of View in collaboration with CREA created an online resource on disability, sexuality and violence, which contains information, personal narratives and practical tips to empower not only women with disabilities, but their families, caregivers, educationalists, healthcare workers and organizations working within the field. The site comprises information on issues broadly related to body , sexuality, relationships and  violence, and seeks to challenge and nuance ideas related to beauty, self esteem, sexual orientation, and the various constructions of the female disabled body.  The site also exposes and seeks to undercut the stigma and stereotypes of women with disabilities forming sexual or romantic relationships, and addresses violence faced by women as a consequences of these prejudices, including sexual harassment, domestic, institutional and other forms of violence.

The highlight of this website is that it is fully accessible (according to the W3 consortium guidelines) for persons across disabilities. Also, the content caters to all age groups, across disabilities, persons with different sexual orientations, and provides both general and nuanced information for women with different disabilities.

While our primary research included predominantly Indian women, our secondary research included women from all over the world. Thus we had hoped that the website would have a global resonance. I was assured of this as I attended the other sessions.

 

Parallels with Other Speakers

Session 1:  Supporting persons with disabilities in relationships

By HSRI- Human Services Research Institute, South Carolina

HSRI actually wanted to conduct a research on people with disabilities and their sexual relationships. Owing to the conservative nature of the state, they had to modify their research. They thus began with talking about different relationships, like a family member or friend, and then went on to partners or sexual relationships. Basically, amongst the many points that they made the most important one was that being in a relationship is an emotional and psychological need of any person, which is also the case for a person with a disability. They also shared cases where women with disabilities have had full, healthy, and satisfying romantic relationship.

Session 2:   Habitat Haven collaborative project

The founder of the project from Canada was a woman in a wheelchair who had faced multiple and varied types of domestic violence in the forms of both physical and sexual abuse. Her colleague shared her story, and it was so evident that the hesitations and helplessness of a woman with disability in the face of violence is not country-specific. She eventually stood up for herself, but till that point, over a decade had passed. This reinforced my belief that women not only need to know how to fight violence, but they need to begin by recognizing it, and understanding that violence is not an inherent part of living with a disability.

Session 3:  The Cerebral Palsy Group.org

The speaker Robert Watson was himself a man with cerebral palsy. He spoke about various interesting facts, but one example that he shared was enough to justify our website’s pages on sex and sexuality. He mentioned his friend who had cerebral palsy, and whose partner had spastic muscles. They faced immense difficulty in having sex, and had no one to consult except Robert. I was glad to share the details of our website with him, which contains information and tips on the practicalities of sex for people with different impairments.

Session 4: Silent Spirits (Sex abuse and exploitation prevention)

This session was conducted by a well known activist in USA, Savenia Falquist. She spoke about the sexual abuse of women and children with disabilities. It amazed me to see that the statistics of sexual abuse of women with disabilities are almost the same worldwide. This speaks volumes about human attitudes towards women with disabilities. Even the information she shared about pedophiles and the abuse techniques employed by them were common with that which had surfaced in our research in India. This reaffirmed the need for the child sex abuse and sexual assault pages on our website for not only an Indian audience, but for audiences worldwide.

All the activists I met and discussions I attended cemented my trust in the global usefulness of our website. At the end of the conference, I was pleased to have contributed much and received much more. This was indeed a journey well accomplished.

By Nidhi Garima Goyal

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Humari Zindagi Humari Choice

Humari Zindagi Humari Choice was a collaborative campaign between LGBTQ and women’s rights groups across Mumbai city. Conducted during the 16 Days of Activism to end Gender-Based Violence in November-December 2011, the campaign highlighted the ways in which stigma is a form of violence faced by many groups of women. For many, this stigma comes from choices or taboos around their sexualities: lesbian women, trans women, sex workers, single women, disabled women, women who have multiple sexual partners… as the list goes on, we come to realise that almost all of our sexual choices can in some way be stigmatised. The stigma is often simply being a woman.

As a part of this wider campaign, Point of View took the campaign to six groups of college students across Mumbai city. Given that many colleges were hesitant or unwilling to address issues of sexuality and sexual orientation head on, we conducted broader sessions on the violence of stigma. Bringing together speakers, film screenings, discussions, presentations and quizzes, our component of the Humari Zindagi Humari Choice campaign sought to highlight the stigma faced by gay, trans, disabled and sex-working women.

The most interesting thing about the campaign was the varying responses from students we got.

At Usha Praveen Gandhi College of Management, speaker Deepak Kashyap – counsellor, sex therapist and a member of the LGBTQ community – spoke about gender, orientation and identity following a screening of Point of View’s Out of the Closet – a short film recording the testimonies of 3 LGBTQ Indians soon after the repeal of Section 377. Almost the entire class had previously had no exposure to queer issues, and there was a great deal of discomfort, ignorance and homophobia. Though some opinions had perhaps slightly been altered towards the end of the two hour session, the shock of sudden exposure meant that many students were still extremely uncomfortable.

The session with a small group of Sociology students from St.Xavier’s College brought together a panel dealing with two types of stigma – Shireen Juwale, a burns-victim and founder of Palash Foundation, who spoke about disfiguration as disability, calling on people to question their notions of beauty. She was joined by two members of queer collective LABIA (Lesbians And Bisexuals In Action), who spoke about issues of gender and sexual orientation. Students had been widely exposed to gender issues on a theoretical level, and were initially resentful of being ‘told what they already knew’. The discussion was detailed, and spoke about moving from theory to praxis.

At Wilson College we conducted a session with a group of BMM students on two issues – sex work and LGBTQ rights, which included the screening of Point of View’s film Zinda Laash – exploring Bollywood’s representations of sex workers, and talks by Bishakha (POV) and Robin, a queer rights activist and founder of Kranti, a sex workers rights and rehabilitation organisation. Most students had been exposed to and were comfortable with the topics, and those who expressed discomfort or disapproval only did so after the session was complete.

At Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), a panel brought together Pallav and Sonal – gay rights activists from Humsafar Trust, and Sushmita Bubna, a visually impaired woman and founder of Voice Vision. Students were relatively uncomfortable around issues of sexual orientation, but participated in discussions and role-plays on how, as future-managers, they could make workplaces both disabled and gay-friendly.

Deepak Kashyap did another session at St. Andrew’s College alongside a screening of Out of the Closet, and despite many students having not being extensively exposed to the issues before, were still keen to learn more. Students anonymously wrote down questions on pieces of paper, which ranged from ‘If you have an abortion in your teen years, can you get pregnant later?’ to ‘What purpose do homosexuals serve in nature?’

For the final session of our campaign, we returned to St. Xavier’s College and carried out a session with second and third year BMM students. Once again bringing together the stigma faced by disabled and gay, bisexual or trans women, visually-impaired lawyer and activist Kanchan Panmani was joined by activists from LABIA. Students were engaged and interested, and the session culminated in a heterosexuality quiz, which was an interactive way of asking students why the validity of minority sexual orientations are questioned in ways that heterosexuality is never subjected to.

The campaign definitely highlighted the need that exists for such initiatives to be happening with younger audiences in colleges, as well as the disparities that exist between the levels of tolerance in colleges (often with a North vs. South Mumbai divide in terms of exposure to issues). Humari Zindagi Humari Choice is an ongoing campaign in Mumbai city, and is bringing sexuality to the fore of women’s issues in a range of spaces.

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Dharavi, Meri Jaan

As a collaborative effort between Point of View and SNEHA, a workshop was arranged for the teenagers of Dharavi and Ghatkopar slum area from December 2010 to March 2011. These youngsters from Dharavi had already helped these organizations throughout their campaigns against domestic violence in Mumbai. The photography workshop was organized to provide them with a creative means of expression through a medium that, for most of them, was totally alien. Point of View involved the Photography Promotion Trust, an organization that uses socially relevant photographs to fuel change. Under the guidance of a team of photographers led by Sudharak Olwe, a renowned photographer from the Times Group, boys and girls learnt the finer nuances of handling cameras and identifying subjects of their interest. They were exposed to the various styles of creativity used in photography, which ultimately allowed them to define their own unique styles and gazes.

 

The workshop culminated in an exhibition of photographs showcasing the work of the thirteen teenagers who benefited immensely from it. Premiered at Ganesh Vidyamandir Primary School, Dharavi, on 25 May 2011, the exhibit attracted visitors from both without and outside Dharavi. Social activists and media houses around Mumbai took a keen interest in the exhibition and the journey of these 13 teenagers.  The event was covered by three English dailies in Mumbai- Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, Mumbai Mirror and two other popular Marathi dailies- Sakal and Loksatta. According to The Indian Express- ‘The outcome of their endeavour has been markedly different from the scores of romanticised photographs regularly churned out by shutterbugs and tourists.’

 

The photography workshop was not just a way for the youngsters to express their thoughts, but contribute to SNEHA’s campaigns in a creative manners.. Being essential catalysts for creating social awareness made them achieve a sense of pride and boosted their feeling of self worth. One of the artists, 18-year-old Rohit Pacharne, says, “I was not interested in the workshop when it started. Now I’m considering being a professional photographer. The way I look at the world has changed. I have taken pictures of the neighbourhood in different kinds of light and of my home and my mother making chapattis. People are not comfortable with photographers who come from outside. But with me they were at ease as I am from here. In fact, I clicked so many times that people started joking that I had lost it.”

 

 

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The Most Powerful Weapon (Campaign)

As part of our larger initiative to address domestic violence in Bombay city, we launched a series of advertisements displayed on BEST buses on routes across the city. The campaign began on 8 March 2011, alongside celebrations of the 100th International Women’s Day.

Displayed in both Hindi and English, our message is clear and simple – The most powerful weapon to stop domestic violence – your voice. The brightly coloured ads will reach out to diverse and large groups of commuters on a daily basis.

Alongside the bus adverts, we are distributing thousands of leaflets containing the same message (and additional information regarding the Protection of Women Against Domestic Violence Act) outside major train stations over the course of a month.

This initiative is being carried out by Point of View in collaboration with the 1298 Ambulance service.

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At The Crossroads – Film Premiere

Directed by Ipshita Maitra, Point of View in collaboration with CEHAT (Dilaasa) premiered At The Crossroads on 15 Feb 2011 at the Mysore Association Auditorium in Matunga, Mumbai.

At the Crossroads follows the story of Meera, a woman admitted into a public hospital for attempted suicide. A concerned nurse, who believes Meera to be a survivor of domestic violence, introduces her to Dilaasa, a hospital based crisis centre, that works on mitigating abuse by identifying and helping women who come to the hospital to treat various health issues that result from domestic violence . With the counsellor’s help, Meera learns to handle her situation and make a fresh start. At the Crossroads focuses on the important role that health care professionals can play in stemming domestic violence. Since hospitals are often the first refuge for abused women, the steps that a health care professional takes can have a marked impact on situations involving familial or spousal abuse. The film also emphasizes the counsellor’s role in helping transform the lives of survivors of domestic violence.

The event was attended by over 240 people, ranging from health workers to women from Mumbai’s slum communities who are training to be domestic violence counsellors, to individuals from NGOs such as SNEHA.

Dr. Seema Malik, Chief medical superintendent, peripheral hospitals and Project Director of Dilaasa, introduced domestic violence as a healthcare issue, and the importance of informing and training doctors and nurses to be able to help victims of abuse.

Release of 'Beyond The Symptoms'

Release of 'Beyond The Symptoms'

Beyond the Symptoms is a newsletter produced by Point of View and CEHAT, and is aimed at health workers with information on domestic violence. It calls on health workers to look beyond the symptoms and recognise situations of abuse that are occurring. Author of the newsletter Jaeda spoke about the process of its compilation, and asked Dr.Seema Malik to officially release it. The newsletter has both Hindi and Marathi versions, and will be distributed in hospitals across the city.

Audience Discussion

Audience Discussion

After a screening of the film, there was a discussion held with Ipshita Matira and various members of the film’s cast who attended the screening. This was then followed by a discussion chaired by Padma Deosthali from Dilaasa, where members of the audience asked questions and shared their experiences, both as healthcare workers as well as survivors of domestic abuse. The film provided an engaging focal point and platform to have wider discussions surrounding abuse and violence against women.

 

 

 

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9 Degrees of Justice – Kala Ghoda Launch

9 Degrees of Justice – Kala Ghoda LaunchEdited by Bishakha Datta and  supported by the Ford Foundation, 9 Degrees of Justice- New Perspectives on Violence Against Women in India was launched as a part of the Kala Ghoda Festival  on 12 Feburary 2011. Over 80 people attended the event at the Prince of Wales Museum Gardens. The event was entitled ‘Trespassing in the Nude,’ and was comprised of a series of conversations with four of the book’s authors. The interviews were interspersed with a series of visual images or videos, which provided an engaging perspective on each topic.

Bishakha’s opening welcome for the event addressed the general theme of the book and the need to expand our definitions and approaches towards violence against women.

Following the introduction, a short video clip created by feminist organisation Jagori entitled Staring Hurts was played as an introduction to Shilpa Phadke’s chapter on women and risk in public spaces. The video clip drew attention to the idea of women having to consistently watch themselves in public, and provided a starting point for the discussion to follow.

Shilpa’s Phadke’s chapter, ‘If Women Could Risk Pleasure – Reinterpreting Violence Against Women in Public Space’ argues that a continued emphasis on the danger of violence against women creates a new kind of violence- that of self policing. Interviewed by Puja Roy, Shilpa spoke about how women’s rights very rarely list the right to have fun. She encourages women to take back public spaces for enjoyment – whether it’s coming home late after a party or just sitting on a park bench. Violence, according to her, is something to be negotiated in that search for pleasure, rather than a barrier preventing women from enjoying public spaces.

Following Shilpa’s conversation with Puja, a series of images from Point of View’s Street Smart Campaign were shown. Street Smart is a creative poster campaign against sexual harassment designed by a group of students from St.Xavier’s college, and currently being taken by POV to colleges across Mumbai. It asks for the best one-liner in response to instances of sexual harassment, and encourages women to speak out. The three competition winners from St.Andrew’s College were shown before the next section.

The next conversation was between Manjima Bhahattacharjya and Puja Roy on Puja’s chapter entitled ‘Invisible Yet Entrapping – Confronting Sexual Harassment at the Workplace.’ Puja spoke about the ways in which a work environment can quickly turn hostile for a woman who speaks out about sexual harassment, because most office environments still function through an ‘old boy’s club’ mentality.  Furthermore she spoke about the perception that Indian women are culturally inequipped to deal with their sexuality, whereas men may flirt in a way that is perceived as harassment because it is crude. This use of the ‘culture cloak’ becomes something to hide behind, and trivialises sexual harassment as miscommunication.

Manjima’s chapter was opened with an old feminist image containing the words ‘Your Body Is A Battleground.’ Bishakha contextualised the visual in terms of the entire book, which has at its heart questions and considerations of the body – as a site of agency, of speech, of violence. The image is particularly relevant to a reading of Manjima’s chapter, which is entitled ‘Performing Sexuality – Cultural Transgressions and the Violence of Stigma in the Glamour Economy.’

Interviewed by Shilpa, Manjima spoke about the two identities women in the glamour industry in India are often forced to create for themselves – the ‘play-acting bad girl’ that is their performing desirable self, and the ‘good girl, ‘real’’ self. These two selves are divided by the lens of the camera, but often overlap in their everyday negotiations of the stigma these women must live with. There is also a presumption amongst people that there is a precondition of ‘casting couch’ scenarios within the industry. In reality, women within the glamour industry negotiate sexual harassment like women across all labour sectors; however, the popular misconception is that it is part and parcel of the job. Manjima highlighted the importance of not allowing women in the glamour industry to simply become subjects of feminist discourse, but rather listening to the individual voices and experiences of the women.

The final image shown to the audience was from The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers – it reads ‘Don’t talk to me about sewing machines; talk to me about worker’s rights.’ Aptly  viewed alongside an exploration of Bishakha’s chapter entitled ‘Her Body, Your Gaze – Prostitution, Violence, and Ways of Seeing,’ the image clearly positions prostitution within the labour sector, rather than in an ambiguous space laden with moral baggage.

Interviewed by the three other authors, Bishakha spoke about dismantling the binary that is often deployed when speaking of prostitution – force versus choice. Rather, it is important to see ‘choice’ as never existing within a vacuum, but always through the prism of various constraints. Furthermore, poverty is often seen as something that ‘forces’ women into prostitution. However, the same logic is not ascribed to women in equally low-paying jobs where they are subject to harassment and violence – for the domestic worker her profession is a choice, for the prostitute it is forced upon her. Choice is a loaded term, and cannot exist simply as an antonym to force (an equally loaded term). Bishakha spoke about the importance of not reducing the multiple voices, experiences and perceptions of women in prostitution to a single theory or perspective.

The conversations were then opened up to questions from the floor, and allowed for a productive discussion between members of the audience and the authors. From questions surrounding sexual harassment in the glamour industry to queries on the relationship between modeling and the commodification of women’s bodies, the authors responded individually as well as collectively to thoughts and questions from the audience.

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