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Defending Our Bodies

Enabling women to speak out about domestic violence


Act Now

While women across Dharavi – Mumbai’s dynamic urban slum of diverse cultures, languages and professions – are responding to cases of domestic violence at the ground level (through case by case interventions), there is still a failure to respond to violence as a gender rights issue. Responding to the need for this change at the community level, Act Now consists of small, viral campaigns conducted by women trained as barefoot counsellors (see below).  Reaching out to people who larger organisations are generally unable to, Act Now empowers women to lead discussions in their own local areas, thus addressing violence through a gendered perspective. Act Now ran across three weeks in 11 areas of Dharavi, encouraging women to act now and speak out against domestic violence.


The Most Powerful Weapon

The challenge: bringing one simple message to daily commuters in Mumbai city. The message: the most powerful weapon to stop domestic violence is your voice. Using the highly accessible medium of local BEST buses, The Most Powerful Weapon is an eye-catching campaign that effectively reaches out to various sections of Mumbai’s diverse population. Launched in collaboration with 1298 Ambulance to coincide with 8 March 2011 (International Women’s Day), The Most Powerful Weapon ran on 20 bus routes across the city for a month.

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Changing From Within

37.2% of ever married women face domestic violence; more than half of these women think that a husband hitting his wife under certain circumstances can be justified. And behind these numbers are real women. Real women who are fighting back. As the camera shifts from one woman’s face to the next, the viewer takes in  the stories in her eyes, the light in her expression, and the embedded lines in her skin that speak of the path she has travelled. Documenting the work of SNEHA, Changing from Within follows the diverse faces, struggles and lives behind what one woman aptly describes as ‘a small organisation that does big work.’


Beyond The Symptoms

She might come in with a burn. A bruise. A fracture. Complaints about fatigue, headaches and dizziness. And since the first port of call for most battered women is a local hospital, if her ailments are treated and she is sent home, she may be back all too soon. Beyond The Symptoms, a quarterly newsletter produced in collaboration with CEHAT, calls on doctors and nurses in government hospitals in Mumbai to recognise domestic violence as a healthcare issue; to look beyond the physical symptoms and address what is often their cause – mental, physical, or emotional abuse.



At The Crossroads

A hospital bed: a scene of tightly shut eyes and intermittent flashbacks. A modest home: a place of threats and torture. A small counselling room: a possibility of change, a chance at hope. At The Crossroads is an intimate exploration of the life of one woman whose encounter with a perceptive nurse allows her to reconstruct a life free from violence and abuse. Firmly placing domestic violence as a public health issue, At The Crossroads is used as an educational and advocacy tool for hospital staff and women’s groups alike.

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Pyaar Plus

Shrouded in morality or mythology, love, sex and relationships are presented by most Indian cyber sources as taboo or idealistic. Pyaar Plus is an interactive website that offers young people a space for information discussion on a range of issues that are directly relevant to them – abortion; sexual fantasies; open relationships; LBGTQ; pornography; gender; masturbation. With links to engaging articles,  videos, songs and cartoons, Pyaar Plus empowers young adults to forge open-minded and mutually respectful relationships through a dynamic and accessible forum.

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Street Smart

When faced with sexual harassment, most women neither confront nor report their aggressor. Later, many of them regret their silence. Encouraging college-going women to speak up against sexual harassment, Street Smart is a creative poster campaign originally designed by a group of students from St.Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Running as a competition across various colleges in Mumbai, Street Smart asks students to come up with a catchy one liner in response to an instance of sexual harassment.




9 Degrees of Justice

Edited by Bishakha Datta, 9 Degrees of Justice is a collection of writings by second and third-generation feminists. Has using the law led to justice for women who face violence? What does justice mean for an individual survivor? How can we address violence in public spaces and cyberspace without demonizing either? How do women in armed conflict move from being victims to actors? How can we start to speak about lesbian suicides and violence among women loving women? How do we ensure that women have a right to choose when love is seen as a crime? Is prostitution a form of violence against women? What is the violence of stigma? And who is a woman deserving representation from the women’s movement?

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The Law Is On Your Side

When addressing domestic violence, most organisations and women’s groups typically intervene after an instance of abuse. We want to complement this approach and take steps to prevent violence – before it begins. The Law Is On Your Side is an entertainment-education model of evening events that weaves together Bollywood dances, street plays, and public service advertisements. Organised in collaboration in Mumbai with SNEHA, each event is typically attended by 200-500 men, women, and children. Some of the performers are young adults from Dharavi and Ghatkopar who have attended training workshops on dance and theatre. Their energetic performances highlight a simple message – Act now against domestic violence: the law is on your side.


Break The Silence

Despite the fact that 37.2% of all women face domestic abuse, it is a topic shrouded in secrecy and silence amongst India’s growing middle classes. Using Mumbai’s large and busy urban malls as an entry point, Break The Silence consists of attractive makeup kiosks in central locations of the mall. The makeup on display ranges from eye shadow Veil (‘say goodbye to black eyes’) to lipstick Hush with the tagline ‘from swollen to kissable lips in seconds.’ Created pro bono by McCann, Break The Silence provides a non-threatening forum for upper class women to speak about and against domestic violence. 



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Barefoot Counsellors

As Asia’s second-largest slum, Dharavi is a unique melting pot of communities from across India. And while women from states as diverse as Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are already working within this heart-shaped urban slum to address domestic violence, mainstream ideas of gender and patriarchy (such as the ‘deserving woman’) often form the basis of their interventions. In collaboration with SNEHA,  50 women sanginis or barefoot counsellors have attended holistic training sessions on gender, sexuality, human rights, and skills-based intervention.  Through the program the women are empowered to intervene in cases of domestic violence, and run awareness campaigns addressing DV within their own communities.


Zist Tarashi: Sculpting Lives

Consistently documented in public space, the myriad voices of Muslim women have been buried under those that claim to speak for, against, or about them. In collaboration with Awaaz-e–Niswan and the Photography Promotion Trust, Zist Tarashi: Sculpting Lives brings together the work of 16 Muslim women, who have lived with or been subjected to domestic violence. Some of these women had never held a camera, and the exhibit provides an opportunity for viewers to glimpse their stories, lives and communities, through their eyes.

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