Meera Vijayann was appointed Youth Ambassador for India on Sexual Violence in Conflict this week. She will be representing Youth to End Sexual Violence in India, and will be working with civil society organizations and our partners to bring the youth voice to dialogues with members of government, advocating for change in the wake of rampant sexual violence.
A message from Meera:
In 2012, when a 23-year old girl was brutally raped on a public bus, India’s urban middle-class woke up to a disturbing reality: the issue of sexual violence was real, and it was close to home. Today, the launch of global campaigns - including UN Women’s "He For She", President Obama’s “It’s on Us,” and the 2014 Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict - has reaffirmed our commitment to raise awareness about sexual and gender based violence. However, back home in India, sexual violence has yet to be recognised as a serious violation of human rights.
In late August this year, India rejected a report presented by UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (UN-SRVAW), Rashida Manjoo. Manjoo had pointed out that violence against women in India was systemic and widely tolerated by the State and community. This wasn’t surprising. In May 2014, the country voted a new government into power. India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, proposed that the BJP-led government would focus on empowering women and maintained that women’s rights would be a key in the party’s campaign. Yet, a month after, The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported there were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police last year in comparison to 244,270 in 2012. Since then, crimes against women — physical assault, acid attacks, kidnapping, rape, molestation, dowry harassment — have been steadily rising.
My work encourages and supports young women in India to discuss and report sexual and gender based violence. In a country where over a half of the total population are youth, more people are embracing digital communications. Around 900 million Indian citizens have access to a mobile phone and there are 74 million Internet users. Given this, we cannot ignore the fact that digital communications can prove a useful tool in empowering young women who have access to basic technology.
As an independent journalist, I have leveraged the use of technology to raise debate specifically on the issue of gender-based violence in India. Following my passion for participatory journalism, storytelling, and civic-action campaigns, I contributed to The Guardian, Open Democracy, Forbes, and other national/international publications. Likewise, I have explored new digital citizen journalism platforms such as CNN's ireport, CNN IBN-CJ, and Guardian Witness to stimulate debate on issues such as gender rights and youth political participation. In recognition of my work to reach regional audiences through these means, I was selected as an official Connector for Plus Social Good - an international community supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the UNDP, and the UN Foundation. As a Connector, I cultivated relationships with South-Asian advisors, managed the international community hub, and created new spaces for Social Good’s community in India. This has been an incredible learning experience.
On a positive note, citizen initiatives such as Video Volunteers, CGNet Swara, Youth ki Awaaz, Viewspaper, and Digital Green are leveraging the power of digital media to empower marginalized communities across India. In Bangalore, an initiative called DURGA - which I closely work with - allowed me to witness first hand the transformation in children when openly discussing sexuality and gender-bias.
A few months ago, when I presented a talk at the TEDx Houses of Parliament on speaking up against sexual violence, the responses amazed me. Hundreds of young men and women wrote to me explaining that they had, at some point, faced sexual assault at the hands of their teachers, family members, relatives, and friends. Several people expressed that they finally felt a sense of empowerment to speak about their own stories. To me, this was a personal victory.
The power of speaking out through technology is tremendous. We need to work together to create a world where youth can support one another through all forms of media and technology, where all voices can be heard.
It's time to #EndTheSilence.