Bringing Change, One Video at a Time

Every year on Women’s Day, in Karauli District, in India’s Rajsthan, the state transport authority allows women to travel for free wherever they want. “Women leap at the opportunity to leave their husbands at home and go out. In an otherwise deeply chauvinistic society this is one of those rare days when the ladies get a taste of empowerment,” says community correspondent Sunita Kasera who lives in Karauli and made a video on this last year. What does it mean to be an empowered woman? Is it the ability to go out and earn? Is it the freedom to speak your mind? Is a woman who has these two but is sexually harassed every time she walks out on the street empowered? At Video Volunteers, we have been mulling over these questions this week. As a human rights and media NGO we see some pretty hard hitting material but few have touched us like the recent story of an acid attack survivor, Chanchal, which we have been reporting on for three weeks now. On 21 October, 2012, four men threw acid on Chanchal, 19, and her sister, 15, while they were asleep. This was a direct result of Chanchal's bold move to oppose continuous sexual harassment by these men who belong to a 'higher caste' than her. Five months later, the girls and their family are still waiting for justice—they haven’t received adequate description, the state hasn’t covered their medical bills, and the police still haven’t taken an official statement from them. Despite this, Chanchal refuses to give up. In this video she speaks out and demands justice for herself. Varsha Jawalgekar, a community journalist and women’s rights activist made a video report in January 2013 documenting the trauma faced by the Paswan family. Varsha started working as a community correspondent with Video Volunteers in 2010. Having emerged victorious from a bitter personal battle against domestic violence, she now makes videos about women’s issues and ensures that no other woman is silenced like she had been. Varsha and Chanchal are just two women we have had the privilege of working with over the last 6 years at Video Volunteers. Gender has been at the heart of VV’s work since the beginning.   One of our earliest projects was to train 11 rural women who had all been married as children to make a film on child marriage. The video was screened in their villages on wide screen projectors. “Nearly all of us women were married as children. Yet none of us have ever spoken about it before tonight,” said one of our community producers as she spoke to the 800 people in her village who had come to see the film. This video and project were the beginning of Video Volunteers' Community Video Unit Program. Within about 10 months, six more had been launched across India. It was the beginning of a spectacular journey for all involved, one that we’re still on. Women's issues are hardly talked about in public forums in villages. Community media can change this. Community media has a special power because those who make the content have almost always personally experienced what they document. This empathy adds an authenticity, urgency and a personal perspective, which makes it very different from traditional journalism. Female correspondents find that women in their communities feel comfortable talking to them as they feel that the journalists can relate to them. Here are some issues that our women correspondents have reported on. Child Marriage Rohini Pawar, VV’s community correspondent in Walhe district, Maharashtra, was only 15 when she got married. She didn’t want to. For the longest time she had hoped to study and become a doctor. “I felt all my dreams would crash and end there but I was lucky in that I had good in-laws. Being 15 and married is not easy,” she says. “I was scared, everything was different. I wanted to make sure that other girls didn’t have to face the same problems.” Now working not only as a correspondent but also as a video trainer and mentor of newer community correspondents, she says: “I want to change things in my society for women-- get them equal wages, stop child marriages, help them speak up and stand up for themselves.” And she’s done just that. With each video that she has made she has ensured that the voices of the women in her community are heard and taken on board. In her video, ‘Child Brides in Maharashtra’, she interviews two girls who recently saw their friend getting married. Both are thankful that it wasn't them. Rohini hopes that in time more people will become more aware of the problems of child marriage and that they will stop. Women in politics There are countless women in India who have broken out of the roles that society had cast for them. Some have become community journalists, others village chiefs. The Village councils in India are primary levels of governance in the country. While there are many instances where women have become heads of these Councils, their decisions are often governed by the men in their family. Community Correspondent Bhan Sahu, from the Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh, went in search of a female village head who had stepped out of the shadows of familial pressure. ‘Woman Sarpanch Brings Change to Rural India’ is the story of Sukhvanti Bai, a Gond tribal woman who represents 300 villagers in Handitola, in Chhattisgarh state. She has become a well-respected community member who has established her reputation as someone who doesn’t mince her words and reaches her goals against all odds. “When she sees problems, she will find a way to solve them. It is this self-confidence that women need, so that they can act on their own terms without being influenced by their husbands or other people,” Bhan says. “I hope that women will see that their voice is important to the community...I have certainly been deeply touched and inspired by Sukhvanti's courage and self-reliance.”   Inspiring others Sunita Kasera is one our most active community correspondents and has been instrumental in bringing massive changes to her district Karauli, in Rajasthan. Her video ‘Citizen Journalist Turns Symbol of Women's Hope' documents how Sunita helped a group of women, who were former bootleggers, get money they had been promised by the government to start a new business. Sunita was probably one of the first women to enter the excise office in Karauli, a deeply chauvinistic society. She has repeatedly walked into public offices, demanded co-operation from officials and received it. As Video Volunteers builds up a network of community correspondents across India, we have strived to ensure that women make up half the numbers. At the moment 33 percent of our correspondents are women but we find that on an average they make more videos per month than the male correspondents. One reason for this is probably the fact that being given the opportunity to speak out is that much more important for women and that much more transformative, given how long they have been silenced. With each video they make, they change stereotypical ideas about what rural women in India are like. They come a little a little closer to achieving their goal of extending that empowerment to other women like themselves.  

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Video Volunteers was awarded at a gala function held at BAFTA, London.