2014 was a watershed year for women, all across the world. The ideas about the repression of women evolved into a debate that engrossed more people than ever before. From the kidnapping of the Nigerian schoolgirls, to the misogynistic killings in Isla Vista; from the issue of sexism in video games, to instances of campus rape and domestic violence; it was a year of churning. Celebrities like Beyoncé and Emma Watson spoke hearteningly about Feminism, and MalalaYousafzai won the Nobel Peace prize. We registered major victories in calling out people like Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi for their repeated assaults on women. This was the year when feminism came, finally, at the forefront of public imaginations. As it came to an end, Time magazine called 2014 the “the Best Year for Women Since the Dawn of Time” and in a long essay for the Guardian, Rebecca Solnit wrote, “Women are coming out of a silence that lasted so long no one can name a beginning for it. This noisy year is not the end – but perhaps it is the beginning of the end.”
The reverberations of these shifting tides were also felt in India. Actress Deepika Padukone’s stand against the caricaturisation of her sexual attributes by the Times of India was applauded and appended by one and all. But it would be unfair to deem such importance to 2014, especially in India, if similar sorties hadn’t surfaced from the rural hinterland, where the poor and the marginalised live. And this is where the last year really starts to look like a moment of change.
This deluge of gender discussions is close to our hearts here at Video Volunteers. We’ve always believed in smashing skewed statistics through our work. With over 50% female Community Correspondents, specifically from socially marginalized communities, IndiaUnheard has changed the way in which journalism is practiced.
“They said I was the first person who did anything to help them. They were so skeptical about what a small, frail woman would do, when obviously, no one was willing to listen. Then, I told them how IndiaUnheard works.” Reena, a former manual labourer in Katihar, Bihar, took to video activism with great aplomb bringing much needed relief to survivors of a flood in her state.
Today, women in rural Chhattisgarh are demanding for equal pay as men. Nearby, a Community Correspondent is asking why the girl students are being made to clean the school premises, and in a village of Maharashtra, women have started to talk about the menace of domestic violence. What makes these stories doubly important is where they are coming from.
Our Correspondents report on stories and issues they have often lived themselves.
Not only are they representing their communities at a national discourse, they are also reporting on crucial issues of gender violence and discrimination, raising their voices, fighting for their rights and empowering their communities. The high number of women Community Correspondents means that a community, maybe for the first time, is looking up to a woman. Aspiring to be like her.
Saroj Paraste, from Madhya Pradesh, understood early on in her life that knowledge was power, and that’s where her people suffered. Supported by her husband and in-laws, she worked for over a decade going door-to-door spreading awareness among her tribal community in Jabalpur. Despite being barely literate, Saroj’s fiestystand for her people’s rights won her a spot as a Community Correspondent.Not only did she film several videos empowering and mobilizing her people to demand their right to health, hygiene and education, but she also actively followed up every video to try and facilitate change for her community. Her dedication to their empowerment led her people to collectively request her to stand for village council elections. Saroj won the elections. Humble to the hilt, Saroj insists all of her achievements have been possible only because of her community’s collective support.
“I made this video because I am one of them,” said Mary Nisha, from Godda, in Jharkhand. Her community is currently embroiled in a bitter battle for their rights to their land and a peaceful life, and Mary Nisha makes videos to show the silent and non violent protests her community has been staging against Central Coalfields Limited. By believing in the possibility that each individual can contribute to changing this world, each of us are participating in a peaceful revolution. Wielding cameras for change has been a way for many of these activists, who now are empowered to collectively change their communities lives and perspectives.
The great joy that last year has brought for those fighting for the equal status of women in the society, has given them hope. But this is far from over. As Solnit wrote in the Guardian, perhaps it is the beginning of the end. And to see an end to disturbing social evils like violence against women and female foeticide, long struggle is required. As you read this, our CCs are knocking the doors of government offices — exposing corruption and seeking justice. The great big leap of 2014 needs to be sustained this year, and then next year, and so on. For so long the discrimination has gone on that it is not possible to eradicate in a matter of months.
Says Nirmala, another firebrand women’s rights activist, “As an activist, it is my duty to tackle such situations. As a Community Correspondent, it is my job. As a woman, it is my responsibility to educate & advocate against crimes against women…I have realized that my obligation is to change this world we live in.”
This is a fight, if there ever was any, worth fighting for.