No Country for Women: Fighting Norms in India

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PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — In America, “rape culture” has been the term used to describe media, mindsets and general societal norms that excuse rapists for their crimes. The ideas that “rape culture” encapsulates are present in Indian society, although this does not mean that India’s traditions and religion are inherently misogynistic.

Three Brown University undergraduates from India decided to make a difference in their home country. Ria Vaidya, Shreena Thakore and Rishabh Singh founded No Country for Women (NCFW), an organization dedicated to educating and changing people’s minds on rape culture.

The motivation to start NCFW was inspired by their own childhoods.

“Growing up in India, our adolescence was filled with incidents such as being told that girls couldn’t wear sleeveless shirts to school (or the school wouldn’t be responsible for what could happen), getting molested in public buses, trying to ignore catcalls on the street and being reminded in subtle and explicit ways that we would never be as good as our male counterparts.”

This mentality affected how they viewed coming home from abroad.

“We would dress so as to not draw attention to ourselves (minimal make-up, maximal clothing), we would speak only when necessary, we would unconsciously take up as little physical space as possible to ensure we were not noticeable.”

They realized India “was No Country for Women.”

They set up NCFW with three goals: Education, Conversation and Action. They hold workshops, provoke conversation through social media and seek funding for proposals to combat rape culture. They share articles on their Facebook page to educate and start conversation.

“Before posting any piece, we discuss it to ensure it communicates or informs our audience on something that is in line with our goals. We stay away from pieces that are merely provocative, ill-researched or that (in our opinion) lack enough substance.”

They also write their own articles, and create striking images that combine visuals with minimal text. One example is “a longer skirt never stopped rape.” Their plan is to turn these images into posters, which can be used to start conversation.

They will have workshopped with 1,200 students by the end of August, and they will host a conference with 200 college students – Beyond Rape: Locating the Self in a Gendered Society. It will be held on August 23rd in Bangalore, and they are currently accepting applications for students interested in participating.

Looking past the summer, NCFW’s goals include “making academia accessible and translating education into action.”

They plan to collaborate with academia, local students and NGOs to inform their work. They will begin monthly discussion groups, broaden the availability of their workshops and gain and maintain a network of fellow activists. They will also begin publishing articles and working with other organizations and campaigns.

So far, they have implemented their workshops, and their success has drawn the attention of additional students and teachers. They have also been invited to speak at TEDxLSR, which is being held in Delhi this September. They are also in the process of compiling a body of resources to put on their website, while constantly updating their workshops with new research and their own experiences.

NCFW’s founders believe that violence stems from society for a number of different reasons.

“When you start asking basic questions regarding who committed the act, how it was committed, where it was committed and who it impacted, what emerges is a tangled web of class, caste, identity, politics, religion, law, social infrastructure and other sociocultural institutions.”

They state that in addition to sexual frustration, men commit gender-based violence as punishment or as a “backlash against rapid modernization.” Purity is a measure of honor, so rape can occur as an attack against a girl or her family’s honor.

There are other reasons, as well.

“The conflict in Indian society between omnipresent hypersexualized imagery and a puritanical societal treatment of sexuality, the coexistence of arranged marriage as a norm and the non-recognition of marital rape in the constitution, and the strong religion-based gender roles, only worsen the current landscape.”

There are attitudes feeding these reasons for violence. Indian society regularly participates in victim-blaming, as well as in trivializing and normalizing sexual assault. Arranged marriage is a cultural norm, and this practice blurs the lines of what defines “consent.” Understanding marriage as continual consent eliminates the possibility of marital rape.

Combined with equating honor and chastity, these ideas “completely deny a woman sexual agency and enforce severe sexual policing.” In cases of sexual assault, the victim is rarely the focus when it comes to bringing justice for the crime.

Funding for NCFW currently comes from the Projects for Peace fellowship. There is a need for more money after the grant is spent, however, and the organization is launching an IndieGogo campaign.

“Please do support us if you like our work. We are also continuously building up our network of partners and sponsors. We are currently accepting any further donations, sponsorships and other forms of support in order to create as big an impact as possible,” says the organization.

They also encourage people to contact them via the email address on their website with interest in partnering with them or in sponsoring their work. They are also looking for additional help in “marketing, promotion, logistics, strategic planning, writing articles, helping with workshops, recruiting people, partnering with schools/colleges, even taking the campaign in new directions.”

Sources: No Country for Women, Facebook, Twitter, Indiegogo, Igg.me
Photo: No Country for Women Facebook

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Monica Roth

Monica is from Blooming Glen, Pennsylvania, and attends Brown University. She holds a personal vendetta against umbrellas; when she was young, she tried to ride in one like Winnie the Pooh, but the spokes got in the way.

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