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India
‘Why Should Women's Freedom Be Compromised?'
Savita Verma

‘It has happened many times … in crowded buses, the metro… I have seen girls being violated, harassed, groped but I choose to remain silent, even though I curse the perpetrator in my mind. Today, I have changed… from now on, I have decided to intervene whenever and wherever I see a woman being assaulted.' The credit of this transformation in Lalit Sanwal, 21, a student of a Delhi University college goes to a play he watched recently in the city. ‘Voices of Men', a multimedia act by US based activist Ben Atherton Zeman tackles important issues such as sexual assault, date rape, dating violence, domestic violence and sexual harassment, through humour, celebrity male voice impressions and video clips, and promotes self-reflection and violence prevention efforts, especially in men. Research has shown that inequitable gender norms influence men's interactions with their partners and children, so the need to include them in the ‘war against gender violence' is absolutely essential. Zeman's attempt at making boys like Sanwal recognise that “if they can be a part of the problem, they can also be part of the solution” seems to be working.

Superficially it appears women are empowered, but actually they face inequality and harassment at all levels. Women need to feel secure and it is our responsibility to make them feel secure.”

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India
In This Bihar Village Girls Shine As Activists
Anita Katyal

Manisha Bharati, a Class Eight student of Government Middle School in Bhalui village of Vaishali district in Bihar, has only recently discovered the joys of using soap and knows the merits of washing hands to maintain hygiene. She has been telling everyone in her neighbourhood about it with the result that soap sales have gone off the charts in the village. Her classmate, Nidhi Verma, has taken on the task of talking to young mothers about immunisation. Although they find it awkward when she confidently approaches them to make inquiries about their children's vaccination schedule they listen to what she has to say on the importance of proper and timely immunisation. Then there is Preeti whose pet cause is sanitation. She wants to make sure that every home in the village has a toilet so that no woman is vulnerable to violence or ill health due to open defecation. Despite living in a conservative social set up the girls of Bhalui village today are socially conscious, vocal and committed to making their homes and lives better. Who or what has triggered this amazing transformation? Read on.

‘The women were not very knowledgeable about immunising their children. What's the use, they would often ask. Others told me they did not have the time to visit the health centre. But I spoke to them at length and insisted that they vaccinate their children.'

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India
Free Legal Aid Helps Dalit Women Fight Crime And Exclusion
Shuriah Niazi

Earlier this year, in a small village in Chhindwara district, Madhya Pradesh, a hearing- and speech-impaired minor Dalit girl was brutally gang raped. When the victim's mother, a daily wager, mustered up the courage to go to the police she was turned away as the authorities were ‘unable to understand’ what the child wanted to convey. Disappointed, she simply resigned to fate - till someone told her about a toll-free helpline she could call to register her complaint. When she called in and explained the situation, a team of legal experts from the Forum for Social and Economic Rights, a group of advocates that fights cases on behalf of victims of rape and other crimes, instantly came to her assistance. It took a month – and meetings with the State Women's Commission and Director General of Police – but an FIR was lodged with the promise of a fair investigation. Like this disabled minor, the Forum has been able to ensure justice for several voiceless girls and women with support from a unique initiative being implemented in the region.

‘We work to protect the Dalits and others who suffer social discrimination. Most of the lawyers associated with the Forum, too, hail from the weaker sections of the society. So they have natural empathy for victims whom they represent.’

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India
Hill Women Lead Another Unique Green Revolution
Nitin Jugran Bahuguna

The marriage ceremony is over. The newly-weds step outside and make their way towards a clearing where they plant a sapling. A group of young girls then rushes towards the groom who indulgently hands over a thick wad of notes to the exultant teens. This money is not just for the upkeep of the sapling but will come in handy to take care of the needs of the under-privileged girls in the community… Across Chamoli district in the hill state of Uttarakhand, which has recently witnessed a spate of natural disasters triggered by deforestation, a unique tree plantation initiative called Maiti Andolan (maiti is derived from mait, kumaoni for a married woman's parental home), has established itself as a workable solution for environmental protection as well as promoting the welfare of girls. Recently, to mark the commencement of the Nanda Devi Yatra, which takes place once in 12 years, women associated with the movement gathered at Nauti village and planted 500 saplings to celebrate the occasion.

‘As per legend, Goddess Nanda Devi returns to visit her parental home every 12 years. This year, we have undertaken a massive tree plantation drive to usher in the yatra. It's just like when our girls plant trees after marriage near their parental home.’

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India
Celebrating Mary Kom And Manipur On Celluloid
Syeda Hameed

For Syeda Hameed, former Member, Planning Commission, Manipur is a place synonymous with women. It is the women who run the daily business of life in this very fragile northeastern state. And while they do not wield political power – they are absent from the legislature – they certainly hold up much more than half the sky. After all, who hasn't heard of the dynamic Meira Paibis, the role models for gender movements all over India? Or the hundreds of women who run the Ima markets as traders, vendors and entrepreneurs. All these images and memories came flooding back to Hameed, once a frequent visitor to the state, as she watched the recently-released film, ‘Mary Kom’, starring popular Hindi film actress Priyanka Chopra. According to her, the biopic of the iconic boxer, who beat all odds to emerge as one of India's top sportspersons, celebrates the spirit of Manipur, the triumph of gender and a new phase of masculinity.

‘The film reflects the stark reality of Manipur. There is no effort to glamourise the bleakness of Imphal. A far cry from the dreamland that Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the film's producer, is otherwise known to create.

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