According to UN Women, 1 in 3 women face sexual harassment during the course of their lifetime. In India, a woman is raped every 22 minutes. Crimes against women and girls are rampant. Rape, sexual violence, and street harassment have become the norm and yet women and girls choose to stay silent and not speak up against violence due to the social stigma attached to these crimes and the process. A lengthy and complex judicial system serves as a deterrent. Encouraging women to speak up against all forms of violence, report it and break the shame associated with it is important if we want to end gender based violence.
Gender violence, in all its forms, is a broad and complex social problem in India. The horrific 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh that captured global media attention deeply impacted me, highlighting my own experience with sexual harassment during my first 20 years of living there. A solution had to be found. I no longer wanted to be a silent bystander; I wanted to enable Indian women to take charge of their own safety. That’s when I decided to start Sayfty, an organization that educates and empowers women and girls against violence.
At Sayfty, our vision is to make the daily lives of millions of Indian women safer by empowering them to take a stance against gender violence. I believe a woman’s safety is her birthright and our programs and initiatives are designed to ensure that she feels safe and free. We educate women and girls about the issue of violence against women in society by using digital media and storytelling. Our online campaigns empower communities by making women and girls more aware of their rights, helping them identify and speak out against gender violence. We provide safe spaces (online and offline) for open conversations with boys and men to bring about a fundamental shift in how violence against women is perceived. Our free self-defense workshops instill confidence in women and girls to protect themselves while encountering perpetrators.
Working on these issues has it’s own set of challenges. Some of the biggest we’ve faced over the last 3.5 years include:
Changing mindsets rooted in age-old practices and customs: We advocate for the right of women and girls to be safe. This often conflicts not only with patriarchal norms and rules, but also with women’s own internalized beliefs of that patriarchy. How do we convince women that their safety lies in their hands too; that they must be aware, alert, and equipped to protect themselves?
Teaching and instilling respect for women at an early age: The narrative on gender equality needs to change. We believe it is as crucial to create awareness in schools about violence against women and girls as it is to teach the importance of using a language of gender equality and justice. Challenging and breaking gender stereotypes needs to be encouraged early on in the lives of children.
Inciting citizens to act: We believe change can begin with the community. Parents should lead by example; believe their young daughters when they complain about harassment, believe a friend when they confide in them about being raped. Refuse to be a silent bystander when you witness a woman being sexually harassed, help her take action.
Changing the System: Ensuring a zero-tolerance policy for violence against women at every level of governance and implementation. For the most part, women in India live in fear of violence, and they are scared. They are compelled to make small lifestyle changes because the law has failed to protect them. The current system is ineffective and inefficient, and justice for survivors is either denied or delayed.
Despite the challenges, we have been able to create impact and make a difference in how women and girls perceive their personal safety. Our self-defense workshops have had the most impact. 90% of the girls and women who participate say they would recommend the workshop to their friends. There is a renewed sense of self-confidence after the workshops.
“During the self-defense workshop it was hard for some women to use their voice and scream loudly. When asked if they can break a brick, most of us said NO. But the trainer taught us how to! It was a very liberating experience. My confidence immediately rose. After the workshop, I felt empowered and more equipped to handle an unsafe situation. I highly recommend [this] to all girls and women.” -workshop participant
If you’d like to get involved with our work at Sayfty, there are many ways:
Volunteer with us. We are always looking for bloggers, transcribers, photographers, graphic designers and social media gurus.
Be our Voice of The Week: If you are active on Twitter, you can be our #VOTW and curate Sayfty’s twitter account for a week. Use your voice and our platform to raise awareness on women’s safety and the issue of violence against women. We now have curators from more than 30 countries in the world. Be a part of this growing community.
Engage with us through our weekly chat on Twitter: #Sayftychat. Each week we bring on a guest to discuss a top related to women’s empowerment and safety. Join us on Twitter every Monday at 11am EST for 1 hour.
Donate: If you like what we are doing, support us financially. We are a 100% volunteer run organization and grants and donations help us do the work we do. You can also sponsor a self-defense workshop for women and girls.