It is easy to think that a city like Chennai is “safe” for women. But in the light of what happened to an innocent girl in Delhi, one often stops to think, how safe is ‘safe’? How secure does a woman feel on the streets of her own city, be it in Chennai, or any other city for that matter? Like everything awareness is the key, and that is what Hollaback! Chennai an international movement against street sexual harassment aims to do — spread awareness. The Chennai chapter of the movement was started off in 2011 by Prajnya Trust, which launched the event as part of its ongoing work against gender violence. The trust is a non-profit centre working on issues relating to peace, justice and security. The movement has been a success ever since. This year, however, the campaign seems to have gained a stronger voice as Vivanta by Taj Connemera has tied up with Prajnya to create awareness about the campaign. As a part of the campaign, the hotel will host an evening of live music at Distil with a band led by a female vocalist throughout the month. The aim is to spread the message that ladies night is more than just free cocktails and promoting the cause in a fun albeit engaging way.
Anupama Srinivasan, Programme Director, Prajnya, thinks that even though Chennai is a safe city, sexual harassment demands a zero tolerance approach. “It is true that compared to New Delhi, for instance, Chennai is relatively safer for women. But we believe that street sexual harassment demands and deserves a zero-tolerance approach. If one woman faces harassment on the streets of Chennai, that’s one too many. The stories that women (and men) have shared on the Hollaback! Chennai site in the short period since its launch stand testimony to this,” she says.
Hollaback! Chennai dedicates its efforts into making streets friendly for women. Anupama explains, “At one level, we aim to harness the Internet and mobile technology to end street harassment, by crowd-sourcing and mapping instances of harassment. There is little data on harassment, primarily because most people who experience it don't file police complaints. So one main objective is to understand where harassment takes place and map safe and unsafe areas in the city. The other part of this of course is to end the silence on harassment. If a woman is groped as she’s walking back from work, she very often doesn’t tell anyone about it — she's scared, ashamed or worried about being blamed for it. We want to change this attitude and encourage everyone to tell their stories, boldly and without fear of being condemned. Finally, we also want to speak to bystanders — men and women who witness harassment but do nothing. We often watch something happen on the beach or on our street and feel helpless, but choose to do nothing. We want to change this and encourage a more positive attitude from bystanders.”
Violence against women is a persistent and consistent problem and Anupama fully agrees. “We need to put in place a number of measures to begin to prevent this. Prevention is obviously a long term strategy that includes improving legal literacy and knowledge about support services, encouraging better reporting and complaints and most of all, changing attitudes towards women. Both men and women have a role to play in this — it’s not just about a ‘women's issue’,” she says in parting.
Hollaback Fridays will feature Kavita Thomas, who will perform at Distil on June 28. For more information on the movement at http://chennai.ihollaback.org