According to statistics, 53 per cent of children — both boys and girls — in India face sexual abuse. One in every three women in the world faces harassment while 90 per cent of women in India face gender-based violence. “Still, thousands of such cases of gender-based violence against men go unreported every year. There is a deafening silence and disturbing social acceptance about it, and we feel it is time we do something about it,” says Chandigarh-based Neelima Raheja. Together with Monika Bothra, Rubina Singh and Muskaan Maharia, these young leaders of the Global Shapers Hub of Chandigarh, a youth network initiated by the World Economic Forum, conceived and initiated the ‘I Break My Silence’ campaign in January 2015.
With 200-plus stories shared on http://www.ibreakmysilence.org, 150,000 lives impacted directly through social and print media, school workshops with around 1,000 students in Tricity on awareness about gender-based violence and how they can be part of the solution and after conducting on-ground campaigns, the project has this year won the Coca Cola Shaping a Better Future grant of 10,000$ as a runner-up in the competition.
‘I Break My Silence’ (IBMS) is a space where survivors of gender-based violence can share their stories of violence anonymously and shed the weight of social stigma attached to the issue. “It started out as a simple idea, to come out of the fear and shame and share your story. This is one area that no one addresses, from parents to schools to society, and as a result, those who have been victimised, continue to suffer, in their lives, relationships and work,” says Raheja, whose own experiences connect her to the project. While Maharia wants to reach out to children, Bothra wants to foster the idea of gender equality. Singh, on the other hand, believes stories have the power to change the world.
From sexual harassment, rape and domestic violence to child abuse, eve-teasing and molestation, IBMS covers all these issues. “We also refer people to counsellers and professionals, if need be, and for that we’ve tied up with online portal O Womaniya,” adds Raheja. Only 21, she feels it’s her age that makes children and youth open up to her and share. “Right now, we are reaching out to ages 13 to 21, and slowly, we’ll be setting chapters in different cities, schools, different stratas of society, etc,” says Raheja.
The hesitation, feels the team, begins at home, when such experiences are simply hushed down. “Boys and men too suffer harassment. I remember a boy in class IX sharing how his paternal uncle had raped him when he was just 8, how going for tuitions ends up as a harrowing experience for girls for they are eve-teased en route. So many have stopped going to tuitions altogether. That is not the solution,” says Raheja.
By conducting awareness sessions with the city youth to engage, educate and empower them, by starting #myfirstincident to share stories, by encouraging local community to take action and be a part of the solution, IBMS plans to build an ecosystem where it is safe to speak up.
“It is about building a proactive and engaged community, by instilling hope and taking affirmative action. We have to be the doers!” wrap up the girls.