India’s youth “Say NO”: The Must Bol campaign against gender-based violence

Date: Friday, March 30, 2012

To rally more than 1.3 million web users, you need four simple ingredients. A website, a blog, a video blog, and a team of 22 spirited young people. And just one message: that everyone should stand up and speak out about violence against women. This is how the “Must Bol social media campaign is encouraging young men in India to examine violence in their lives, and question social norms.

With the support of UN Women and youth collective, Commutiny, the young team from Delhi has led campaign activities both online and off to engage young people to prevent violence.

“Women need to admit the violence meted out towards them, and fight back, said Kuber Sharma, a Must Bol coordinator. “We believe that a man should be able to proudly say that he is a homemaker. Societal pressures on men often force them to be an earning and independent entity.

A dedicated website, launched in March 2011, offers three key interactive platforms: A videoblog to exhibit films created by volunteer campaigners, which has had 30,000 unique visitors; a “shoutbox for young people to ask questions on gender based violence anonymously; and a team blog for posting campaign experiences and starting discussions.

Manish Sharma, a theatre actor, is one of the campaigners and feels strongly about gender equality. “I consider it a duty of each human being to respect the dignity of every individual and their gender, and to make society a freer place to live in, where there is love and respect, where people are not afraid of each other and regret what nature has made them, he said.

The Must Bol page on Facebook, “Let's Talk, has over 10,000 members and one million visitors. It has been a platform for friendly, positive conversations on gender-based violence, among them, a number of competitions. In March 2011, for example, Must Bol hosted an online ‘Must Click' photography contest inviting young people to articulate their interpretations of ‘Masculinities'. Over the course of ten days, 44 photographers submitted 170 photographs. 140 of these were posted on ‘Let's Talk' and the winners were decided on the basis of 700 votes from Facebook members.

A number of outdoor events were also organized to take the message to young people. Besides poster competitions across Delhi University, the Must Bol team, in collaboration with NGO, Sathi All for Partnerships (SAFP), organized ‘Reclaiming the Night', an authorized youth rally through city streetsto oppose the lack of public safety for women, complete with songs and music performances.

A blogathon with a difference

Meanwhile a Men Say No Blogathon, organized by Commutiny and UN Women, from November 25 to December 10, 2011 allowed bloggers and readers to dive into the many facets of the issue. The Blogathon brought together as many as 100 bloggers over 16 days, and reached out to over a million people on various social media and online spaces.

It also hosted an online short film contest on gender-based violence.“Blogging is an elitist activity, and not many people who are victims of violence have access to such a forum, said Sukanya Sen, a film-maker and an active blogger. “This will just build a community of people who speak a common language.

The online event was organized to mark the annual international 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence initiative. While one blogger related an experience in which he tried and failed to help a woman in a violent altercation, others reflected on the social norms that can lead to such violence.

“With this Blogathon, we wanted to collect ideas, thoughts and experiences of diverse men and women on the importance of men's role and the urgency of the issue, said Kuber Sharma, who organized the event. “We believe that men can play an active role in eradicating violence against women.