*Interview conducted via email
Meera Vijayann journalism and CNN’s Citizen journalist platform to speak out against gender violence. Based out of India, she has witnessed to extreme gender discrimination. She encourages others to speak out to end harassment. Her speech at TEDx in June reveals how deeply personal the these causes are to her. Vijayann utilizes her platform and skills as a journalist to make common crimes of sexual violence in India known.
What continuously inspires you to fight for women’s rights?
Indian society is going through a deep cultural and socio-economic transition. Today, India’s presence in the global stage is more prominent than ever before, yet there are serious issues that prove an obstacle in its advancement and progress. What inspires me to fight for women’s rights is the fact that it is becoming harder and harder everyday for women to access rights in the country. Be it accessing justice to report harassment or voicing their opinions without threats, women face so many challenges on a daily basis in India today.
How do you think media has pushed your cause forward quicker than it would have ten years ago?
The digital revolution has had a great impact on the lives of women in India. Women have better access to a medium where they can voice their opinions, report crimes, access knowledge and most importantly, unlock economic opportunity that a globalized world offers. However, in the past decade, crimes against women have been slowly rising. This is because in a country where patriarchal values are entrenched, this directly are has an impact on the role that women will play in society. As a woman living in Bangalore, I can tell you that it is a constant fight to access basic rights. For instance, take the experience that an average young woman faces when she approaches the police regarding harassment. I have been questioned by the police for merely standing outside my own apartment and talking to a friend at night, been asked to change my statement when I wanted to report an assault on me, and even been told that it was my fault for venturing out alone (in the morning) as that “invites” crime. When the Delhi Gang rape occurred in 2012, I decided that I had to find a way to share the Indian experience with a global audience so that people could understand issues first-hand through the eyes of an Indian woman living in a city. I hoped that it would encourage other women who have access to the internet or digital media to exercise that power to report and discuss sexual violence openly.
Citizen journalism platforms are definitely allowing more women (rural and urban) in India to voice issues that affect them. I used CNN IBN’s Citizen journalism platform called “CJ” to discuss and report stories from Bangalore. Since it was a national platform, it allowed me to connect with other reporters from different parts of the country as well. I also used CNN’s iReport platform to report from India for an international audience.
There are many platforms that are encouraging women to participate in different ways in governance by empowering them through skills development. A great example I can think of is Video Volunteers, which promotes community journalism among disadvantaged women and poor communities in Goa. CGnet Swara is another amazing citizen-focused initiative which empowers adivasi tribal groups in remote areas of the Central Gondwana region in India. This is a positive sign that things are slowly changing for the better.
What advances would you like to see for women’s rights/feminism in India?
I would like to see more men involved in the conversation towards women’s rights. I would also like to see the women’s movement include men in dialogue and understand that men are a huge part of the solution towards ending violence against women in all forms. There is still a lot of resistance from various sections of society towards the use of the term “feminism” because people don’t understand what it really means. Some confuse it with the promotion of “western ideals of womanhood”, some associate it with “hating men”. There is a general notion that feminism is only about women and is biased towards only addressing the issues of women. This is why there is an urgent need to work together, as men and women, to create better awareness about the issues that one faces in India.
Do you think the movement towards gender equality, on the global stage, is different now than it has been in the past? If so, how?
I think when you look at a country like India today, there are several parallels that we can draw with second-wave feminism. We are still many steps behind with crimes against women rising each day. Globally, the conversation has been about equal rights in the workplace, a woman’s control over her own body (in regard to abortion, organ donor rights etc.) but in India, the movement is only just gaining prominence with women slowly entering the workforce, fighting for access to basic rights (education, health, individual choices) in a deeply patriarchal, religious society etc. I would say we have a long way to go. However, I am positive that with the media attention that the issue has been receiving, we can bring about change.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working closely with three organisations – Time for Equality, a luxembourg-based initiative that is tackling gender-based issues in Europe, DURGA, a Bangalore-based initiative that looks at developing the skills of young people to combat sexual harassment and Youth to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, a global association of young people standing up against sexual violence in conflict. I’ve recently been appointed the Youth Ambassador for India with Youth to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.