Womenite: Driving Change Through Education & Empowerment in India
The following is an interview with Womenite founder Harshit Gupta, an engineer by education and social entrepreneur by choice. Womenite is a youth-driven social initiative committed to the betterment of society.
Womenite seeks to create, through education, love, and empowerment, a society equal in its norms of gender and appreciative of difference. In this interview, Harshit speaks with us about the emergence of Womenite, the work being undertaken by the organisation and the arrival of the #MeToo movement in India.
1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself, the context/circumstances Womenite emerged out of and how it came to be what it is today?
Be the change you want to be — M.K.Gandhi
I used to see my mother taking care of the family day in day out for years. While watching a show on our history, something struck me. If a woman is capable of giving birth and bear the pain of crushing of 206 bones at once, then why isn’t she good enough to fight in the war at par with her husband? Why isn’t my mother getting paid for the work that she is doing? Why isn’t my mother earning like my dad? Why isn’t my father a househusband? I began my journey to seek answers to the above questions and more. I started paying more attention to social news in the newspaper and tried to understand the circumstances under which it all happened. I read more and more. My research led to the conclusion that women empowerment is an umbrella under which there is a myriad of issues that need to be addressed. One of them that caught my eye is that 1 out of every 3 girls experiences some kind of abuse before she turns 18.
I started Womenite with the objective to transform our male dominant society into an egalitarian one. Our mantra is to empower and nurture youth through education and love. I embarked upon this journey in 2015 to bring a change that I want to see. My first workshop was on child sexual abuse to students of class 6 and above. After my workshop, some girls walked up to me and shared their incidents. Hearing their stories moved me. If the effort of one person can bring a feeling of relief then I wondered what will happen if everyone comes together. I contacted my friends to join me on this journey. We started going to different colleges and schools, trying to gather people like us who wants to bring a change. And months after months Womenite grew bigger. Our topics of workshops broadened to Gender and Menstrual hygiene. We needed to expand our reach. We started looking out for campaigns which can help us achieve this. We got our breakthrough in face of HeForShe campaign, UN Women’s Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality where we collected pledges from 10,000 people. I was invited to UN Women’s Headquarters in New York to present our work. This is just one of the ways in which I was able to highlight the issues that need to be addressed on a global platform.
2. Can you tell us about the petition you have recently launched? What are your call to actions?
We started our petition in the wake of the recent Me Too movement initiated by some Bollywood celebrities who have found the courage to speak out about the horrors they have faced because there were people in positions of power whose actions were not questioned, or even worse, were justified solely because they held positions of influence.
Womenite is advocating for an impartial investigation for all accusations. It is crucial that the investigation is impartial to ensure there is no favouritism based on the power or influence of those accused, ie. political contacts or projects in hand. Further, we do not want the investigation to be biased towards an actress solely to appear feminist and gain popular support from the people. The investigation must be transparent, the truth exposed and the perpetrators held accountable.
3. What has been the reaction to and impact of the #MeToo movement in India? Are conversations taking place between members of the community? Is the discussion restricted to the media?
The impact of the Me Too movement has been mostly positive. We have come to understand the stark reality of how deeply ingrained the problem is how people in positions of power abuse their influence by demanding sexual favours, how the careers of those who stand up and speak out are threatened, how women are expected to give in because “that’s how things work” and because “that’s what has always been happening”, how they are not believed, how they are shamed for speaking out, labeled as opportunistic, attention seeking, just how seamlessly men are put on a pedestal. Now with feminist organizations coming out in support of the victims, they realise that they are not alone and can speak out and expose those in positions of power because there are people who hear them and will raise their voices in support of them.
On the other hand, the impact has been slightly negative. Because when victims speak out there often is no proof outside of their personal testimony, the media decides judgment based solely on the victim's words. The conversations taking place within communities are mostly preoccupied with victim shaming, while those in the media attack the character of the accused.
However, at Womenite we sincerely believe that with the support of victims of both the genders, with a more responsible and mature media that does not make judgements and assumptions in haste and a society that works to understand the plight of victims, this movement can bring a huge change to the lives of victims and change the conditions that make people vulnerable because of an abuse of power.
4. Do you think this wave will continue? If not in the public, but in private spaces? Or is this the end of it?
We believe that it’s very important to keep the momentum of this movement, mainly because the popular opinion is still that the victims are doing it for publicity and that the wave is anti-men. There are so many wrong notions about this movement. If the media doesn’t keep focusing on this topic, it would soon be dismissively remembered as a stupid mutiny of women against men. This movement is in its infant's stage and I believe that a great amount of fuel is needed to keep it alive, setting straight the apparent miscommunication and misinterpretations.
5. What has been the response to the campaign/petition? What are some of the people’s reasons for signing the petition? Are there actions people can take alongside signing your petition?
The response has been overwhelming. There are so many influencers who came out in support of the victims and who believe that an impartial investigation is needed for all the accusations. The people who signed it belong to the strata of the community who have personally experienced it, or whose near and dear ones have experienced it and those who understand that the influential people do have an unchecked advantage to make the vulnerable toil to their benefits.
Other than signing our petition, the families of victims need to support them in every possible way. The most important thing people can do is to listen without judgment, to try to understand the victims and to make them believe that they are not alone.
6. And lastly, is there anything else you would like to share about Womenite and the work you do?
Womenite aims to create an equal society through education, love, and empowerment. Currently, we are conducting workshops in schools and colleges on issues such as Child Sexual Abuse, Gender Equality, Menstrual Health and various taboos prevailing in society to break the stereotypes.
We have worked with the District Magistrate of North Delhi on Beti Bachao, Beti Padho campaign (Indian government’s campaign to educate girl child). We also conducted Naari ki Chaupals with the Self Help groups of women in 17 of their villages. Addressing the dire need of our society for awareness regarding women’s health and education, modules on Menstrual Hygiene and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao were being delivered to women of all age groups. We have also worked with the Office of District Magistrate(North Delhi) for another similar carnival. Recently, our team has worked in the South district (with District Magistrate office) to educate approx 44,000 students from 70 government schools on issues like CSA, gender and menstrual hygiene.
- More than 40% of women between the ages of 15 and 24 in India have no access to sanitary products in the first place, according to the India National Family Health Survey.
- According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 47% of girls in India are married before the legal minimum age of 18.
- India’s ministry of women and child development conducted a survey in 2007, establishing that 53% of children surveyed said they had been subjected to some form of sexual abuse.
- Every 15 minutes, a child is sexually abused in India; A report released by Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi showed that 106,958 cases of crimes against children were recorded in 2016, of these, 36,022 were recorded under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act.
And sign their petition on Change.Org to conduct an impartial investigation into all #MeToo allegations and take action.