by Shreyasi Singh
- India -
Sometimes, just asking for a small cup of milk to brew your tea can bring domestic violence to a halt. Sounds too simple a solution? Well, it need not be as a recent public awareness campaign in India has proven.
The Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) campaign urges men to take a stand against domestic violence. The comprehensive campaign, launched in August 2008 with TV and radio spots, print ads, mobile video vans and an online campaign, is aimed at building conversation around domestic violence in India, critical for an issue that has grown with society’s tacit acceptance and uneasy silences.
This intervention campaign has been spearheaded by Breakthrough, an international nonprofit human rights organization that uses the power of popular culture and media to transform public attitudes. Supported by India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development, Bell Bajao was created pro bono by advertising giants Ogilvy & Mather, and has reached over 130 million people.
“We wanted the campaign to be definitive, to tell people what they can and should do,” explains Sonali Khan, Director of Communications at Breakthrough. “But we didn’t want a clichéd message. We wanted to build a bridge instead of using the shrill tone of confrontation. Our data surveys and rigorous research told us men intervened to stop violence in almost as much as 50% of the cases of domestic abuse. We wanted to get men on board, to see them as collaborative and proactive.”
There is covert, but widespread social acceptance of domestic violence across genders in India, and it’s clearly reflected in the country’s third National Family Health Survey (2006). Nearly 55% of Indian women and a little over half of Indian men think wife-beating is okay. The survey found over 40% of Indian women have experienced domestic violence at some point in their married lives and more than half believe spousal abuse is warranted in several circumstances.
What’s worse, because of the way they are conditioned, experts say only one in four abused women seek help. The NFHS-III revealed that only 2% of women who faced domestic violence sought intervention from the police.
To attack these statistics head on, India passed the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (PWDVA) Act in 2005. This civil law recognizes the right of women including wives, mothers, daughters, live-in partners and sisters to violence free homes. PWDVA provides affected women with the right to seek protection, residence, monetary relief, and custody and compensation orders against her abuser.Within the law, state governments have appointed local, voluntary organizations to offer assistance and essential information – legal aid, medical care, and counseling – free of cost to women.
“The Domestic Violence Act is of course a progressive legislation but more needs to be done to tackle this problem,” adds Khan. “There has to be an onus of responsibility on the part of the community too. We wanted to do something to propel the law.”
PWDVA has certainly gathered momentum. Over 10,000 cases were filed in its first year of existence, and the numbers have been rising steadily over the last few years.
“When women realize they have legal rights, they feel empowered to come forward. We have seen an over 30% increase in the number of cases,” says Yasmin Khan, Member of the Delhi Commission For Women, a state body that has piloted much of PWDVA’s recommendations.
“Women who call our help lines or register their cases with us are confident justice will be done. Media campaigns have done a tremendous job of educating them about the options available to them.” Khan lauds efforts to adopt a community-oriented approach that includes men, adding nearly four in every ten men she counsels is willing to truly listen.
Breakthrough’s local partner organizations also reported similar experiences. Bell Bajao took mobile vans to six districts in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra for community mobilization, and found men would often come forward first. Local organizations say cases of reported incidents have increased by almost 15%, a huge step forward.
Bell Bajao is now seen as a benchmark for social messaging. It bagged the Gold for Best Integrated Campaign 2008 at the Goafest Abby Awards, India’s most prestigious for advertising. It also made the “Final Cut” at One Show, New York, one of the world’s most important advertising awards.
The campaign enjoys great global appeal too, Sonali Khan says. Breakthrough has been approached by South East Asian and Latin American countries to take the campaign there, and is open to exploring that. But it’s an enormous issue for India, and Khan says she and her team are committed to staying the course at home. Bell Bajao’s Phase II will be launched in early 2010 and the campaign this time will have a stronger ask and greater urgency.
“We need to create more buzz and energy, to take the message to a wider audience,” asserts Khan. “With the first phase we think we made a dent, created a little window for people to start speaking. But, we can’t stop at that. We want this to be a movement.”
Shreyasi's article is part of our series on violence against women
for October's Domestic Violence Awareness Month. – Ed.
About the Author
Shreyasi Singh is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, India. After graduating in journalism from the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, Delhi, Shreyasi worked as a correspondent and input editor in mainstream Indian news networks for six years. After having her son, Agastya, she decided to focus on her two loves – writing and being a hands-on mother.
She now writes regularly for Civil Society, an independent monthly magazine that profiles social change leaders and social entreprenuers from across India. Her feature articles on emerging trends in Indian society have also been broadcast across South East Asia on Radio Singapore International. Shreyasi finds the process of writing fascinating - how some thoughts, a few conversations, an empty word document, and deft fingers can create a little slice of history.
Shreyasi enjoys travelling and reading, and hopes to someday write a book.