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I feel ashamed to have been that individual who used to stare at women until getting caught in the act. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. I didn’t realize the crime I was committing until a while ago. I don’t know how many people I’ve made feel uncomfortable just by staring at them. It took me a while to become cautious about this and change my actions accordingly.

Currently heading the IBMS project which aims to fight against gender based violence by encouraging survivors to break their silence, I realized it is important that I break my silence too. Not as a survivor, but as a bystander.

As a straight male, it is quite natural that I get attracted to the opposite sex and I do tend to admire them. It is also natural for humans to have their eyesight reach for reproductive organs or selective body parts. But there is a thin line of difference between looking and staring, between acknowledging the charm and committing a crime.

A lot of people still connect this with the kind of clothes an individual tends to wear. Some might wear clothes in which they are comfortable, some might want to reveal their skin to seek attention but that should never provoke you to either stare, touch or objectify someone else just as much as you wouldn’t walk into any random house just because all houses have welcome door mats.

This is not always about men staring at women. I’ve heard, witnessed and experienced even otherwise. Women staring at men, men staring at men, locals staring at foreigners, bystanders staring at transgenders and the list goes on. I have tried speaking about this to a couple of friends who have refused to accept that staring is a crime. And that’s when I realized how deeply rooted this heinous crime is, in our culture. We need to change our mindsets and we need to understand the mistake that we are committing.

We need to realize that staring is a form of violence wherein by staring we tend to make an individual uncomfortable and we tend to hurt their privacy. Some perpetrators do stare with the eyes of a predator and it is disgusting to see that even as a third person. Extended, blank-faced staring at another human is a hard-wired to be perceived as a threat by the person being stared at.  It’s instinctive & it provokes a feeling akin to a fight or flight response.

I will continue to look at women who I find attractive but I will dare not objectify them or stare at them. If you find your eyes being drawn at someone for some reason, do look at them and smile genuinely but if you don’t find it being reciprocated, turn away.

And it is not too late to acknowledge this and change our behaviour accordingly. If we aim at making this world a comfortable place and if we aim at gender equality, then it is time we start speaking about such things. It is time, we become the change.

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While Gender Based Violence (GBV) is happening all around yet the voices are not united against it and many a times they go unheard. I Break My Silence has taken the ownership to give people a safe space to speak up about GBV. We reach out to youngsters in the city and conduct sessions with them to talk about GBV, its forms, causes, preventive measures and how these youngsters can make a contribution to end GBV.
In the month of January, I Break My Silence team conducted sessions with students of Motiram Arya, D.C. Model and government school in Panchkula. From the understanding of the problem to the ideas as how they (students) can contribute to end GBV, these youngsters bring fresh ideas and energy to solve the issue.
These sessions are based on the retrospective reflection and understanding from those past experiences. It starts with a warm up activity to give an overview of the issue to the students. Followed by that an activity where students come up with different forms of GBV happening around and probable root causes of the same. During such interactions with young minds, we get multiple range of responses like,
Once during a session, a student of IX standard said, “the dressing of an individual is the reason for various incidents of GBV happening around.”
Some students feels it is the mindset issue while some feel it is the lack of enforcement of laws against GBV due to which people feel encouraged to get involved in such acts. Some students say it is because of the discrimination in the society, people feel proud if they are able to overpower someone from the acts of harassment etc.
It is very insightful to know what these young minds are growing up with and then further round of discussion with them as how gender inequality & lack of enforcement of human rights is contributing to GBV.
The sessions also stresses on the reaction of people to GBV and how important it is to break the silence around this. To bring about any change we need to speak up against what is happening and by this session we want these youngsters to break their silence. And many of them did break their silence and shared their stories of GBV,
“I was raped by my paternal uncle when I was 8 and till date I couldn’t speak about it with anyone. Being a boy, I feel no one is even going to believe me if I share it with anyone. But today I felt good that I could finally open up.”
“I was travelling in a bus and I notice a middle aged man groping a girl 2-3 times. She didn’t say anything and finally got down at the next stop. I was feeling angry & didn’t know what to do to stop it as I could see the girl feeling uncomfortable.”
“While returning from tuition, a guy came up to me and asked me for my contact number. When I refused he said that he will continue to follow me and won’t stop until I talk to him. I was dead scared at that time & somehow managed to escape from there.”
“I was enrolled in music classes & after a few classes my music teacher started misbehaving with me and I couldn’t share it with anyone. Then I just left the classes and I have no interest in music now. My mother still asks me as why I don’t go for classes but I can’t tell her the reason.”
At the end, students took a pledge to not to be silent but share their stories or experiences and inspire others also to speak up. We believe that these young minds have the power to bring about a change against GBV and build an ecosystem of gender equality.

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Every year Women’s day celebrations kick off with huge shopping discounts on billboards, vouchers and flowers in offices, free bus rides for the day and producers encashing their much awaited draft of a female oriented movie (an endangered category of Indian cinema).

Each year they go to rich and famous females in the country and make them quote one of their most trodden lines on “Nari Shakti”.

Each year celebs are trending talking of their veteran moms and in laws. Each year a million women in rural areas spend it like any other day; engrossed in their household chores and watching “Mumbai ki Kiran Bedi” in matinee show. In addition, every year it ends with a blame game policy in parliament regarding Women Reservation Bill.

These are Olive branches and I do not consider such placating gestures as women empowerment. However, if it is, I wonder how fallaciously people have perceived the notion of happiness and equality for women. Last week, when I was cleaning my father’s book stand, found a few editions of Watch IT ( a Hindustan Times magazine) dated two decades ago I was frayed to find out long discussions about rising sexual harassment at workplace, female stars talking of wage disparity, Models working abroad facing racism and being victims of voyeurism.

We are struggling with the same problems since the era of eve. Every media article has a “Spotlight” period, it vanishes afterwards but the issue remains burning. For example, the process that follows after a rape incident includes a huge percentage of population debating over Indian men’s mindset, flaws in government laws and criticizing police administration, many changing their statuses and pictures into a black dot, some protesting on the streets and a few making money by  selling oppression stories. In the meantime, the issue becomes common and loses its significance and poor resistance paves a way for acceptance.

Therefore, we are habitual of some sort of crime against women happening in some part of country so much that it does not affect us anymore.
May be someday we find out that we are in great illusion of change. I do not deny improvements of time but nothing much has changed to give the women a space in the world to live their life on their terms; only the statistical figures of the crimes keep on fluctuating. Sometimes they increase at an increasing rate or sometimes they decrease at a decreasing rate depending on the intensity of the relation between opposition and government.

I am from a state, infamous for its lowest sex ratio, a long record of honor killings, where Khap Panchayats are held high than Supreme Court, jeans are considered absence, mobile phones unnecessary for girls, teaching is meant to be the only job good for women, consent of a girl for marriage is a breach of custom.

The question pops up, should be we contended as a few had made their space in the TIME’s top 100 influential list? We may but I ask what about the community who is not on billboards?
What about Rani who is exploited by her in laws but not able to walk out of marriage due to her kids?
What about Sharmila who decided to quit her school due to eve teasing?
What about Malini who was sold by her stepmother into prostitution?
What about Lakshmi (a bar dancer and a single mother) who is struggling to admit her child in a school. And what about Sheena, a model sexually assaulted and blackmailed by her producer?
What about Mamta, a constructor worker at the Mall, who thinks that washing her husband’s underwear is washing off her sins?
What about the girl with no name, selling plastic flowers on traffic signals?
What about the girl who is killed before birth?
Is right to live with dignity is too much to ask for? There is no concept as shallow as half empowerment.
How many more years will it take to reach to them?

21ST century, still India is complacent and immune to a real feminist wave. Besides the obsolete laws, it is the anti women social fabric which is the reason behind our “Boondocks” status. Girls are raised as weaker sex and are tutored to serve man, these outlandish customs are deeply rooted in our religions since the times of Vedic period .We have a history of submission of women towards men where dissolving “her” identity for “him” was considered a scared vow and our society is living in the shadows of this regressive thinking. The right apparatus to rewrite the history lies in our present. It is such a pity that our idea of feminism is also a borrowed concept with no indigenous flavor. Running a marathon without tampon, posing backless, acting pro man is a puerile experiment. You do not need to act masculine to prove your presence. There is no substitute of a woman and a man for each other.

They are two great infinities and we cannot compare infinities.”

Let me tell you today, you do not need reservation or the hundred laws to be equal. Feminism will start where the outcry for feminism ends. Do not surrender your securities to society’s mindset. Join self-defense classes before dance class. Make it a pepper spray before your perfumes. Touch the pickle and walk into the temples; you are never impure. Do not fall an easy prey to fake relationships, do not let break ups define you. Do not give up your rights thinking that you do not have any. Do not tolerate any nuisance in the shadows of sacrifice. Do not wait for the man to find your equilibrium. Do not seek a nod to decide for yourself. You are eligible to live an uncensored life of your dreams on your own. Rise and repeat.         

 

 

Contributed By : Aradhana

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The members of the Chandigarh Hub conducted an extensive campaign on 8th March 2015, International Women’s Day with One Billion Rising across various parts of the city, encouraging women and men alike to break their silence against gender discrimination and not be bystanders to such acts.

We asked certain questions from men and women if they have ever seen or been through acts of harassment and what actions did they take to stop it. Also, what they think how this can be stopped and what will they do if they see anything happening around. Even kids shared their thoughts to support the cause.

While sharing this message and such stories of optimism, the Shapers met with Sandhya, a resident of the slum community in Sector 25, Chandigarh. “Women should raise their voice against any form of violence or harassment and not accept it. Intervention breaks the perpetrator’s confidence. If we don’t stop injustice once, we will allow 100 more to occur. We must speak” she says.

The team also met Rajesh, who shared his experience from the other end of the spectrum. “I have seen women being harassed, but I have tended to keep out of the issue and mind my own business. Since the victim has not raised her voice, I don’t feel the need to interfere.”

Driving home the message, the Shapers believe that there needs to be a mass movement around breaking the stigma of being silent in the face of atrocity – both for women who are victims and men who are bystanders. We need to get people to introspect and examine the smart ways in which they can be part of the solution. We need to move the needle from the Rajeshes of the world to those such as this anonymous young man who shares his story “While riding my bicycle, I saw a car with four men attempting to harass a passing woman. While I knew I couldn’t overpower them, I engaged them in a mundane conversation on locating an address just for the girl to get an opportunity to speed away. I couldn’t have possibly fought those men alone, yet I was happy to be able to help that woman.”

While spreading the message we met Mr. Singh who shares “If someone passes lewd comments and you allow them to do it, they will continue. RAISE YOUR VOICE! CONFRONT. It is like asking someone to dance on stage, no one will go alone on the stage, but once one person goes, everyone else loses their inhibition. Just be that one person who speaks out and confronts, everyone else will join you”

The campaign focused on spreading the message of gender equality and breaking the stigma around gender discrimination. One can start addressing it by fostering hope and affirmative action by sharing experiences.That is the idea behind I Break My Silence. It is about building a community of proactive and engaged human beings. The ‘doers’!

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Recently we had two powerful personalities breaking their silence on the sexual abuse they had to face in life. They were influential educated people but still they had to or rather due to social pressure had to maintain their silence and suffer quietly. Let’s see their stories

Burkha Dutt, a famous Indian Journalist in her autobiography “Unquiet Land” talks about how she was abused as a child by her own family member. She didn’t talk about it, in her own words “when something like this happens you bury it and try to forget about it.” Later  she was physically abused by a man who she was dating in college, she decided not to be quiet and file charges but her lawyer advised against it. So she decided to leave the case which she regrets even now.

Padma Lakshmi, a famous model, actor and chef and ex-wife of Salman Rushdie came out with similar revelations  in her Memoir “Love Loss and What We Ate” explaining  her life beyond the stardom. She too was molested by a relative of her step father as a child, she too didn’t talk about it then and her mother found the distress signs which put an end to the abuse. She also writes that Rushdie was ever demanding and needed constant care and feeding. He was also insensitive to her medical condition which made intercourse painful to her.

“Both these women say that keeping quiet about the abuse they had to go through was very detrimental, and that if women like them don’t speak nobody will.”

They also enunciate the idea that breaking silence on abuse gives more empowerment and help more women to be articulate about the topic. This creates a platform for discussion on the topic. The Nirbhaya gang rape  was a pivotal point in fighting sexual abuse in the country. Many people came forward against  the atrocity  particularly the young and since then sensitivity has increased. We can see this as a revolution. Indeed it is, voicing out our opinion against violence that is often silenced brings the struggle to a whole new dimension. Only a continuance of this with more vigor can bring the desired change to the society and the way we see the problem.

So what are the reasons that lead to silencing of the sexual abuse? Firstly in our culture the survivor is often blamed. Survivors are always judged for their dressing, or some behavior that provoked someone to rape or abuse a person. This idea has its roots in the patriarchal nature of our society, in which the good values are always in favor of men which in this case automatically shames the survivor and the perpetrator is not harmed and his actions justified.

In most countries the law and order system is infamous for being impermeable to women’s rights. To begin with the survivor has to recount the trauma over and over. It means dealing with the law and order officials who are or who have been conditioned to believe in the myths about rape and sexual  abuse. This process is more of humiliation.

Famous singer Madonna when asked about why she didn’t complain about the abuse that she faced replied that “I was already violated and didn’t want to face more humiliation.”

And most important of all after going through all this taxing process in most of the cases the abuser won’t even see a jail term. RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) an organization base in the US state’s that only 2% of the abusers in sexual violence cases gets a jail term.  This creates the situation of losing a lot for gaining too little. In all these cases the time taken for the legal procedures transcends any agreeable time frame often forcing the victim to give up or go for settlements outside the court.

So to sum up we have a complex culture in which the dynamics are always in favor of the perpetrator of sexual violence. The patriarchal values are so deeply extensive and entrenched in our minds that it is often invisible. This invisibility itself creates institutional violence against women which is the reason why we face barricades in justice system, in economic equality and so and so. Women too are conditioned by the misogynistic values. These notions are always fed to us in the form of obedience and the good life values which automatically we tend to agree upon. The crux of our fight lies in challenging these notions and bringing a cultural transformation. It is here that the relevance of breaking our silence lies. We need to be more articulate and vocal against these values thus continuing the revolution till we reach the success point.

 

Contributed By – Manju Theresa Mathew

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Today, billions of us are facing Gender Based Violence (GBV) in one form or the other. Cases of eve teasing, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, rape, online harassment, relationship abuse, domestic violence etc. are increasing everyday yet people are not breaking their silence around it. Not only women but also men & other genders also face Gender Based Violence in various forms.

We launched a campaign to raise awareness and let people pledge to break their silence against Gender Based Violence by oranging the world. Orange, the bright & optimistic colour also supported by UN to fight Gender Based Violence. Hence, ‘#OrangeItUp’.

With the help of a tiny yet powerful orange ribbon, we will give the individuals an opportunity to pledge against Gender Based Violence. This orange ribbon which individuals wore symbolized their voice against Gender Based Violence. We did a week long on ground campaign in Elante Mall, Sector – 17, Panjab Uuniversity in Chandigarh. Thousands of people went orange to break their silence against GBV.

Volunteers from different colleges joined together to raise awareness around GBV. Freeze mob and #OrangeItUp walk lured attention of people to support the campaign. Many people supported the campaign on social media.

To know more about the campaign, watch the video here.
https://youtu.be/CHJvHGLn3I0
https://youtu.be/bGdyWeJ5TzM

To support the campaign,
Wear an orange ribbon or anything orange and upload your selfie on social media with the hashtag #OrangeItUp.

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While Gender Based Violence (GBV) is happening all around yet the voices are not united against it and many a times they go unheard. I Break My Silence has taken the ownership to give people a safe space to speak up about GBV. We reach out to youngsters in the city and conduct sessions with them to talk about GBV, it’s forms, causes, preventive measures and how these youngsters can make a contribution to end GBV.

In the month of January, I Break My Silence team conducted sessions with students of Motiram Arya, D.C. Model and government school in Panchkula. From the understanding of the problem to the ideas as how they (students) can contribute to end GBV, these youngsters bring fresh ideas and energy to solve the issue.

These sessions are based on the retrospective reflection and understanding from those past experiences. It starts with a warm up activity to give an overview of the issue to the students. Followed by that an activity where students come up with different forms of GBV happening around and probable root causes of the same. During such interactions with young minds, we get multiple range of responses like,

Once during a session, a student of IX standard said, “the dressing of an individual is the reason for various incidents of GBV happening around.”

Some students feels it is the mindset issue while some feel it is the lack of enforcement of laws against GBV due to which people feel encouraged to get involved in such acts. Some students say it is because of the discrimination in the society, people feel proud if they are able to overpower someone from the acts of harassment etc.

It is very insightful to know what these young minds are growing up with and then further round of discussion with them as how gender inequality & lack of enforcement of human rights is contributing to GBV.

The sessions also stresses on the reaction of people to GBV and how important it is to break the silence around this. To bring about any change we need to speak up against what is happening and by this session we want these youngsters to break their silence. And many of them did break their silence and shared their stories of GBV,

“I was raped by my paternal uncle when I was 8 and till date I couldn’t speak about it with anyone. Being a boy, I feel no one is even going to believe me if I share it with anyone. But today I felt good that I could finally open up.”

“I was travelling in a bus and I notice a middle aged man groping a girl 2-3 times. She didn’t say anything and finally got down at the next stop. I was feeling angry & didn’t know what to do to stop it as I could see the girl feeling uncomfortable.”

“While returning from tuition, a guy came up to me and asked me for my contact number. When I refused he said that he will continue to follow me and won’t stop until I talk to him. I was dead scared at that time & somehow managed to escape from there.”

“I was enrolled in music classes & after a few classes my music teacher started misbehaving with me and I couldn’t share it with anyone. Then I just left the classes and I have no interest in music now. My mother still asks me as why I don’t go for classes but I can’t tell her the reason.”

At the end, students took a pledge to not to be silent but share their stories or experiences and inspire others also to speak up. We believe that these young minds have the power to bring about a change against GBV and build an ecosystem of gender equality.

 

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Imagine the picturesque beauty of our Marina beach, around dusk, the beautiful red sun is ready to go down and smiling at us just above the lazy waves. There are small crabs crawling the area and the wind, just perfect. I was sitting there with a couple of my friends enjoying the wind and scenery, taking a tiny break from our college time. As always the area was steaming with people, and soon a group of guys came to us and started making lewd comments….one guy described how awesome our boobs were and yes very decent he was, asked our permission to hold them! Now let me describe more details about the scene, opposite the beach is the city police commissioner’s office which is a huge building with lots of police posted in the vicinity. Plus there are around six to seven police officers going around in horses to maintain the law and order of the surrounding and a few standing here and there.

Feeling so proud about our awesome breasts after his poetic description we decided to complain, so we went to the nearby law maintenance officer hurling on a poor horse and explained to him the situation and pointed to the perpetrators…..he never bothered but kept on riding the poor animal bringing no apparent results. We tried the same with few more officers and result was the same. Finally in a distance we saw an officer who looked senior, so we approached him….instead of at least trying to hear us out he chose the shouting way and frankly all of us felt scared. By then the nice people around too took our case and according to many of them we deserved it because of the dresses we were wearing!

Eve teasing in most places in India is the daily order of the day. The term denotes eve as the temptress…..so definitely girls it’s our fault! And in majority of the cases our response is silence. When we choose to silently suffer we are giving them more power over our bodies and yes re- establishing the patriarchal order of the society and willingly let it dominate us! For the same reason of patriarchy, majority of the men think our dresses and our bodies are in their ownership to be teased and tested and in some cases abused. When these acts happen at public places and we choose to ignore, these acts of violence becomes a normalized act. We get used to it! It becomes structural violence.

So what can we do to tackle the issue? Obviously police has a major role to play. Apart from that we too can choose to react. We can voice out against sexist comments. In most cases the perpetrator won’t be expecting that from us and hence in that case it will have an impact.

Another major change that we need to bring about is in our cultural values. The female gender is not possessions or objects. We do have the right to go to our schools, colleges and work without being reminded derogatively about our bodies or dress. It is a truth that men who actively pursue this think that it is some kind of their right! We need to pluck that thought out of their mind and replace it with equality. This requires a comprehensive education process that involves the schools, families and societies. Most of us get advices from parents and authorities to just ignore eve teasing, but what should actually be done is that we should act against this collectively as a group. Such groups can ensure that we react back as well as don’t get harassed more in the act of defending ourselves. A lot has been happening on this stride since “nirbhaya” but to achieve an equal status we do need dedicated society as well as proper law and order mechanisms.

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Child sexual abuse is one of less frequently acknowledged but a high prevalence crime among us. The intensity of this shoots up mainly because our dear children are not able to comprehend the activity that they are made to do nor are they in a position to express their consent or non consent. This demands a great deal of attention to the subject as well as awareness among our children as well as adults.

I recently came across the story of a girl who was sexually abused by her stepfather since age 5. It was not until 13 years of age that she found out what actually was happening to her. (  http://ibreakmysilence.org/trisha-gender-female-was-a-victim/). There are many such stories that we come across and plenty of news too in which even few months old kids are sexually abused.
What we can learn from the above story are three things

– Children seldom realize that they are being abused

– In most cases the abuser happens to be near relative/ friend

– The abuse is not a onetime event.

A child subjected to sexual abuse may not be open about it. This is mainly because child abuser threatens the child or due to “child sex abuse accommodation system” due to which a child does not disclose about the act immediately and later feels helpless and threatened. The abuser often uses the child’s trust to manipulate and abuse the child, hence Physical force is used rarely. Even when physical abuse is not present, such as taking pictures or exposing pornography to a child there is psychological trauma involved for the child.

Grooming is the main technique used by most of the abusers to gain trust from a child. It involves building trust to gain access and time with her/him, mainly by acting like a guardian and eventually gaining private time with the child. Subtle approaches are designed to build confidence with the child and the family and very rarely are physical force used. These techniques make the child a trusting companion and reduce the risk of disclosure for the fear of being abandoned. It also reduces the likelihood of abuse being detected. This can be easily understood by identifying inappropriate behavior among adults, something which we all should train our instincts to note and identify.

A child who is being abused shows certain symptoms which if observed can help us identify and give help. These symptoms are

– Advanced sexual knowledge than children of the same age group.

– Child may show signs of social withdrawal or depression.

– May show a sudden decline in grades and academic performance

– Child may become clingy and resist doing anything independently.

– May show disrupted sleep pattern.

– May become self destructive and aggressive

– May become distressed around a particular adult or seek excessive company with a particular adult.

Our major role in protecting children from sexual abuse lies mainly in making them aware of abuses. Most of the time we are reluctant or ignorant in sharing themes of sexuality to the children, this leads to unawareness in their part due to which they don’t recognize when they are sexually abused. Difference between a good touch and bad one and basic understanding about their body will bring a great difference. Children need to know that secrets about touching or taking their photograph or sexually using them are not good. Schools should play a major role here. Once a child is able to understand this he/she will be able to confide in a guardian whom she/he trusts in case of an abuse.

In most cases the child abusers are men, also they might in most case be in an adult relationship also. We should cultivate a comfortability level with our children so they feel safe to disclose any such abuses. In such a case we should not give any negative feedback to the child as it will lead to, the child losing confidence and preventing any future communication, which will lead to abuse continuing in majority of cases. So the most important part in protecting our children lies in proper education of adults and our children to understand the inappropriate behaviors properly. Children are the future of mankind, hence protecting them should be our utmost concern.

 

Contributed By – Manju Mathew

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2-0ct-2015
To commemorate the birth anniversaries of Mohanlal Karamchand Gandhi, Annie Besant, and Lal Bahadur Shastri, the IBMS team initiated #Gender#EQUALITY campaign as a part of I BREAK MY silence Project. We had a chance to interact with the youth of the city and take their opinion about Gender Equality in the society.
There were variety of opinions. We interacted with 50 plus young people about their experiences and heard some heartbreaking stories. During an informal conversation a guy shared he faced sexual harassment when he was four years old.
People were asked about Gender Equality as they have faced at their workplaces. The lady who looked in her fifties shared her stories of how she and her brother were differentiated as they were brought up. It was pretty shocking to see the youth also thinks women serving them an ancestral gift to the society.
While there were voices from oppressed men society as well. As how they need to pay bills to show chivalry, how the helmets are compulsory only for them etc.
However these responses varied from person to person but an underlying fact in common is that our mindsets are deeply influenced by the age old patriarchal system and we have got a long way to go to come out of it.
#GenderEquality
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