Join Perera for a live chat on Friday, March 1 at 2:30 p.m. Sri Lanka time. Location:
I often notice young women’s and men’s lack of engagement. Being a young woman myself, I decided to experiment with ways to engage youth by meeting them halfway.
In 2011 and 2012, as part of WMC’s work for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we curated the Sri Lanka 16 Days Blog, a platform for raising awareness about gender-based violence among youth.
We created an online space where they could express themselves in any format (blog, tweet, photos, videos, podcasts, creative writing, art, photography, short films, interviews, cartoons, etc.) and in Sinhala, Tamil, or English. We received a variety of blog posts ranging from personal accounts to creative writing, photo essays to cartoons, and some of them went viral, resulting in youth groups such as Beyond Borders and Reach Out conducting their own campaigns.
Through this exercise we broke the silence about gender-based violence, at least within the limitations of what one would call a “safe” space. The interest generated in the online campaign resulted in it being featured in mainstream media, which meant that the discourse on gender-based violence reached a wider audience.
Another obstacle to engaging youth is that they are not receiving the necessary information. Therefore, we make it a priority to constantly react to incidents of violence and raise awareness on the necessary legal and policy reform, and to this end, we collaborate with other organizations.
This experience was helpful when I joined a small team of individuals who conducted an online campaign and organized an event for the One Billion Rising movement. Our strategy was to use new media, especially Facebook, to engage and mobilize a large group of people, mostly young. This was a challenge in an age of "clicktivism," where the enthusiasm displayed in an online sphere is rarely translated into the offline sphere.
With this challenge in mind, we launched Reason to Rise, an online campaign to which anyone could contribute by sending in photographs, videos, notes, blog posts, artwork, etc. telling us why they will rise against gender-based violence.
There is widespread denial about the existence of gender-based violence in Sri Lanka, starting from state officials to policymakers to the general public. In particular, domestic violence is often disregarded as a concept derived from Western culture and also as something that does not occur among the urban, educated middle class. But statistics tell otherwise.
Police statistics show that there has been a 6% increase in sexual abuse of women and girls in 2012, with at least 700 incidents of sexual abuse of girls reported in the first half of 2012. These include gang rape and sale of young girls for sexual abuse. 4,000 of the 15,000 cases that are being heard in courts are regarding violence against children.
Since 2008 there has been a trend in imposing suspended sentences in cases of rape and child molestation. Of 129 reported cases from 2008 onward, an alarming 114 cases (88%) received a suspended sentence, which included a nominal compensation fine. This is perpetuating impunity in cases of violence against women and is a gross injustice to women victims of violence.
Reiteration of these statistics and sharing of news reports on incidents of violence made an impact and people started speaking up, especially youth. About 600 people gathered at Lipton Circus, Colombo to demonstrate against gender-based violence and hold a candlelight vigil in honor of victims and survivors of the same. For many, it was their first protest/demonstration/vigil. The One Billion Rising campaign is a great example of the potential in new media to engage youth in breaking their silence both online and offline.
At Women and Media Collective, we continue to engage with youth via new media and we’re always looking for ways to make our work more relevant to young people. But we are aware of the challenges of getting youth to get involved and stay involved offline. We’re developing strategies to face this such as opening up more opportunities for volunteers and interns, consulting youth groups for our work, and organizing workshops for young people.
Here are some questions to ponder.
For civil society organizations:
- Why engage with youth?
- What is stopping you?
- How can you get started?
- Are you an active member of civil society?
- If not, what is stopping you?
- What are the tools, information and exposure you need to get started?