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Can fashion and art help prevent gender-based violence?

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Why is the World Bank sponsoring a fashion show in India and an art show in Bangladesh? The answer is simple, we’re trying to find new approaches – creative approaches – to prevent gender-based violence (GBV).
Gender-based violence is a pervasive issue. On average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner. Worldwide, 720 million women and 156 million men married before the age of 18, with child marriage most common in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. A 20-country study—where over 4,000 women and men were asked their views on gender differences — revealed that norms, beliefs and attitudes play a critical role in dictating behavior for both women and men, and the consequences for not keeping to these norms is often violence.
WEvolve uses creative approaches to tackle the root cause of GBV; changing the attitudes and behaviors that lead to gender-based violence and inequities. Based on the premise that young people can evolve, WEvolve supports the development of creative platforms in two areas— arts and culture, and sports—to encourage young people to develop new attitudes and behaviors, and build healthy relationships that reduce the risk of gender violence. The activities supported by the initiative follow five key principles:
  • An approach to gender empowerment that does not simply “include” or “engage” men, but targets men directly. Putting an end to gender-based violence requires us to understand men’s motivations for using violence against women, as well as the specific risk factors— such as exposure to child maltreatment or witnessing violence in the family, harmful use of alcohol, and attitudes accepting of violence and gender inequality— that men may face.
  • Engaging young people as agents of change because attitudes and behaviors that may lead to gender-based violence begin to develop at a very young age. Early adolescence presents a window of opportunity to intervene before individuals solidify their ideas about gender roles and norms.
  • A focus on underlying social norms that are at the heart of the behaviors that lead to physical and sexual violence.
  • Recognition of the power of the creative economy (art, fashion, social media, etc.) as a driver of meaningful development and social change.
In the context of WEvolve, social media, edutainment programs, videos and various storytelling activities will be used as a means to influence people to start the process of changing their behaviors and norms. Media, and in particular social media, allows for transformational change by bringing a number of factors to come together simultaneously, including giving individuals a belief in the benefits of change as well as a belief in their own ability to change their behavior.
Combining Fashion and Storytelling
The first creative platform established under WEvolve was the fashion platform, which included a partnership with renowned Indian designer Manish Malhotra, and a social media campaign in India. The show featured messages about gender empowerment and equality, while videos launched before and after the show expanded on the causes and manifestations of violence. The combination of these activities had surprising results – close to 4 million people viewed or shared the videos, tweeted or retweeted main messages, liked or followed the WEvolve Facebook page, or signed up for updates on our website. As Malhotra noted, “Fashion has a comprehensive and universal appeal and can be a powerful instrument to raise awareness and promote action.”
What’s next?

WEvolve’s team is establishing new partnerships with creative organizations in South Asia as well as other regions. We’re working with Ram Devineni, a New York-based filmmaker and publisher, who, deeply affected by the heinous rape that rocked India in December 2012, created the reality comic book “ Priya’s Shakti”—or Priya’s Power. With Devineni, the team will be producing the third chapter of the comic book as well as exploring the possibility of carrying out comic book workshops in schools and communities across South Asia.
Other activities in the works are the launch of a new social media campaign in collaboration with Elle India for the first half of 2016, a collaboration with US-based The Representation Project to develop an accreditation program for coaches, community-based social circus programs in partnership with Cirque du Soleil and the Asian Social Circus and fashion shows in India, Brazil and Rwanda.

As WEvolve unfolds and spreads beyond South Asia, we hope more people are encouraged to speak up, share inspiring stories, and take strong action to end the scourge of gender violence.


Hiska Reyes

Sr. Social Development Specialist

Priya Chopra

Communications Associate

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