Indian Org, Launches ‘Year Of The Women’ Female Empowerment Initiative

shabana-azmi-cssg-and-still-i-rise

Unlike the recent controversial ‘My Choice’ video fronted by Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone for the #VogueEmpower campaign which seemed to leave many feminists scratching their heads on whether it was empowering or not, this new campaign video for non-profit Creative Services Support Group’s 2015 initiative is on the right female empowerment track.

They have dedicated this year’s efforts toward female empowerment and launched a ‘Year of The Women’ initiative which is aimed at trying to combat the detrimental patriarchal standards that have ruled in India for a very long time in order that the next generation can live with equality and not be hindered by the societal and religious norms which dictate their future based on gender.

CSSG released a PSA about the campaign featuring women who are part of their program, and also a number of Bollywood celebrities who are giving the campaign an elevated platform. The video is hosted by actress Shabana Azmi who is Bollywood royalty and believes art should be used as an instrument of social change.

In the beginning we see the group of actresses reading out anonymous letters from girls that have written to CSSG talking about their ambitions and barriers in life that are in their way.

Then after roughly 5:00 onwards we start seeing the girls who this campaign is aimed at sharing why they want to push for gender equality.

cssg-and-still-i-rise

cssg-and-still-i-rise

“2015 will be the Year of Women, aiming to give young women from underprivileged backgrounds a voice. These young women often have no role models to inspire them to achieve their full potential and their dreams and aspirations, and are often side-lined due to preconceptions and societal pressures,” says the organization’s statement about the initiative.

“To celebrate the Year of Women we have put together a series of fundraising and outreach events including Dinners, Masterclasses, Edible Ethical Education programme and an Art Gender Re-education outreach programme for which we are getting support from all corners of the world. Within a short space of time we have already touched the lives of over 200 young women and intend to more than double this by the end of the year.”

Throughout the video, which is titled ‘And Still I Rise’ we see some of the Bollywood women reciting lines from Maya Angelou’s iconic poem ‘Still I Rise‘ which has become synonymous with overcoming oppression and adversity. It seems fitting that it would be associated with the girls that CSSG is trying to empower as Shabana Azmi herself admits that they have become victims of a patriarchal society that places many landmines in their path to freedom.

cssg-and-still-i-rise

cssg-and-still-i-rise

It’s perhaps much easier for Shabana and her Bollywood pals to admit this given they are treated in a completely different manner as celebrities. However, it is a far cry from the confusing message from Deepika Padukone’s ‘My Choice’ video. While every woman deserves to have an equal choice in society just as much as men, making an artistic PSA that does nothing to speak to the heart of the circumstances that ordinary women face could almost be considered a waste of time.

And we hate to say that, but it needs to be said because India isn’t exactly the country that has time to spare when it comes to challenging attitudes which continue to treat women as less than equal. There is a movement on the rise in India, and it is made up of a generation of women fed up with what their mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers had to put up with.

If you need any reminder on some of the atrocities women still face today in many areas of India, take a look at one of Vice Media’s latest reports on the surrogate embryo trade where poor women are forced to become rented wombs to make a buck or two. Reporter Gianna Toboni told the Daily Mail how heartbreaking it was as a woman to witness the exploitation of these women who live in poverty, and the human trafficking that happens with the babies as a result of an unregulated industry that is making a lot of money. Without access to education and proper healthcare, many women may never escape situations like this.

And let’s not forget the horrific rape and violence problem that India has become all too synonymous with in the news over the past 4 years. One woman fighting for equality for rural women is Sampat Pal who is the leader of the Pink Sari Gang. They advocate for women who have been wronged by their husbands and by the men in their family who seek to trample on their rights. Essentially they are a pressure group which has a lot of media attention on them, and when they band together to force local police, local governments and perpetrators to do the right thing, they are often obeyed because there are many areas where the law does not protect women.

If these are the realities facing Indian women everyday, the PSA’s which seek to empower them need to be raw, authentic, less Bollywood-y and more urgent because celebrities can only do so much. An entire culture needs to change, and we hope organizations like CSSG who are focusing the entire year on their initiative to empower women will start to see results that go beyond media headlines, and infiltrate every part of their culture.

Here is the ‘And Still I Rise’ video:

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