Breakthrough India: Let's talk about sexual harassment

By Ashee Sharma , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital
Last updated : December 08, 2015
With its new campaign #shareyourstory, Breakthrough India aims to initiate an inter-generational dialogue around sexual harassment in Indian families.

When Breakthrough India, a women's rights organisation, asked 'what constitutes sexual harassment', it was inundated with answers such as whistles, catcalls, unwanted advances, and leering. But, do young boys who make these gestures at girls/women really understand the shamefulness of their actions? Or, are they simply callous towards it? It is this willful and stubborn ignorance that Breakthrough's new campaign #shareyourstory tries to depict.

Conceptualised by Ogilvy and Mather, the four-week digital campaign consists of two ad films that show mothers share with their sons what they face daily when they go out to work. While one mother asks her son to change his ringtone because it reminds her of men whistling at her, the other, on seeing her son throw flowers at a girl, tells him how men throw popcorns at her when she goes out.

Speaking about the concept behind the initiative, Sonali Khan, country head, Breakthrough India, says, "Almost 90 per cent women in India have experienced sexual harassment, especially in public places. The problem is that when young men engage in such activities, they are unaware and don't realise that what they do classifies as sexual harassment. For them, it's mostly fun and they do not think much about it."

Breakthrough further explains the problem in a visual format through a third video titled 'Will Boys be Boys? -- Sexual Harassment in India'. The campaign, which revolves around this theme, broke online carrying a clip of a Bollywood song that became extremely popular in the '90's -- 'Neela dupatta, peela suit', from the movie Hameshaa. The song has the hero and his friends sing as they whistle and grope the heroine.

'Do you think this is sexual harassment' asks Breakthrough India

Sonali Khan

Viewers were asked if this was a form of sexual harassment. While in Bollywood lingo this may be termed as 'wooing a girl', and the hero might also be well-intentioned, in real life, things work differently.

Talking about the campaign, Khan further informs that the creative brief to the agency was to encourage inter-generational dialogue around sexual harassment in Indian families, and get young boys (15-25 years) to introspect.

Anirban Chaudhuri

"We wanted to convey our message using the medium of parental discussion, more so, through the mother. In India, sexual harassment, if at all discussed in families, follows a stereotypical pattern of fathers talking to their sons and mothers to daughters. But, we believe that for a young boy, it is the mother with whom he has a stronger emotional connect since, as the caregiver, she is the closest female contact. Therefore, when he learns of something like this happening with his own mother, then the chances of him introspecting are higher," asserts Khan.

The videos have been produced by Little Lamb Films for the first/digital leg of the campaign, with the intent to plant the seed of the idea in people's mind. Breakthrough has further planned a number of on-ground activations and events around it in the next phase.

Breakthrough is a human rights organisation, which works to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. The organisation's multimedia campaigns, community mobilisation, agenda-setting, and leadership training programmes equip men and women worldwide to challenge the status quo and take action towards dignity, equality, and justice for all. In India, it works on issues relating to domestic violence, early marriage, gender-based sex selection, and sexual harassment.

According to Anirban Chaudhuri, senior vice president - strategic planning, FCB Ulka #ShareYourStory is a good conversation starter, but needs to be followed up by on-ground action with kids and parents to be an effective behavior change agent.

"If men will be men, it is better to instill some lessons of responsible behaviour in them when they are still boys," he opines.

"Whenever you confront young men on issues like eve-teasing, they sheepishly dish out a lame excuse of doing it as 'light-hearted fun'. What they fail to realise is that it leaves behind deep scars. The execution brings out that aspect reasonably well by leveraging the mother-son relationship," adds Chaudhuri.

A breakthrough idea?

Prathap Suthan

Prathap Suthan, managing partner and chief creative officer at Bang in the Middle, says, "It's a fantastic campaign with lovely insights, great execution, and the right messaging. In fact, there's hardly anything wrong with it."

"However, I think we are dealing with a monster issue. This is not a skin disease, but a cancer which needs an immediate surgery. Ointments and lotions won't work. While it has the right perspective, the route adopted is a little too soft, and the impact will be too slow," he states.

"I would have gone for a completely different route because most boys who do this understand only one language, that of public involvement and the fear of retribution," adds Suthan.

First Published : December 08, 2015
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