Every year between 25 November to 10 December, organisations around the world participate in the 16 Days of Activism – a campaign started by the United Nations to end gender based violence. Anubhuti too, which follows values of equity, dignity and justice, organizes activities during this period towards creating an environment that is free of violence and fear. This year, we organized a conference in Kalyan-Dombivali in Thane District, bringing together various stakeholders from the entire region.

The conference had deliberations about political and social empowerment of women and youth as an answer to ending gender-based violence. Electoral political leadership not being the only form of political empowerment, this conference delved deeper into various personal and social factors which are connected to the political sphere. For women’s and youth’s unhindered access and participation in political and social lives, every economic, cultural, educational, administrative and political institution needs to be violence-free and fearless. Seeing that the “Personal is Political”, we need to understand the situations and questions facing women and youth of today in all aspects of their personal and public lives and show readiness to build an overall healthy environment for their equitable development.
Sector experts were invited to lead discussions on gender based violence in relation to mental health, superstitions, laws and legal processes, constitutional support to women’s fundamental rights, sexual and reproductive health, impact of current political situation, etc. from perspective of grassroot women and youth.

This conference was the first of its kind in Kalyan-Dombivali region where stakeholders from all spheres – the administration, government, media, education, health, activists, community-based Yuva Mandals and Mahila Mandals and so on – came together for day-long discussions. This region has in recent years seen accelerated construction of housing societies and related structures such as malls and shopping complexes, as people working in Mumbai keep moving further and further away in search of affordable housing. Administrative planning, implementation and infrastructure however, remain woefully inadequate. Rising reports of youth suicides, crimes against girls and women, and crumbling health, police and transport systems are only a few symptoms of this. It is time that we as civil society, media and the administration focus our attention to strengthening democratic institutions in these fast urbanizing regions.

The conference was also unique for its youth-centric and youth-led approach. There was a youth panel with speakers from the community – Mansi More, Ruchita Sakpal, Ashwini Padghan, Buddhabhushan Dhawale, Poonam Labde and Sadhana Baviskar.

The Chief Guest was the Mayor of Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation Hon. Vinita Rane, and invited guests included Additional Commissioner of Police Thane Region Mr. Hatote, Chairperson of KDMC Women and Child Development Department Dipali Patil and Chairperson of Education Department Shri Vishwadeep Pawar – all of whom we see as important stakeholders in the effort for a safer and more healthy environment for women. One act plays, songs for social change, film screenings and other creative sessions added to the discussions.

The event also featured cultural performances by the Badlache Parv Kala Manch and the internationally acclaimed One Act Play “Vhay Mi Savitribai” performed by Sonal Patil.

Sonal Patil performing ‘Vhai Mi Savitri’