Inequality and discrimination are universal concerns. We are constantly witnessing violations of individual or group rights merely on the grounds of one or more markers of identity.

Gender-based violence is one such example. In India, over 35% of all women and 40% of married women have experienced physical or sexual forms of violence. Statistics about female feticide highlight a strong bias against the girl child in India: an estimated 8 million female foetuses have been aborted in the last decade.

Often, inequality and the resultant discrimination are based on multiple facets of one’s identity. For instance, indigenous women may face discrimination not only because they are women but because they belong to an indigenous community. In India, more than 165 million people are subject to discrimination and violence purely on the basis of their caste. These and other forms of discrimination, such as racial discrimination and violence based on religion and sexual orientation, plague our community.

Although laws are intended to secure equality and protect human rights for all, the current reality is not reflective of these measures. The Indian Constitution clearly lays down the principles of equality and non-discrimination. It further provides for protection of “weaker sections” of society from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. Additionally, there are several protective legislations that have been framed to protect the rights of women and other marginalized communities.

In spite of these constitutional safeguards and protective legislations, millions of people in India are unaware of their rights, prosecution is painfully slow, conviction rates are abysmal and the attitudes of those responsible for delivering justice prevent rather than promote social justice. Examples of judges telling victims of domestic abuse to “adjust” expose the inadequacies in the current system and make evident the need for change.

The Indian context highlights the fact that good legislation alone does not guarantee justice. It has to be accompanied by a number of fundamental enabling agents, including awareness of rights and social attitudes that promote equality and counter discrimination.

The Chennai Hub, a group of the Forum’s Global Shapers based in the city, is working towards constructing these enabling agents through a school-based programme that engages students in discussions of equality and social justice. The programme reaches people while they are young, enables them to understand how societal institutions, media and popular culture perpetuate violence and discrimination, and teaches them to redefine and counter current attitudes with their own voices.

As a part of the curriculum, they learn about their rights; interact with social justice movements, lawyers, artists, writers, photographers, musicians, performance artists and therapists (many of whom are Global Shapers). They frame their own opinions, learn creative modes of self-expression and take action to build communities of respect.

The programme innovates by creating a space for young people to bring forward plans for change, and strives to make them active leaders, equipping them to organize public campaigns, bring discussions about equality and social justice into the mainsteam and participate in their democracy. We have set up an online platform to ensure students’ voices have an audience, as well as expose them to the voices of others seeking justice and equality. Rights awareness is coupled with three powerful forces to advance social justice:

  • Youth energy, creativity, and optimism
  • Self-expression enhanced through creative and performing arts training
  • Social media access to millions

Connecting with individuals and groups around us has never been easier. Using the internet, we can build a global conversation about equality and social justice that would enable us to learn, understand and address issues within and across geographical borders.

Until now, my approach to these issues has been focused on India and has been primarily in terms of its interaction with legislative frameworks and processes. But the Annual Curators’ Meeting and ongoing engagement with other members of the Forum will give me greater insight into other disciplines and deepen my understanding of the contexts in other parts of the world.

Author: Gulika Reddy is founder of Schools of Equality and is the curator of the Chennai hub of the Global Shapers Community. She will be attending the Global Shapers Annual Curators Meeting from 21-25 August in Geneva, Switzerland, bringing together over 325 Curators from around the world.

Image: A schoolgirl shouts slogans during a rally organised by a non-governmental organisation. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui