By Saara Ahmed
This post is part of our series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a global solidarity campaign that runs every year from November 25 – December 10. During this year’s campaign, we have launched a video series to accompany our Guide to Interviewing Survivors of Sexual and Gender-based Violence.
During last month’s NASCAR Speedway Championship in Miami, an animated PSA played 72 times on the stadium’s Jumbotron. Called “Be That Guy,” the 30-second animation asks men to take action when they witness others committing or condoning violence and discrimination against women.
Created by Breakthrough, a human rights organization operating out of the US and India, the video is part of a global campaign called “Ring the Bell” to end violence against women and girls. The campaign blends video and social media around the idea that as much as men are part of the problem, they’re also part of the solution.
I had the opportunity to ask Ishita Srivastava, Breakthrough’s Multimedia Producer, about the organization’s Ring The Bell campaign, the #BeThatGuy initiative that is a part of it, and how such techniques can be used in an effort to end gender-based violence.
Saara: Breakthrough’s “Ring the Bell” campaign, and the #BeThatGuy initiative both target men. What role does Breakthrough envision for men in the movement to end violence?
Ishita: We believe that men are — and must be — part of the solution. We believe that it is especially important that men act as leaders and allies in what we call The Breakthrough Generation: the generation that will reach a critical mass and trigger a global tipping point that makes violence against women unacceptable in this lifetime. We need men to hold each other, communities, and institutions accountable, and to help make the case that violence against women and girls is not a “women’s issue.” It is everyone’s problem — and when it’s solved we are all the better for it.
Good news is, men are already doing this. They are taking to the streets from Delhi to Dallas and beyond, calling out violence and sexism in sports and military and gaming/technology culture, and saying, “We get this. This is bad for all of us. We can do better. No more.”
Saara: As you mentioned, the latest #BeThaGuy video was shown at the NASCAR Speedway Championship. The Ring the Bell campaign has included some well-known sports participants including College Hall of Famer and NFL veteran Don McPherson. What are the ways sports can be used in activism against gender-based violence?
Ishita: We believe in meeting people where they are. Whether it’s through football players or at a NASCAR race — or in a village in India or online — we work to make gender-based violence and human rights relevant and urgent to everyone, everywhere. Certain sports and sports audiences in particular are perfect spaces for that, whether simply because they represent huge and diverse audiences or because certain elements of their accepted culture are where gender norms are institutionalized: strong men vs. hot cheerleaders; “don’t throw like a girl,” and so on.
PSAs like “Be That Guy” are both relatable and relevant to one large segment of sports fans — and, at the same time, work to challenge accepted norms. We’re trying to break certain rules of that culture (and others) and create a new culture in which women and men are treated respectfully and able to be their best selves.
Multimedia and online communications are a big part of Breakthrough’s work.
Saara: Congratulations on receiving the distinguished Cannes Silver Lion award for the Bell Bajao-Ring the Bell campaign. Can you share any tips for activists looking to integrate these tools into their advocacy work?
Ishita: One of the most important things to know about online communications is that it is an engagement tool, not (or at least not only) a broadcast mechanism. Along with the #BeThatGuy video, writer and poet Carlos Andrés Gómez wrote a piece in The Guardian about the video and calling on men to hold each other accountable for discrimination and violence — even everyday inequities and moments of micro-violence — against women. Through Facebook comments and tweets he and we are able to listen, engage, and move the conversation forward.
And beyond listening and engaging, it’s crucial to use these tools to inspire action. Advocacy groups should reach out to and position the people they reach as the solution. It’s the actions people take that drive change. Sure, tell them that gender-based violence is bad, but don’t just tell them to support you and our organizations. Inspire and equip them to — for example — #BeThatGuy. Use media to give them tools and ideas and a blueprint; give them something to do that bring us all closer to our shared vision for change.
Earlier this year WITNESS interviewed Mallika Dutt, Breakthrough’s Executive Director, on the role of video in the Gender-Based Violence movement. You can view the interview here.