UNIC New Delhi started to observe International Women’s Day already on 28 February with a big-bang discussion on Women’s Issues that was linked to an exhibition of photographs by Belgian photographer Pascal Mannaerts entitled Fate Breakers: Stories of outstanding Indian women. The week-long exhibition, curated by Jean-Philippe Bottin, Director, Alliance Française de Delhi, was inaugurated by His Excellency Mr. Jan Luykx, Ambassador of Belgium to India. It showcased the lives and inner resilience of women and transgender protagonists who had overcome circumstance and tragedy to emerge as fate breakers! And those fate breakers were present at the inauguration.
On International Women’s Day, following a walk through the exhibition with the photographer, guests then assembled for a panel discussion inspired by the works. UNIC Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman spoke passionately on the occasion. She said: I was here at the opening of the exhibition last weekend and had the good fortune to meet with the subjects of the photographs. They were happy women who have learnt to leave behind their misfortune and with the help of committed people, have found a better life than yesterday. I myself have visited Vrinadavan where one of our partners runs a shelter for widowed women. I have met and interacted with our transgender friends, and those women who have pulled themselves out of prostitution, or those who have built a new life after suffering cowardly acid attacks. It can never be easy and needs great courage, so I would like to add another sub-title to the title of the Exhibit: Women of extraordinary courage! She concluded her address by delivering the UN Sec-Gen’s message on the occasion of International Women’s Day.
The panellists were all highly accomplished individuals from the movement for gender rights in India. Moderator Urvashi Butalia, a veteran gender activist and women’s publisher, traced the changing contours of the women’s movement over the past three decades. She commented on how the movement had become widespread and multi-polar. Activist and politician Vani Tripathi underlined the need to change male mind sets; especially of the law makers. Only that would accelerate gender rights, she said. Dr. Malashri Lal, director of the Women’s Gender Studies Centre in South Campus, Delhi University, said that while stellar progress had been made, lots more still remained to be done. She called for increased engagement of youth in the gender struggle. Abheena Aher from Alliance India, a network supporting four million transgender individuals in India spoke of the need for accessing mainstream space for her group. They need skills training and jobs, she averred. Sonia Chaudhary, an acid attack survivor representing Stop Acid Attack said that the burden of shame still remained on the helpless victims who were targeted both by the attackers and by society at large. All the panelists called for stepping up the fight against gender humiliation. The discussion ended with an animated Q&A session on a whole slew of gender-related issues.
Mr. Mannaerts was extremely touched that the many months he had spent taking these photographs had resulted in such an animated and fruitful discussion which would certainly help in increasing the focus on these issues in the future, which was the initial purpose of this whole exercise. Mr. Pierre Yves Meunier, Academic Director and Ms. Mitushi Khurana, Head of Culture & Communication, both at the Alliance Française, presented the closing ceremony with the whole audience once again collecting around the works. Reviewing them after the discussion gave them a whole new meaning.
All India Radio requested UNIC NIO Rajiv Chandran to encapsulate the event in a radio interview in Hindi that was included as part of the International Women’s Day broadcast on AIR’s national network with an audience of 44 million listeners.