‘No more compromises’: Positive messaging gives Kerala’s gender campaign a social edge, triggers conversations

Spreading awareness is not just about what the message is, but how it is conveyed. And that’s where Kerala’s Women and Child Development (WCD) department is stealing hearts and stirring conversations through its campaign on social media.

Sample this: On Mothers’ Day last week, its Facebook page featured a poster defining the term ‘amma’, or mother. Translated from Malayalam, it read, “Epitome of love. Synonym of patience. Superwoman. Just like others, she’s an ordinary person full of love, grief, anger and fatigue.” It went on to add, “Instead of dumping the burden of expectations on her, we can remember that mothers are ordinary human beings too. We can accept them as they are.”

The words, aimed at demolishing concepts of idolising motherhood, offered a fresh and sharp perspective for many on social media from the usual dull, repetitive campaigns of government departments. Predictably, it went viral, shared over 7,500 times and garnered nearly 10,000 likes. Sandeep Das, a user, commented, “…this department is on a different level. A big salute for travelling with the changing times.”

On April 3, the department put out another poster, this time on the more sensitive topic of abortion. Accompanied by a photo of a pregnancy stick, the text translated from Malayalam read, “To those who don’t recognise a woman’s right to choose between being a mother or not, make no more compromise.” As opposed to the one on motherhood, the feedback to this post was mixed. But the Facebook post still succeeds in doing what it was set out to do — make its point and stimulate a conversation.

TV Anupama IAS, who heads the WCD department, says, “The society is a bit volatile. The one thing we learnt during the process is that people will accept (the message) if we present it in a way that’s not offensive and yet reveals the truth. We were careful not to hurt anyone individually. But there are certain social norms that have been accepted over the years, but not good for an evolving society.”

“Right from the start, we had decided that this is not going to be a campaign where we simply say ‘so and so is a punishable offence.’ People know that child marriage and dowry are punishable offences, we needn’t repeat it,” she adds.

The IAS officer said the department normally runs campaigns, both online and offline, stretching from Nirbhaya Day in December to the International Women’s Day in March. In 2019-20, it organised ‘night walks’ for women across 100 selected spots in the state to send the message of reclaiming public spaces. This year, due to the vagaries of the pandemic, it had to restrict its awareness activities to a digital campaign, which had two major themes: parenting and gender (women).

“When it comes to parenting, everyone thinks they are a born parent. But today’s situation is not like that where there are more nuclear family set-ups. We had many eye-opening cases during the pandemic. Sometimes, they have to learn from others how to handle kids. It further manifested during the lockdown when kids didn’t have a lot of activities to engage in. Parents naturally had a bigger role to play in the campaign,” says Anupama.

At the grassroots level, parenting clinics were started to initiate a two-way conversation between parents and trained counsellors. P Premjith, a UNICEF consultant with the state government, said many parents came with a host of issues such as behavioural, emotional outbursts, depression, drug and porn addiction among children etc. If a majority of the issues were resolved at the clinic-level, those beyond a counsellor’s expertise would be referred to psychologists and psychiatrists under the Kerala Mental Health Programme, he added.

The success of the parenting campaign gave the department confidence to press ahead with the one on gender, the officer said. A core team was formed consisting of officers from the department, gender advisors and legal experts. An ‘expression of interest’ was floated and an advertising agency empanelled by the government was selected for the campaign.

The tagline ‘Ini Venda Vittuveezhcha’ (No more compromises) was confirmed after extensive consultations.

“The core team identified the topics to be conveyed through the campaign and the agency did an excellent job by converting them into creatives. We would give them the thread and (the agency) would develop it further. We designed it in a way where suggestions can be made by anyone in the department, even cleric-level ministerial staff. Our officers would refine it further and hand it over to the agency,” explained Anupama.

Along with digital posters, the campaign also has short films and music videos relaying themes uncommon on government’s social media spaces. For example, there’s a short film slamming the patriarchal practice of curtailing a working woman’s financial independence. “Domestic violence is not just assaulting a woman physically and mentally. It is also putting a curb on their financial freedom. In such circumstances, please reach out on the 181 Mitra helpline number,” the post reads.

“We have been watching the conversations and responses. When we spoke about something that’s not acceptable to some sections of the society, we saw that people were trying to establish the point that we put forth. There are more conversations. We don’t claim we have covered everything, but I think the approach was good and appropriate for this generation,” she adds.