Helping the Department of Woman and Child Development in creating the content is Maitri Advertising Works.

A collage of three men left one in a pink shirt the other two in shades of blue and having beardsAjith Kumar, Ajay Sathyan and John
news Women's Rights Friday, June 11, 2021 - 14:12

Ahead of Mother’s Day in May, John Zachariah was looking at posters and greetings made and sent for the day. One had a superhero cape on a mother, another had a mom drawn as a person with ten hands, each holding a household item. John felt it was problematic. All of it was glorifying the imposed role of mothers, glorifying the unending work and the sacrifices she makes. He wrote down three most glorifying definitions of a mother: the epitome of love, synonym of patience, and superwoman. Then he struck them down and wrote down a fourth definition: an ordinary woman like anyone else who experiences love, grief, anger and exhaustion. It got viral, it got loved.

The definition came in Malayalam on Mother’s Day on the social media page of the Department of Woman and Child Development (WCD) of Kerala. The WCD has been putting out posters, videos and messages for months in its social media page, as part of a pro-woman campaign. Many of these progressive slogans and messages got widely accepted and celebrated by women across all walks of life. Helping the WCD in creating the content is a team from the Kochi-based advertising firm Maitri and John, who wrote that most satisfying definition of ‘Amma’, handles social media at Maitri.

Read: The internet is loving Kerala govt’s definition of ‘Amma’: Here’s why

“It was in March 2020 that we began to manage the social media platform for the WCD. However, COVID-19 struck soon after and in the first months, we stuck to spreading awareness messages on the pandemic. Slowly we switched to talking about the topics that were important for the WCD, such as women empowerment and children’s nutrition,” says Ajay Sathyan, creative head, digital team, Maitri.

It begins with brainstorming sessions between the WCD and the creative team of Maitri. Ideas come from both sides, lines get written and rewritten on discussions, and a final picture or message goes out on the page.

There are two scenarios, says WCD director Anupama TV, where there is a long campaign or else an individual day observance. “In the first case, like for the 'Ini Venda Vittuveezhcha' (No More Compromise) campaign – we give them initial briefings in two to three rounds, after we internally identify the topics to be covered. Then they make a presentation and we finalise the ideas in the discussion. And they keep coming up with creative content based on these ideas. In the second case, for individual day observance (such as Mother’s Day) or situation based posts, we give them basic idea/occasion. They develop it into creative output.”

Read: Stop blaming womens' clothes: Kerala govt campaign talks about discrimination

The line Ini Venda Vittuveezhcha was written by Ajithkumar R, ideation director, Maitri. He is also the brain behind the WCD’s parenting campaign line ‘Namakku Valaram, Nannai Valartham’ (Let's grow up, raise [children] well).

Read: Actors Poornima, Indrajith campaign for positive parenting

“The idea is to always think from a woman’s point of view when you create the content. We have rejected many ideas and lines which we felt did not convey that.  'Ini venda vittuveezhcha' simply says women are done with compromises; that others can think what they want about it but women are making their stand clear. I would have made it simply 'Ini venda', the rest is understood,” says Ajithkumar.

Surprisingly, most of the creative team at Maitri are men, who have been told to think from a woman’s perspective. John, who has written more than 70% of the content that appears in these campaigns, talks to women friends and colleagues to understand the issues and how to approach it. “Even on the social media content we post, there would be comments from women which would trigger other posts or ideas,” says John, who is also an aspiring writer.

It is a woman colleague in the creative team - Annu - who suggested a topic on young women's freedom being restricted with lines like ‘you can do it after marriage’. This can be anything from a trip with friends to having a haircut.

“It is always these lines that women hear, at home or work or from the society. It makes it so relatable when you turn that into a campaign,” Ajay says.

The Ini Venda Vittuveezhcha campaign has been actively touching on issues that matter a lot to women but gets discussed very little. On June 7, the WCD page put out a poster against discrimination of divorced women. "Women are not obliged to continue in unhealthy relationships. Do not insist women to continue in such relationships or shame the women who end those," the message said.

On Women's Day, they put out a number of "names" women are called - thantedi (courageous in a bad sense), thannishtakari (woman who makes her own choices), pokku case (gone case) - and said, "A woman is not an object you can call names if she does not do what you like."

One of the most daring posts was made this April, about the abortion rights of a woman. It included the legal rights that women have, to do an abortion, married or not.

"There are laws and people know about it. We are just using a creative approach that will make people rethink the many (patriarchal) ideas they grew up hearing, to unlearn them. People don’t like preachy stuff – so use a direct approach. Just tell what we have to tell, and we do this by watching out for the issues that women share,” Ajay adds.

At first the WCD asked them to focus on four major issues: child marriage, dowry, sexual harassment at workplace, and domestic violence.

“Anupama madam, Anandi madam (Gender Advisor to the government) and others at the WCD give us guidance. We then do our research, looking at what are the issues women post about, and what the youth in particular want,” Ajay says.

They are also careful not to touch on sensitive topics, such as faith. “On the other hand we make sure there is representation of women from different backgrounds. We make sure not to hurt anyone’s sentiments. We want to convey the message that the WCD is there with you, the law is there,” Ajithkumar says.

Ajay adds that even if it seems to be daring topics – such as abortion rights or divorce – they only speak the truth about something as basic as human rights.

“And you can’t even say winning rights – these are rights women already have. It is not something to be given, but something that should not be taken away from them,” Ajithkumar adds.

Recently they went beyond posters and videos involving celebrities to bringing out a music video. Young singer Arya Dhayal composed and sang that ‘That’s how it should be’ – or ‘Angane Venam’ – on the rights and freedom of women. It was written by Sasikala V Menon and shot by Athif Aziz of Maitri.

Read: ‘Angane Venam’ by Arya Dhayal is a song on women's freedom and rights

Here are some other noticeable posts on WCD.

This one says: Harassment is not always physical, it can be verbal. Let's realise that and react. The picture shows a few derogatory lines thrown at women: "You are just a woman", "Keep quiet di", "Women are good for nothing", "There's no use educating women", "You must live a reserved and discreet life" and then abuses.

This one is a message saying that there is no need to keep your period a secret, it is like any other physical process. Only then could awareness be given on serious topics such as menstrual hygiene. The girl in the picture wonders why no one discusses this.

This one talks about housework being a responsibility of both women and men. Pictures show a number of occasions when people ask if there are no women in the house to do the work: as cleaning dishes or washing clothes.

Yet another one on housework says it is not a big deal when men do housework - it is not a favour, it is everyone's responsibility.

A small video campaign shows the usual situations when women are told to "leave it" cause they are women.

In five panels, this post contains the usual labels women are judged with: single, divorced, single mother. These are but her personal matters, why show the prejudice you don't towards men, the woman in the poster asks.

This short film effectively conveys it is a harassment to restrict women's financial independence.

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