Gender Based Violence

Save Our Sisters: The “Abused Goddesses” Campaign

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Image Courtesy of

What’s one way to draw lots of attention to an issue? Combine iconic religious imagery with modern day problems. That’s what the new “Abused Goddesses” Campaign highlighting domestic violence in India is doing. The campaign depicts hand-painted images (based off of photos taken with real models) of Hindu  goddesses bruised, battered and beaten with this caption at the bottom:

Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.”

Adjacent to this message is a telephone number to report cases of domestic abuse. The images are visually beautiful and attention-grabbing, making them a powerful tool for drawing attention to their message.

We’ve heard a lot recently about violence against women in India, sexual violence in particular. But this new campaign is expanding the lens of how we’ve been looking at violence towards Indian women. The campaign is reminiscent of the first public campaign against domestic violence in Saudi Arabia that showed women with black eyes in burkas that effectively brought about the Protection from Abuse law. Created by the Save Our Sisters (SOS) women’s empowerment initiative of the non-profit Save the Children India, SOS is working to prevent the trafficking of young girls into sex work. This campaign takes their mission a step further in not only working to prevent sex trafficking, but working to prevent and stop domestic violence, often a symptom that comes with trafficking.

Image Courtesy of King Khalid Foundation
Image Courtesy of King Khalid Foundation

Crimes against Indian women have increased across most categories in recent years. A look at the Crime in India 2012 Report shows that assaults on women by husbands or family members had the second largest increase since 2008, close on the heels of kidnapping and abduction which had the greatest increase. Domestic violence is a large and growing problem in India. According to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, in-country sex trafficking of women and girls is a huge problem in India. Increasingly, young girls are at risk of being trafficked for the child sex tourism market and many women and girls who run away to escape abusive husbands are particularly vulnerable to traffickers. Although exact statistics on the trafficking of and domestic violence against women and girls remains impossible to fully capture due to the amount of under reported data, the approximated figures still provide us with a picture of the prevalence of these problems.

In 2005, India passed the progressive Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), a rights-based piece of legislation that was stricter on punishing offenders and expanded the definition of domestic violence to include non-physical and sexual violence. An evaluation of the Act by UN WOMEN, the Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative and the National Mission for Empowerment of Women found that although the law is working in some instances, entrenched gender biases and patriarchal beliefs persist.

Image Courtesy of
Image Courtesy of

The new Abused Goddesses campaign is genius in a number of ways:

1)      It points out the irony of the oppression of Indian women juxtaposed against female deities in Hinduism, the largest religion in the country.

2)      Using bold religious imagery forces people to pay attention to the message. Whether people agree with it or not, this campaign forces a conversation around domestic violence and the trafficking of women and girls.

3)      The images combine art with reality. The images are beautiful and realistic looking. They’re not abstract images open to interpretation and subjective points of view. They are direct and explicit: this is what domestic abuse looks like on Indian women, important Indian women.

So, will this campaign create enough stir to bring about better implementation of the domestic violence laws India already has in place? Time will tell. But for now, we can be sure that this campaign has been effective in opening up the dialogue about domestic violence in India and setting the bar when it comes evocative and haunting awareness-raising campaigns.

For more information on domestic violence and trafficking of women and girls in India, check out these resources:

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Category: Gender Based Violence
Tagged with: Abused Goddesses    Apne Aap    campaigns    CNN Freedom Project    domestic abuse    domestic violence    India    Maitri India    Nicholas Kristof    Save Our Sisters    Save the Children India    Sex trafficking    Violence against children    Violence against women

Sally Pope

I recently graduated in May 2012 from the NYU Masters in Public Health program with a concentration in Community and International Health. Before coming to NYU, I received a B.A. from the University of Florida where I studied History and Anthropology. While at NYU, I have studied in Mexico looking at the health impacts of immigration and health outcomes in post-apartheid South Africa. I have worked internationally with the Naturopathic Medicine in Global Health non-profit in Guatemala and at the Gender, Health & Justice Research Unit at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. While living in NYC, I interned with the United Nations Population Fund working on the rights of indigenous peoples and was a research intern at the CHIBPS NYU research center on two research projects looking at the effect behavioral patterns of men who have sex with men has on their HIV status. My interests lie in global public health, promoting gender equality and human rights. The summer of 2012, I interned with the SISGI Group as a Program and Research Intern where I blogged on issues related to refugees, women’s health issues globally and global environmental health issues. Additionally I served as the Assistant Project Lead on a collaborative assessment project with the American Diabetes Association. In my free time I like to practice yoga, am an avid news junkie, hike, travel to far off lands and read.

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