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Talk to Me: getting strangers to talk to women on a personal level

This was a really interesting initiative by design students in Bangalore in partnership with the Blank Noise Project, an organisation that aims to raise awareness of violence against women in India. What they did was get strangers to talk to volunteers across tables, face-to-face, in a street which was notorious for being unsafe for women. It bridged divides of class, race, gender and brought the focus to the issue at hand. There are different motivations for men attacking women and this sought to eliminate those misunderstandings.

Photo of Anjali Ramachandran
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It inspires me because people who theoretically might be the kind of people who attack women for various reasons are forced to confront their feelings and their often misplaced ideas. I think this is important - most solutions focus on women empowering or equipping themselves to deal with the problem, not enough with dealing with the root of the problem - the sociological construct of the people who commit atrocities. 

Read more about the Talk to Me project in Atlantic Cities here.

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Photo of Jamie Beck Alexander

Hey Anjali! I really love this Talk to Me project, and was wondering whether you might want to bring something like this forward into the Ideas phase. There is already a post about Blank Noise: http://openideo.com/challenge/womens-safety/research/blank-noise-a-community-public-art-project-that-seeks-to-confront-street-harassment-commonly-known-as-eve-teasing-in-india, but I think this Talk to Me project would be a great addition. And a bonus if you happen to know anyone from Blank Noise that you could invite to participate too! :)

Photo of Anjali Ramachandran

Hi Jamie! I've been added to the Soldiers for Sisters Idea with Sandiip and hope to add more value there. I do know someone from Blank Noise and she said she's been contacted by Shauna from Open Ideo about participating already! :)

Photo of Denise Bartolome

I love solutions that focus on rhetoric to foster a safe, and open environment for discussing issues. I also believe that more must be done on a cultural level to really get at the root cause of women's safety. To extend thought about this idea: how would this rhetoric-focused project quantify the effects of their solution? Is there a survey component to the Talk to Me project?

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Anjali Ramachandran

Thanks!

Photo of Luc Shorter

Wow - very cool. This reminds me of http://www.talkshopnyc.com - an initiative that looked to capture the community energy that came about following Hurricane Sandy to see if it could be recreated in the absence of disaster.

This is the explanation from their website for why they set up TalkShopNYC - "When Hurricane Sandy took away New York City’s power, it ended up giving us something even more electric: An excuse to talk to each other. We saw impromptu building parties. We saw chefs cooking for regulars by candlelight. We saw corporations actually operating like people.

We saw neighborhoods briefly transform into communities.

It was fleeting, but it wasn’t phony. And now, we’re interested in finding out how we can be more connected in the absence of disaster. The Talk Shop is our first experiment. Whether that means ranting about the Giants or recalling a time you felt tiny, together we’ll help the Big Apple feel a little… smaller."

When neighbourhoods become communities - and people feel a sense of connection to and responsibility for each other - spaces become safer. Talking to each other is a great start.

Photo of DFA UIUC

This is kind of like a mini therapy session..really cool!

Photo of Karolle Rabarison

Very nice, Anjali! Thanks for following up and leading me here.

I had heard of Blank Noise via their collaboration with the Not Alone India campaign (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/not-alone--2/x/573637), but hadn't come across this particular event yet.

The confrontation+discussion aspect reminds me of Hannah Price's portraits of men who catcall her, which we featured on TMN a little while back: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/not-alone--2/x/573637 and there's also a follow-on interview on NPR: http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/10/17/235413025/a-photographer-turns-her-lens-on-men-who-cat-call.

Looking forward to more research contributions like this one, featuring direct discussion with those who make us deem certain locations "unsafe."

Photo of Karolle Rabarison

(Oops, copy/pasting wrong links late at night. The photos are here: http://www.themorningnews.org/gallery/my-harassers)

Photo of Meena Kadri

Wow. There was some really great learning going on here, right? Quotes from participants resonated with me, like: "The guy I had my conversation with was one of those who stalk girls and drink on the safest lane, follow girls on their bikes. I was glad he was honest to me. What I learnt was not all ‘such’ guys are threatening, as in, yes he does all that, but he wouldn’t harm anyone physically, poor fellow is dying for a girlfriend. And the fact that I actually made him realize that his way of approaching won’t get him any girl and that he genuinely wants to change made me feel really good about myself."

Amazing how an out of this out of the box approach triggered some really deep reflection and understanding, both ways.

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Anjali for sharing this great initiative.
I agree with Meena that there are great learnings here:
- how a space can be transformed by "framing" it differently through a few physical changes (tables and chairs) and social practices (inviting people to talk... as the article mentioned "defense leads to defense").
- I also liked the story of this guy who was simply dying of getting a girl friend, and the learning went both ways: the student realized that not all of these guys stalking girls were harmful and he learnt that he might not be using the best ways to get a girl friend!
- I also like that other quote ""Biases work both ways," writes Patheja in an email. "There's unsafe and there's a perception of unsafe. Often the unknown is feared, and this makes it unsafe.."
-In that case, the physical environment a small narrow street, probably quite dark, supports aggressive (and defensive) behaviors. Yet, with a few tables and a different mindset, the rape lane became the safe lane.
-This makes me wonder: how long will it take to change behaviors and perceptions?
- I also like the point highlighted in the article and by Anjali about the focus on crossing all divides.


Really inspiring project!

Photo of Sanjay Bhargava

Can and should this idea be combined with my idea on counsel them early.

Photo of Meena Kadri

A good start. if you haven't already, is to connect them using our Build Upon feature. If you hit the Update button on the right of your post you could go in and add that post to your Build Upon feature. That way the person who wrote it will get an email notification and is likely to come and join the brilliant conversation you've started there as well. Creativity loves company, right? :^)

Photo of Sanjay Bhargava

done added this to my post as a post I built upon

Photo of Kimberley Thomas

What I love about this is the positivity. The article mentioned overcoming fears by the simple act of having a conversation with a stranger on a street that has such a bad reputation. It takes the fear away. Great find!!

Photo of Jamie Beck Alexander

Thank you for sharing this awesome initiative. I wholeheartedly agree that equipping women with tools to deal with these issues is important, but getting to the root of the issue and the sociological construct is what will bring about sustainable change. I'd really like to see this element integrated into solutions in the Ideas phase.