Difficult dialogues made easy, experts discuss gender issues

By Saket Suman
Panaji, Feb 11 (IANS) The third edition of “Difficult Dialogues” — an annual conference tackling the most vital issues facing South Asia — reached its culmination here on Sunday.

This year, the event attempted to bring gender issues to the fore and with leading experts and scholars of gender taking centre stage, visitors had a lot to chew upon.

The event kicked off on Friday with a performance by the Goa University Choir and was followed by an insightful discussion on the gap between laws and policy implementation in the context of gender rights.

There was also a spoken word poetry performance to mark the opening. Goa Governor Mridula Sinha, in her address, shared her personal experiences of cultural moorings that effect gender equality at large.

Over the next two days, a wide range of sessions — tackling diverse themes that constitute the perceptions around gender — took place at International Centre Goa.

Setting the tone on the second day was noted filmmaker Prakash Jha, who batted for gender equality in the Indian film industry. Speaking at a session on Saturday, Jha lamented the low number of women in Bollywood and dubbed it as “the tragedy of our times”.

Meanwhile, several colleges under Goa University have created teams of “Gender Champions” to spread the word about gender equality.

Comprising a pair of students and a faculty member, the aim of these “Gender Champions” is to share with the rest of the students what gender really is and how equality can be achieved within gender binaries.

These Gender Champions were also awarded for their pioneering initiative by Goa University Vice-Chancellor Varun Sahni on the sidelines of the event.

Another interesting session during the conference was “Trafficking and Vulnerability,” which sought to establish that sensitivity plays a very crucial role while dealing with victims of human and sex trafficking.

Former Pune Police Commissioner Meeran Borwankar, who participated in the session, said that training and sensitisation of police personnel is important for dealing with the menace of trafficking effectively.

“Number of police, prosecutors is needed (to be increased) to improve the conviction rate. Vacancies in the judiciary need to be filled. Women constitute 11 per cent of the police force in Maharashtra. More women are needed in the force,” she said.

“But sensitisation regarding cases of trafficking is important. It is not that male officers are not sensitive. They should keep in mind that the victims are already scared and any insensitivity can result in lifelong trauma,” she added.

Transgender activist Laxmi Tripathi was also on the panel and she said “trafficking involves sexual exploitation” of not just women but the “sexual minorities” too.

Tripathi narrated the problems faced constantly by her community, particularly when it comes to the way the police personnel treat transgenders and the manner in which the society looks down upon them.

Among other sessions, there were two heated discussions on the raging #MeToo campaign that is fast becoming a movement of women coming out and speaking about sexual harassment.

This year the forum was held in partnership with the University College London (UCL), Goa University (GU) and the International Centre Goa (ICG).

Renowned professors of global health such as Professor Sarah Hawkes, who leads the UCL Centre for Global Health and Gender; Professor of Global Health David Osrin of UCL; Professor of Child and Family Policy Margaret O’Brien of UCL; and Professor of Global Health and Philosophy Sridhar Venkatapuram of King’s College London were among the many speakers at the conference.

Difficult Dialogues was founded by philanthropist Surina Narula, a veteran NGO founder — responsible, among other achievements, for establishing the internationally lauded Consortium for Street Children — to bring together leaders from across the spectrum of international society and find equitable solutions to South Asia’s most pressing priorities.

(Saket Suman is in Goa at the invitation of the organisers of Difficult Dialogues. He can be contacted at [email protected])


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