Changing Social Norms, One Step at a Time Showcase

16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence 2023


Author: Camila Santander

Through the use of technology and innovative approaches, young people can help challenge and break down patterns of discrimination and change harmful behaviours. Therefore, involving and empowering youth is crucial to driving social progress. With a focus on identifying discriminatory social norms, UN Women Nepal in collaboration with Srijanalaya carried out the competition “Changing Social Norms, One Step at a Time.” Youth across Nepal were called to send their pitch for a video and the five selected participants were given mobile phones, microphones, and access to the internet to remotely attend the technical and storytelling training sessions so that they could tell their stories in the most compelling way possible. The five selected youths highlighted social issues and discriminatory practices in their videos, namely caste-based discrimination, gender, and sexuality, disability, and Chhaupadi, or restrictive taboos around menstruation.

Is it a curse to menstruate?

"Is it a Curse to Menstruate," produced by Bhawana Bogati, is a mini-documentary that depicts the practice of Chhauppadi, an extreme form of menstrual restriction on which women in rural Nepal live in sheds for four to seven days while menstruating or after giving birth. “It is from the belief that menstruating blood is impure and that if a menstruating woman enters or touches things considered pure she will bring bad luck to the family, and community,” Bogati says. While in the huts, women are at risk of sexual violence, getting attacked and even killed by animals, or death or injury from fires while trying to keep themselves warm.

In her short fiction film "Khurri," Samjhana Nepali depicts caste-based discrimination and how it can mentally affect individuals by showing the life of Khurri. Throughout the film, Khurri is bullied by her classmates from privileged caste groups, leading her to drop out of school, negatively affecting her mental health. Caste-based discrimination is illegal in Nepal, nonetheless it is very pervasive in society. The Dalit community, historically the low caste known as untouchables, faces jarring fear, discrimination and mental violence.

On the same subject, "Voice Against caste-based discrimination" is a powerful mini documentary by Radhika Pariyar. Radhika interviews people from the community, and they describe their own horrible experiences of discrimination they had to endure and the absurdity of social norms. "These films are strong reminders that many social justice movements in Nepal are still dominated by privileged caste groups, and to bring about that social change, we need more leadership from Dalit communities," says Subeksha Poudel, communications officer at UN Women Nepal.

"Multiple Identity" by Safal Lama encourages people to think about identity from a broader perspective. In this short film, Safal talks about their experience dealing with and coming to terms with their identity. Emphasizing that identities are not bracketed but rather intersectional, Safal also highlights how finding community can be powerful to accept oneself.

Similarly, "Identity" by Zion Magar is focused on his personal story. He brings about his identity struggles and how he overcame them—highlighting how other people's perceptions of him were harmful and how the support received by his mother and partner helped him accept himself. “It is crucial that every social movement is inclusive and intersectional, individuals have layers and layers of identity and face discrimination in many different ways” says Poudel.

The resulting films were compelling and did an excellent job of bringing the viewer to the place and feel of the main characters. "We wanted to have members from the communities themselves share their narratives. It is empowering to share your own story and influence community members. There is a big power in shaping your own narrative," Poudel shares.

It is crucial to involve youth in changing social norms, and these films show different social issues in original and creative ways, Bogati shares “I think each film has a unique message that highlights grave issues holding back the youths in Nepal. All films show the urgency to end these forms of discrimination to make Nepal more equal.” T winners have been more invested in the issues they highlighted in the films, which also served as conversation starters in their communities. Bogati explains that after making her video, she has been inspired to keep capturing issues around her, “I want to make more films about the conditions of rural women in Nepal. They do not have access to basic healthcare and need to walk for days to reach a decent health post. I want to make these films so that women in my community have their basic rights.”

One Step at a Time

Poudel explains that film or photography is generally limited to individuals with recording devices. They did not want that to be a barrier for the participants. "For this competition, we really wanted to hear from Nepal's youth. We especially wanted to prioritize diverse voices: women from rural areas, individuals from LGBTQI+ community, people with disabilities, and excluded caste groups and indigenous community. Our goal was to prioritize groups whose voices have yet to shape the mainstream media."

The five films were showcased during "Stories of Resistance" which was a 16-day long exhibition held by UN Women Nepal to commemorate the 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. The exhibition took place from November 25th to December 10th of 2022.

One Step at a Time
Photo: UN Women Nepal

All five filmmakers were invited to Kathmandu to attend the opening ceremony on November 25th of 2022. Additionally, many representatives from civil society, activists, and development partners were invited to attend the exhibition held in the Taragaon Next gallery in Kathmandu, Nepal. "We really want people to do more and act urgently; we should've broken these barriers yesterday. We must listen to the voices of youth with intersectional identity, follow their lead in what are their recommendations and lived experiences to break these barriers."

One Step at a Time

Reflecting on the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, Poudel emphasizes the importance of changing social norms to end violence against women. Rigid ideas of masculinity are formed in boys as they grow to be men, leading them to believe that behaviours like crying make them weak, that being violent is the best way to assert their masculinity, and that society expects them to be breadwinners, which gives them enormous pressure and distress. Poudel says, “more positive notions of masculinity not only prevent violence against women but violence against boys and men too. In addition, teaching girls and women to hold others accountable, to feel empowered to use their agency and say 'No', goes a long way in preventing and ending gender-based violence."