Awareness compels action
Awareness puts on people the onus to act: What we know we cannot ignore. One of the key challenges in creating change in the community is lack of interest in what people believe does not affect them directly -- although it may be happening right under their noses, sometimes even within their own families.
For instance, female foeticide and skewed sex ratio among newborns has become an overwhelming challenge in India over the last few years. Abuse of technology has made sex selective abortion easy and quick. The socio-cultural obsession with the male child and practices such as dowry are largely responsible for this 'genocide'.
Foeticide is happening increasingly even in ‘educated’ households. In fact, sex ratio is better among the poor because they neither have the wherewithal to do sex selection nor do they have wealth and land holdings that must be shared. In this entire drama, it is the young woman (mother) who suffers the most. It is her body that will be abused day after day, little consideration for her health and well-being. Decisions concerning her body and fertility will be taken by others -- she will have little or no say in the matter.
Bringing these issues out from under the carpet and encouraging debate and discussion on them is likely to lead to greater awareness. It will hopefully encourage communities to participate, and engage with the issue proactively. Hope fully this will lead to some action. It will also hopefully give the 'victim' some assurance that she is not alone, problems such as these are widespread, and that she is not to blame for what is happening. It might even encourage her to speak up and fight for her right.
The same would also hold true for problems such as domestic violence and child sexual abuse which are common across class and often not confronted head-on because they involve families and intimate partners.
A second challenge is getting people interested in what may not directly affect 'their world'. For instance malnutrition among the poor, or labour malpractices leading to high respiratory problems and tuberculosis among workers. In these situations, I believe that raising awareness on the problem is the first step to create more stakeholders. Today, there are enough resources in the world to ensure no one sleeps hungry, yet malnutrition deaths continue to happen. Young mothers I have seen in Varanasi are anaemic and chew tobacco to kill hunger. These are stories of exploitation waiting to be told.
Bringing these issues in the public domain, and new media, helps get more people involved. It puts the onus on them to act. As we act, it is important to remind ourself that the rich and 'educated' must not assume the poor to be passive receivers dependent on the 'charity' they dole out. Equality and respect for fellow beings is critical to ensure empowerment for all.