Galvanized by his research on suicides in the Kashmir Valley, Omar Hafiz, a young development practitioner from Anantnag District, in the Kashmir Valley started the STEARS campaign with the aim of creating a safe space where women and third gender individuals could express their challenges, concerns and frustrations. The S in STEARS, stands for stereotypical, and it describes the tears of the people who are inflicted with the pain of being marginalized, discriminated and outcaste by the socially dominant and powerful members of society.
Having conducted research on suicide cases in the Valley, studies showed that it was mostly women who were committing or attempting to commit suicides. Further research and analysis showed that women face huge pressures and are the ones who bear the burden of economic and social pressures and violence.
Furthermore, Omar saw that transgender individuals are being heavily marginalized and stereotyped as well. This typecasting has created disgrace, humiliation and fears in their minds. This initiative was intended to break the stereotypes that surround these groups.
Almost everywhere girls and boys are brought up to look, act and behave in a certain way. For example, boys are inured with virile endurance to become the physical and financial backbone of the family, whereas girls are taught to protect themselves from the outside world and to sacrifice their jobs for motherhood.
According to Omar, these types of gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles set boundaries, and limit the potential of both genders. In addition, he also believes, “gender stereotyping is not just about predefined roles for the two prominent genders, but it also includes social stigmas that outcast third gender individuals which as per Facebook have been categorized into more than sixty types.“
The campaign comprises of two phases, in the first stage or the questioning phase women and transgender individuals will ask questions or share their thoughts on stereotypes and generalizations plaguing their society. In the second stage, also known as the response stage, men will answer the questions posed. This entire campaign is aimed at creating a medium to discuss, openly and freely, the issues that concern our society. The first phase saw over 300 volunteers from 55 countries participate.
For over 3 months, women and third gender individuals were recruited to share their experiences of stereotypes and biases used against them via videos, photo stories and blogs. In the videos, participants shared stories from their lives in which he or she felt stereotyped and incorrectly judged. The photo series consisted of participants holding up a banner with a message of how women are stereotyped. All of these were in turn shared on the initiative’s social media handle, @Letmeaskyou, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Within the span of the first phase, there were over 4,500 stories shared. Each story and concern shared, pointed towards a social injustice. The hashtag accompanying each of these stories was #LetMeAskYou.
In the second phase of the campaign, men are seen taking an active role in listening, understanding and responding to the questions raised in the first phase. This is particularly important and much needed as women’s concerns are generally carried out by women; men are often just observers, at best. Through STEARS, men have received a platform that allows them to be accountable and an equal participant in the journey to women’s equality.
This second phase has a two-part action oriented conclusion. One, there will be a showcase of the various stereotypes witnessed in India and at a global level among colleges. Two, the discussions and thoughts born out of this campaign will be organized, collated and shown to school students, who are in their most formative years. The goal is to expose and to create a sense of awareness among our youth to the concerns related to women and transgender individuals. In addition, we also hope to equip our youth with the knowledge and tools to make good judgments and work towards an inclusive, tolerant, just and safe society. Though there is still much to be done, this initiative stands as a beacon of hope to strive for better world.