In the corona-induced lockdown, domestic abuse has increased dramatically all over the world. A pattern which is seemingly logical as abusers are forced to stay at home and further fuel their predatory instincts. While NGOs are doing their honest bit, brands are strangely silent in this never-ending crisis.
While watching the movie Thappad in a theatre just before the shutters-down phase, I was quite stunned by the spontaneous empathy. Ladies clapping vigorously each time the protagonist fought back and especially when her father stood out in vocal support. Maybe because it is more of a North Indian occurrence as I have heard numerous such anecdotes even within my refined condominium. In most cases, the ladies can be identified by persistent demureness and inability to look straight in the eye, in spite of first-class academic and vocational antecedents. But then this is a disease that is prevalent everywhere while there may be statistical variations.
Much before getting into what brands can do, it is necessary to understand the anatomy of domestic abuse, whether physical or emotional. Among the many forms of entitlement in India is the arrogance of patriarchy which comes to life in the way we deal with women. In certain sections, men are brought up to believe that they need to be the dominant partner and the act of abuse is a necessary input for age-old equilibrium. What’s most amazing though is the tacit encouragement given by family matriarchs who were themselves victims of such reprehensible conduct. Instead of becoming agents of change, they remain warriors of continuity and expect the younger ladies to follow in their repressed footsteps.
I am deeply convinced that the most potent catalysts of reform will be the next generation, typically the early teenagers. They are blessed with the heady cocktail of education, exposure, courage and ambition — adding up to an affirmative self-confidence well capable of demolishing barriers. The barrier, in most cases, is the abused lady herself who is desperate to maintain the familial status quo and petrified that she will be asked to vacate her home and forfeit her identity. So, they need the strength to react and this will come from their children, changing societal norms and possibly a prod from some of their trusted accomplices, the brands they so lovingly consume.
In recent days, brands have been rather forthcoming on some of the softer ‘hard’ issues, like gender equality, second marriage, child rearing and sharing domestic accountabilities. In each case the brand has woven a story around this theme as a topical and memorable accelerator of brand promise. At the very least, this is smart marketing as the adoption of causes makes brands look good and if there is a significant rise in awareness that too would be an acceptable triumph. The challenge for domestic abuse is different though, as seamlessly building a story would be possible for very few categories. Instead, what we need is a combination of advocacy and experiential engagements, in order to erase this stigma.
On advocacy, every brand with empathy must come together to form the BAD consortium, Brands Against Domestic abuse. The funding will ensure that a sufficient body of communication is generated consistently and shared in appropriate online and offline forums. A strategic focus being the teenagers who will be targeted as key response audiences, thus building a community of Baddies. This story will extend to high schools and junior colleges as well as other dominant networks. Like every other taboo, this too will be busted when confronted with facts and figures and the emotional accountability a child has towards his mother. My deepest hunch is that under this dominant home influence, the abuser will recede to his shell, social shaming being too much of a price to pay.
What is even more interesting is the application of experiential marketing for this purpose, by creating a whistleblower mechanism that is easy to participate and monitor. Most cases of abuse are picked up by visitors like domestic staff and even guests, either by witnessing a direct act or via overt signals. A simple reporting device can be installed in the Arogya Setu app, post corona, which alerts the local empowered NGOs, who in turn are authorised to drop by and confront. Even children can avail of this app to alert the authorities and so can the neighbours and anybody else in the vicinity.
Even brands can directly create engagement mechanisms, deterring the abuser. The liquor lobby, for instance, must officially declare a sale ban to every history sheeter as per NGO records, implementation wherever possible. Insurance providers can consider a Domestic Violence policy, allowing the victim sufficient corpus to walk out if proven tormented. Brands like L’oreal, Dove and others in the empowerment space must make this a thematic pursuit, building campaigns around survivors and even creating special ranges to inspire the combatants.
Hospitals can set up domestic abuse cells, where confidential physical examinations and counselling can be done, additionally building a self-help group. This unification of fellow sufferers can equally be initiated by WhatsApp, Kaizala or even Instagram, the collective might of people surely a tantalising weapon. A range of transparent face masks can be launched by a fashion designer, to communicate that scars will never be concealed. While pop culture content creators must work overtime to build stories that will inspire the change.
In the end, this battle will be won when the mindset of men changes for good, what I am suggesting is just the beginning. But brands must come to the party pronto and be the influencers of real change they dearly wish to be.
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