comic books

How the World Bank got involved with a comic book series on crimes against women

And how the comics came to add the perpetrators’ point of view.

After winning critical acclaim globally, Ram Devineni’s second comic book, Priya’s Mirror, bagged the Special Jury Prize at FilmGate Interactive Media Festival, Miami, in February. Even as he is prepping for exhibitions at Gainesville, Copenhagen and Brisbane, the New York City-based Devineni, along with the Los Angeles-based illustrator Dan Goldman is working on the story of the third book in the series.

The duo was in India to meet NGOs and sex-trafficked women whose story the next volume, Priya And The Last Girls, will tell. Using virtual reality techniques, the pathbreaking comic book will take the reader around Sonagachi, Kolkata’s famous red-light area and will probably run much longer than Devineni’s first two books.

The World Bank’s WEvolve programme, which deals with gender-based violence across the world, funded the successful Priya’s Mirror and may be interested in backing Priya And The Last Girls. The founder of the programme, Maria Correia, told Scroll.in of the organisation’s unconventional approach, using “edutainment” to understand and address the social norms at the root of the problem.

Edutainment to comics

Correia had worked on social and gender issues with the World Bank for over 18 years when the global outrage over the Delhi gangrape in December 2012 galvanised the organisation into action. “That really was the starting point for us,” she said. Prior to that, the Bank had done little work with gender-based violence, she added.

Correia acknowledged that it was the release of the World Health Organisation’s 2013 report on violence on women triggered the Bank’s response. The report estimated that one in three women across the world have and will face gender violence in their lifetime. “That was when the pervasive nature of the problem became clear to us,” said the British Columbia-based Correia.

In March 2015, she founded WEvolve to bring young men and women together to understand and challenge gender stereotypes and combat violence by engaging the attention of their “elders and peers”. Using the power of creative industries and popular culture, WEvolve is trying to drive social change.

Its methods are not the usual ones. In Mumbai, WEvolve announced its presence with a Blue Runway fashion show by designer Manish Malhotra. “We aimed to bring a new and creative approach to a highly sensitive and intractable subject that brings new actors to the issue and has broader reach and impact,” Correia explained.

In the past two years, her organisation has produced videos, supported edutainment programmes in Nepal and a gender-based violence programme for workers in the Bangladesh garment industry.

During her research for WEvolve, Correia learned of the global impact of Priya’s Shakti, which was launched in December 2014. “We realised that a comic book could potentially involve a much broader socio-economic group and also convey the message more subtly unlike a lot of work done on gender-based violence,” she said. With the comic’s target audience – preteens and teens – being a major part of WEvolve’s audience, the fit was obvious.

The World Bank gets involved

And so, in 2015, WEvolve approached Devineni to fund the World Bank’s first comic book, Priya’s Mirror, the second chapter of Priya’s Shakti. Revolving around acid attack survivors across the world, the story of Priya’s Mirror highlights the emotional and physical impediments, as well as the stigma, they encounter while reintegrating into their communities and how the stigma attached to the act makes it so tough.

Interestingly, the World Bank did end up influencing the storyline. This came in the form of an introduction to the perpetrator’s perspective. “We do not deny that an acid attack is a horrific crime, but in this story we have taken a step to understand the societal norms that impact the attacker’s behaviour,” Correia said.

WEvolve’s research had revealed that most of the work on violence against women in South Asia was focussed on helping the victim. “We wanted to launch a programme to understand why violence takes place at all,” explained Correia. “Any gender-based programme would say that we need to engage men and boys – it’s a politically correct way of putting it. But I think much more radically than that.”

In Correia’s view, the world needs to take on male gender issues to understand the lives of men. “We need to turn our attention to the behaviours of the perpetrators and ask what is driving them to use this violence,” she said. “There is a dire need to introspect why so many men use violence against women, even their own family, why it is so commonplace across the world and how institutions, peers and women themselves perpetuate this practise.”

While the intention is not to absolve men of their responsibility, there is a need to stop propagating these norms and practices. “I’m sure it can be achieved if both men and women work together,” declared Correia.

We can probably expect Priya and the Last Girls to take that story further.

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