University News

No Country For Women battles Indian rape culture

Student-created organization holds workshops in schools, creates viral video

Staff Writer
Monday, September 29, 2014

For Ria Vaidya ’16 and Shreena Thakore ’16, summer break meant more than reuniting with friends and family. The pair launched No Country For Women, a nationwide campaign based in India dedicated to combatting rape culture.

Using the $10,000 grant they received from the Projects for Peace fellowship, Thakore and Vaidya traveled to India in May, launching the project by contacting schools and colleges in Vaidya’s hometown of Bangalore. After multiple rejections, they finally held their first workshops in mid-July, and the project gained a positive reception and invitations to host further workshops, Vaidya said.

“By word of mouth, people were talking about us and the project, especially in educational circles,” she said.

A week after Vaidya and Thakore held their first workshop, a documentary maker contacted them to make a short film on their work. The video “went absolutely viral” and received more than 900,000 views, Vaidya said.

Soon after, several organizations across India as well as companies such as Google contacted the organization about speaking at conferences.

“It just goes to show how bad the situation was in India,” Vaidya said. “Anyone doing anything was shocking.”

The organization’s next step will be to phase out the workshops and move into making and distributing educational materials to schools in India.

While Thakore has opted to take a semester off to stay in India to continue the organization’s work, Vaidya has returned to campus prepared to continue its work in Providence.

Vaidya has been speaking to faculty mentors at Brown, including Alan Harlam, director of innovation and social entrepreneurship at the Swearer Center for Public Service, to discuss what directions to take the organization in the future.

“We are already in the process of making a toolkit, but we still need to think about how to distribute them and what modules we’re going to keep,” Vaidya said.

Though the organization has received positive response from Brown students, it received greater response from students at the Rhode Island School of Design, Vaidya said.

RISD sophomore Lucy Crelli, who spent this past summer working with Title IX policy at RISD, was conducting research and emailing various organizations to collaborate on workshops when she discovered No Country for Women through various social media platforms like Upworthy, she said.

Vaidya “caught my attention because she’s only a year older than me but she already has a functional nonprofit that’s making a lot of progress in India,” Crelli said.

Vaidya has agreed to be a speaker for RISD’s sexual assault awareness program in April, Crelli said. Vaidya has also agreed to host a discussion session for the RISD Global Initiative, a co-curricular organization, of which Crelli is the co-president, dedicated to raising awareness of international issues.

“I think RISD students would receive her well,” Crelli said of Vaidya.

Crelli and Vaidya also discussed doing workshops in schools in Providence, starting with the Wheeler School, though the plan is still in its preliminary stages.

Vaidya said that giving workshops in Providence might be different from giving workshops back in her native country where she had “enough cultural ownership” of the issues.

“I feel like at Brown, I don’t have a place to speak about … what it means to be a feminist in a different country,” Vaidya said. “So I’ve been aiming to provide a space for discussion for international students to discuss and share their background and perspectives.”