Sign Language: Signs of Change?


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Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed these billboards going up around Kathmandu. They are meant to be arresting and thought-provoking.  And indeed they are.  On so many levels…  The problem of violence against women here is huge.  It cuts across all income, caste, and cultural backgrounds (much like statistics elsewhere, I believe) but is so prevalent and yet largely unaddressed publicly in the mainstream media.  Its not uncommon to hear NGO groups conduct awareness events or see street art with banners proclaiming “No to Violence Against Women and Girls”.  But on a billboard sign, next to a supermarket, next to the ads for concrete and building supplies?  Really? What does it mean?

It raised so many questions:

A magazine just for Nepali men… really? Actually, a magazine for relatively affluent, English-speaking, educated men.  That’s a niche market alright. But is its big enough to sustain a magazine like this? What did they have to say? I took a look at their website and was pleasantly surprised.  The articles were mostly about real issues rather than how to have tighter abs or buy flashy cars.  Articles like Choices in Contraception speak to the absence of real information here on taboo subjects.

A magazine published here? Almost everything here in from China or India, or imported from elsewhere.  Do they even have a high quality colour printing press in Kathmandu? Perhaps this particular niche market is one that already owns iPads and has easy internet access? Looking at their quality website, perhaps the main readership comes from an internet-based audience like so many magazines now in the developed world?

A magazine has the budget to advertise on billboards? Coca-cola, plywood, cement, rebar, paint and overseas educational opportunities… what else is there to advertise?  Here in Kathmandu, little else it appears.  If its not about construction (or the ubiquitous Coca-cola), then it seems there is no budget for billboards or posters.  Then, suddenly there’s this.  Maybe its not just about the cost?

What do men really think about this issue? Rape, sexual harassment in the office, feminism.. these are subjects that would be brave articles in Western mens’ magazines.  Brave in the sense that it might turn off readers.  I think its encouraging that Nepali editors are willing to take these subjects.  But what do the male readers think?

What does this mean in terms of changing attitudes?  Does this mean attitudes are changing? If gender-based violence cuts across all educational and economic backgrounds, will this eventually start to change with educated readers like this?  Why does every young man I speak to say that women should be empowered and that violence against women is wrong. But there’s so little evidence that this is happening. Is it just lip service? Will only real change come when the country develops?

And you thought it was just another billboard!…….

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