In 2014, award-winning filmmaker Vibha Bakshi released the film Daughters of Mother India (DOMI). It documented the aftermath of a 2012 incident where Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student, was brutally beaten, gang-raped, tortured and left to die on the street in Delhi.
Seven years after the incident, sexual crimes against women in India still persist. Thus, Bakshi teamed up with Valerie Pinto, CEO of The Agency, to make known the stories of ordinary Haryanvi men that are fighting an extraordinary fight on behalf of women.
Together, these two women leaders conceived Son Rise, a documentary about five men in Haryana who stood up for the women in their lives and helped them win their rightful place in society. The goal was to inspire ordinary Indian men to stand with women and fight for their dignity, safety and respect, so that gender equality in India could finally be realised.
The campaign to spread the film and its message has won the award for the best Women Leading Change Campaign (non-profit) in the 2020 Women Leading Change Awards.
In order to reach people who have the power to influence their local communities, The Agency’s campaign for the film targeted the police force, community leaders, schools, businesses and institutions. It also aimed to get the film screened internationally. The documentary was launched in partnership with UN Women, who adopted the film to promote the #HeForShe Movement in India.
As the tech industry employs the highest number of women in India, the agency organised a screening especially for 75 Indian tech leaders in Mahindra Tech’s campus in Pune. The screening was hosted by the CEO of Mahindra Tech, CP Gurnani.
Furthermore, The Agency mounted an expansive media relations campaign, including a partnership with Hindustan Times, India’s second-largest national newspaper, which published the stories of these men over five weeks.
The filmmakers maintain that the film has sparked a movement that is helping to change the narrative on gender bias in India. The film has achieved many notable goals:
- Screened at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI Goa), the Mumbai Film Festival (MIFF), the Mumbai Opera House and Delhi India Habitat Centre. Further abroad, it was screened at the New York Film Festival and they are currently working for it to be screened in other international festivals.
- Screened at the Bloomberg Global Equality Summit (thanks to The UN’s endorsement), where CEOs of the largest firms operating in India pledged to stand up for women and make positive changes within their organizations to help address gender bias.
- Screened at the newly opened Museum of Indian Cinema. This event was hosted by UN Women and the Films Division and the Consular Corps, which includes the consul generals of 10 countries—Brazil, USA, Italy, Canada, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, France, New Zealand and Sri Lanka—along with UN Women and the Films Division.
- Screened in companies, schools, government offices, police departments and festivals, the film has been watched by an estimated 4 million people so far.
- Won best non-feature film, best director, and best cinematography at the 2019 National Film Awards, presented by the president of India.
As a tool for awareness and a conversation starter, the documentary has inspired discussions about the role of men in realising gender equality, firmly establishing the topic in the public consciousness.
For example, the film led to discussions and debates on major news channels like CNN-IBN. In villages in the state of Haryana, one of the most influential community leaders organised screenings and later led a landmark resolution to socially boycott any person who has committed rape, honour killings or female foeticide. The ruling is now in effect in 700 villages. The police force in Haryana also pledged to increase its commitment to women’s safety.
On social media, the film provoked a flood of support from influencers, including 31 million Twitter impressions in all. Media coverage from the Hindustan Times to Huffington Post cited the film and the reactions, and the overall earned-media coverage totals more than 1,000 articles.
Sunil Jaglan, one of the protagonists, went on to make history by launching women-only panchayats (village gatherings for the purposes of governing) in over 50 villages, giving women a platform to express their views and make decisions about the laws of the land. This was previously unheard of, as Panchayats have traditionally only included men.
The campaign continues to progress. In November 2020, it is slated to be screened at the United Nations headquarters in New York, an occasion which will see Son Rise presenting the many #He4She pledges and commitments made by corporations and individuals to the UN secretary general.