We've launched! After a few short weeks of feverish preparation, Oxfam India's CLOSETHEGAP campaign has formally begun.

There was a palpable sense of excitement at the Constitution Club of India for this morning's launch, which coincided with International Women's Day. More than 100 people - students, diplomats, activists and politicians - crammed into a small room to hear speeches from social activist Kiran Bedi, actress Nandita Das and Chairperson, Forum on Women in Leadership, Poonam Barua.

The gathering was diverse but everyone in the room had a common conviction; that India's attitudes towards women must change radically before they will be able to realise their dreams or live without fear of violence or discrimination.

All the panelists urged the young people in the audience to ring Oxfam India's new CLOSETHEGAP hotline -  011 66030040. Young people are often treated as passive bystanders in the debate about women in India but Oxfam wants to empower them to shape the public conversation. We will take the messages they record and take them directly to decision makers to press for change.

The panelists endorsed this strategy and gave some powerful speeches about gender equality. KiranBedi was in fine form- funny, caustic and bold. She demanded greater female participation in the police force.

"We need to put quality women in crime prevention and investigative roles. They need to walk the beat! ... A woman can do it- we just need to give her confidence!"

Actress and film-makerNandita Das was more reflective but no less scathing. She saidpeople in India need to speak honestly about the way women are treated by their families.

"Much of the abuse of women happens behind closed doors" she said. "We need to nip this cycle of abuse in the bud and stop the silence. That is where change will start."

Ms Das also reflected on the prejudices she's personally encountered.

"Stereotypes are also a problem. I have been asked - how come you are so confident despite being dark? The media has projected that dark women do not have confidence and are not good enough."

After listening to these remarkable women it was hard not to agree with their central premise that India is neglecting millions of its women. This represents not just a human tragedy of immense scale, but also an enormous missed opportunity. Until India's attitudes change countless numbers of women will continue to languish. It's time to CLOSETHEGAP. And this campaign is the first step towards doing that.

Author - Stephen Dziedzic


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