Selfies: love them or hate them, we’re all guilty of taking them. Recently, the Indian government has found a way to channel the selfie craze towards a greater good. The goal is to bring issues of gender inequality to the forefront of public discussion in a relevant and trendy way.
In a weekly state radio address in June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called his nation to action on social media. He introduced the #SelfieWithDaughter campaign, which encourages fathers to take photos with their daughters and share them on social media. Modi, who is the third most-followed world leader on Twitter (14.5 million followers and counting), has established a reputation as a Twitter-savy statesman, and promised to retweet his favourite photos.
The response was overwhelming. Doting fathers posted heartwarming captions to photos with their daughters, not only in India, but worldwide. Within India, celebrities and even members of the opposition party joined in. It was a cause that everybody could rally behind.
Save a Daughter, Educate a Daughter
The idea stemmed from Suhil Jaglan, a father of two young girls and village leader in the northern state of Haryana. The region has a proud history, a highly developed economic sector and boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the country (third, after Delhi and Goa). The state also has the worst gender imbalance in the country. For every 1,000 boys in Haryana under the age of six, there are just 879 girls. This number reveals a terrible and pervasive problem.
In India, there is a deep seeded preference for sons and a long history of sexual inequality within the traditionally patriarchal society. India ranks 135 out of 187 countries on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index, falling behind Iraq, Syria, and Iran. The ratio of girls to boys declined sharply between 2001 and 2011, largely due to a rise in female infanticide. Across the country, daughters are selectively aborted, abandoned, or killed at birth. Currently, India’s sex ratio stands at 914 females per 1,000 males.
These troubling statistics are the reason that the government launched their “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” campaign earlier this year. The campaign, which translates roughly to “Save a Daughter, Educate a Daughter,” is a multi-faceted government approach to promote gender equality, with a special focus on tackling the abysmally low child sex ratio. This is also why a small regional photo contest in Haryana caught the Prime Ministers’ eye, and quickly grew into a worldwide viral sensation.
Shining a Light on a Dark Issue
As you scroll through the #SelfieWithDaughter Twitter page, reading the touching messages accompanying the heartwarming photos of fathers, mothers and their daughters, you can’t help but feel good about this story. However, some say that a selfie cannot combat a pervasive and devastating national issue. As Indian actress Shruti Setha aptly put it, “a selfie is not a devise to bring about change.”
Let’s consider the impact. What started off as a concerned father’s small local initiative (receiving approximately 800 photo submissions), grew rapidly into a national and worldwide sensation, with over 100,000 contributors (and counting). While a selfie, even 100,000 of them, might not be the initiative that ultimately changes the outlook for girls in India, few other ideas could engage so many people so quickly.
This is just one of many approaches that the Indian government has recently undertaken to tackle a devastating and traditionally silenced issue. This campaign demonstrates the government’s commitment to shining a light on the dark issue of the sex ratio in India, and to getting a conversation started about this difficult topic. It also shows the nation’s creativity in its search for new solutions to a problem with a long history. Something as simple as a selfie is helping to reframe a difficult conversation that India needs to keep having.