Ringing the bell for womanity

“Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. 

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”


William Butler Yeats


Simply walking up to a door, ringing the bell (or knocking) and asking for the time (or anything else) could save a woman’s life.

This is what they discovered in India and hence the Bell Bajao or “Ring the Bell” campaign  launched three years ago by global human rights organisation Breakthrough.

A widely publicised campaign developed pro bono by advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather, it reached nearly 124 million people, its central point being: On hearing the sounds of violence in a home nearby, a man or boy is encouraged to walk up to the door, ring the bell or knock and ask an innocent question.

This may sound too simple to be effective but it has been found to do three powerful things:

Firstly it interrupts what is going on; secondly it shows the abuser that people are watching and listening and thirdly it can give the woman an opportunity to escape.

The United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon took up this call when he launched the “Ring the Bell” campaign in September 2010 asking the world to take up the challenge of stopping abuse at an individual level.

I don’t remember seeing this campaign in southern Africa though.

Another interesting movement, again coming out of India, is that of the Gulabi Gang or Pink Gang, so named after their bright pink saris.

These Pink Vigilantes whose membership numbers 20 000 with 10 district commanders, have a small pink house as its headquarters.

Founded by Sampat Pal Devi its methods of intervention are unconventional but then again so is domestic violence.

The women, armed with thick batons (painted pink) will verbally or physically confront abusers and this has proved so effective that some men have completely stopped the practice even before the vigilantes have paid him a visit.

The need is great. About six women a day come to the centre, often travelling long distances with tales of abuse which their local communities are not willing to address.

Whilst in the beginning the group’s focus was on violence against women its scope has widened to include other matters of injustice, such as corruption, child marriages and even men have been helped too.

One man received help for his daughter’s rape case which wasn’t going anywhere — in cases like these the women march and draw attention to the matter.

The 48-year-old founder, who was a child bride herself, married at 12 with a child at 15, is also focusing on improving the literacy levels of women in the group and teaching them skills such as sewing.

Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like today if, in each and every country, on the day the very first child was abused people had spoken up, stopped everything they were doing and said NO.

I think we would be in a better place. But as Yeats wrote more than 90 years ago, things do seem to be falling apart.

Now injustices against women and children are so commonplace they seldom make the news and when they do they are sensationalised.

In an era where donors are inundated with social causes to fund, where people’s attention, when not focused on making a living, is flooded with all kinds of media messages, these causes need a fresh approach.

In addition to the other interventions at global, regional and country level, there is need for a recommitment at an individual level.

We are the people we have been waiting for and we can all “ring the bell” in our own way.  By telling our story, taking the time to listen to someone else’s story or giving a woman the support she needs to make a change in her life.

The world must be reminded that; “It is a mistake for others to think that just because a woman is silent; it always means she approves of life as is.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes.


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