Breakthrough’s campaign #AskingForIt attempts to clarify what are women actually asking for.

Digital Empowerment Foundation in conversation with Manshreya on behalf of Sonali Khan, Vice President and Country Head, Breakthrough India

What was the motivation behind starting the initiative?

There is a growing silence around the issue of sexual harassment, which is not considered as a serious issue. Our research has identified that along with lack of knowledge of laws pertaining to sexual harassment, there is lack of clarity amongst people in what constitutes as sexual harassment. In this atmosphere of victim blaming, women and girls rarely speak out. Our motivation behind the project was to help break the silence associated with this issue and create a safe environment to speak up and facilitate dialogues and ways of dealing with sexual harassment.

What were the challenges you came across?

One of the biggest challenges we faced, was with engagement with our online audience. Even though our audience “liked” the conversations we initiated, they did not directly engage by responding or reacting to our engagement activities.  Secondly, we faced trouble sourcing images to talk about sexual harassment in the context of our hashtag #Askingforit. The challenge before us was to figure out photographs that helped represent the idea of sexual harassment and did justice to it. We used this challenge as an opportunity and invited people to submit images as a part of the campaign in addition to commissioning images for our campaign.

In terms of our practicalities and execution, we faced challenges regarding our blogathon. This was because our website is under renovation and hence couldn’t host the blogathon on it. This meant that we lost a chance to redirect traffic on our platform.

How are you planning to scale it up?

Ending violence against women is what drives the mission and vision of Breakthrough – making human rights a reality for all across the distinct geographies and demographics in the complex ecosystem of India and the world. Incidence of the horrific rape and murder of a young paramedic on a bus in December 2012 was not a unique case, but it has become an emblematic example of the extreme danger women are subjected to in the public spaces.

On one hand, where globalisation and rapid urbanisation has grown opportunities for empowering women and to be independent, the same has also been thwarted with almost everyday occurrence of sexual harassment or abuse in the public spaces in various forms. Irrespective of class, caste, profession, age, social background; sexual harassment is one painful chord that cuts across women from everywhere in a common way. Crimes of sexual violence or harassment are no more confined to the secluded places but have now reached out to the crowded public spaces like metros, buses, parks, schools, markets, etc. and mostly affect the young school and college girls. Breakthrough aspires to make public places free from any violence and safer for women so as to maximise their freedom of movement and encouraging them for a fuller participation in public life. This is reached by getting an end user’s perspective on the safety of women in public spaces and making the duty bearers accountable for the same. This will be achieved by pushing for an end to violence against women, particularly sexual harassment by introducing more campaigns like #Askingforit.

What does winning SM4E Awards mean to you, and how will you leverage it?

By winning the SM4E award, we have not only received recognition for our work but it has helped connect us with other organisations working similar issue areas for possible partnerships. Furthermore, this award has helped us gain more visibility for our work on sexual harassment, and other issue areas such as early marriage and domestic violence (Know more about our work on our website:

How did you arrive at the technology you used for the project?

In terms of technology, we leveraged social media to talk about the use of language and how it affects our perception of sexual harassment. For example, a common phrase used to rationalise sexual harassment is “asking for it”. To explain this further, a common tendency is to justify sexual harassment by indulging into the practice of victim-blaming,  for example,  the kind of clothes women wear,  the time of the incident, if it happened late at night (among many other reasons) and blaming the survivor for sexual harassment. Our thought behind this initiative was to spread awareness about sexual harassment and combat the perception that women who have been assaulted were “asking for it”. For example, by using “#Askingforit”, Breakthrough attempts to clarify what women ARE asking for (Freedom to travel safely at night) and what they are NOT asking for (sexual harassment in any form). By empowering women to share their stories, social media was used to spread awareness about what legally constitutes as sexual harassment, and how bystanders can help prevent it.

What are the learning’s you would like to share with us?

The biggest takeaway from this campaign was the need to initiate conversation around the issue of sexual harassment. We found that people appreciated being asked questions that challenged the status quo, and something that helped  to challenge their own assumptions about sexual harassment. By ensuring that we encourage conversations like this, and engage in such conversations ourself we can create an environment open to conversation and change. Furthermore, we found that connecting and representing our on-ground activities on the digital sphere helped amplify our message as well.