By Sharmina Manandhar
Kathmandu, Nepal, 8 March 2014 – The energy in the audience and among the performers was palpable. Dust rose in the air as thousands of men, women, adolescents and children jumped and danced to the music of 21 female artists.
Abhaya Subba, lead singer of the band Abhaya and the Steam Injuns, garnered every bit of audience attention and excitement with her exhilarating medley that included messages on the need to eliminate violence against women and children.
“How can we be happy when our sisters and daughters are being sold as sex slaves even as I speak? How can we be happy when women are being abused and beaten by their husbands behind closed doors,” she asked the audience in her powerful voice. “How can we celebrate Women's Day when little children who are supposed to be having the happiest times of their lives are being beaten up?”
Abhaya was one of the 21 female singers performing at the recent “Women in Concert” in Kathmandu on the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8.
The free musical event, jointly organized by UNICEF, UN Women, UNFPA and Nirbhaya Foundation in Nepal, urged everyone to join together and speak out more forcefully to fight violence against women and children.
The concert was also part of the ongoing focus of the UN agencies on the elimination of violence against women, children and adolescents. A weeklong initiative consisting of school and college visits by the pop stars to increase public awareness about the issue preceded the concert.
In Nepal, studies show that as many as one in every five women experience physical violence and one in 10 sexual violence. Nearly 1 in 10 adolescents aged 15-19 experience physical violence during pregnancy. Most often the violence is perpetrated by someone she knows, including by her husband or another male family member.
The end violence messages were restated by Hanaa Singer, UNICEF Representative, and her team as they sang few lines of a popular Nepali song. The lyrics were modified to include the equality message.
“Resham firiri (silk fluttering), resham firiri, keta ra keti barabari (boys and girls are equal), resham firiri,” they sang and the crowd followed enthusiastically.
“Violence destroys lives – in every country and at all levels of society. It cuts across boundaries of age, race, sexuality, educational background and socio-economic status,” said Ms. Singer. “Too often, however, it is an invisible problem because people turn a blind eye to it, or simply fail to report due to fear or stigma.”
And that was the underlying message of the event – to make the invisible, visible.
The message was delivered loud and clear by all performers, who entertained the audience comprising of equal number of men and women with a diverse range of music.
The music stars also emphasized that men and boys have a crucial role to play as husbands, fathers, brothers, friends, decision makers, and community and opinion leaders, in speaking out against violence against women, children and adolescents and ensuring that priority attention is given to the issue. Importantly, men can provide positive role models for young men and boys, based on healthy images of masculinity.
Music has always been an effective mode of communication and a tool of advocacy and a factor of social change, said Abhaya, who is also the founder of Nirbhaya Foundation.
“End child marriage. Say no to violence against women and children,” Seema Sangraula urged the audience during her performance.
Giulia Vallese, UNFPA Representative, and Ziad Sheikh, UN Women Representative, reiterated the end violence messages in Nepali, to much applause from the audience.
The event concluded with a powerful group song “Nepali Nari Ho” that celebrated Nepali women.
Motivated by the tremendous response from the crowd, the organizers now seek to take the concert nationwide and spread the message about the need to eliminate violence against women and children in nooks and crannies of Nepal.