Sunday , 18 February 2018

GENDER EQUALITY to take centre stage at Difficult Dialogues 2018

Difficult Dialogues is a platform for all those who have an interest in the gender debate. With the theme ‘Gender Equality – For Everyone’s Benefit?’ the festival is scheduled from February 9 to February 11. NT BUZZ brings you the details


This weekend will see leading experts, policy makers, film personalities and other prominent figures gather in Goa for the 2018 edition of the Difficult Dialogues forum. The annual conference tackling vital issues facing South Asia in its third edition will focus on the question ‘Gender Equality – For Everyone’s Benefit?’

For several decades, there have been severe acts of violence and gross inequality on the basis of gender discrimination in India. Although gender norms are now going through transformations, inequality still persists and Difficult Dialogues aims to address just that. The conference would examine a wide range of topics under the theme of gender and draw up white papers directed at making a tangible difference.

This year, the forum is held in partnership with University College London (UCL), Goa University and the International Centre Goa (ICG). Renowned professors of global health like Sarah Hawkes who leads the UCL Centre for Global Health and Gender; David Osrin and Sridhar Venkatapuram of King’s College London will be amongst the speakers at the conference. UK politician and teacher, Baroness Shreela Flather and actress Gabriella Wright will also be present. Through engaging panel discussions, the speakers will grapple with the crucial issue of how Indian gender constructs affect fundamental aspects of daily lives and citizenship.

Sarah speaking of the subject says: “Our interest in gender and equality at UCL goes back over 150 years – the university was founded on the basis of equality of opportunity and was the first in England to teach men and women together in the same classroom, and the first to award degrees to women on an equal basis with men. We are delighted to be working with partners in Difficult Dialogues who share UCL’s commitment to promoting social justice and tackling inequality across the globe.”

The audience will get to see top government officials discuss new policy directions with leading professionals from academia, development experts, the media and a host of others with experiences on the issues at hand. The Difficult Dialogues aims to produce policy papers to influence public policies and decision making.

The other personalities that are scheduled to be a part of the event include: LGBT rights activists Laxmi Narayan Tripathi and Ashok Row Kavi; women’s rights activists Flavia Agnes, Zakia Soman, Vrinda Grover, Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon; Maharashtra’s first woman IPS officer Meeran Chaddha Borwankar; Rajya Sabha MP and former union minister for Women and Child Development, Renuka Chowdhury; filmmakers Prakash Jha and Ketan Mehta; actors Nandita Das, Manisha Koirala and Deepa Sahi will all share their views at the event. NGOs Sneha from Mumbai, PLAN India, PHIA and the Consortium for Street Children are also organising panel discussions at Difficult Dialogues.

Filmmaker and actor Nandita Das will be on a panel discussing the ‘MeToo’ hashtag messages that have taken social media by storm. She aims to raise awareness about sexual assault and harassment, she says: “The #metoo movement has created more than a catharsis for women. (It is) a space for truth to come out. While the initial reaction was ‘finally the time has come,’ it has gone on to become more nuanced, adding many other perspectives to the conversation. At the Difficult Dialogues, I look forward to digging deeper into the issues of violence and silence. Together we hope to raise many unanswered questions… why it took so long, from here to where and why this deafening silence in India?”

Actor Gabriella Wright weighs in about her insight into gender roles in Hollywood, “The whole crisis reflects on what any woman in Hollywood has to deal with on a daily basis. The levels of gender related consequences differ. Sadly enough all of the women I have met in the industry have had to deal with all levels of harassment, whether it’s emotional, mental, and physical pressure and harassment.”

Leading the gender debate from Goa will be NGO founders and activists like Arun Pandey of Anyay Rahit Zindagi or Arz working towards the improved lives of sex workers; lawyer and human rights activist Albertina Almeida who co-founded several initiatives including Bailancho Saad; Mathew Kurian of El Shaddai which has worked in the field of street children’s welfare for over 25 years, and broadcast journalism teacher at Chowgule College, Monika Kshatriya.

There will be over a dozen thought-provoking panels on topics related to gender. There will also be a talk by former union cabinet minister Arif M Khan who is actively involved in reforming religious ideas according to the present world. Other leading lawyers and politicians include Salman Khurshid and Pavan K Varma. Sara Hossain, an advocate for the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, will also be in attendance.

To capture the voice of students, the forum is also opening up the debate to Indian universities through the Daring Debates – intensive college debates on the topic ‘Is Empowering Women a Dilemma for Men?’ This year students from Delhi, Manipur, Goa, Pune, Jharkhand and Puducherry are invited to compete. The winning teams from each place have been given the chance to battle it out at the grand finale in Goa. This will give vent to the views of our future leaders to be considered by present experts – an integral part of the forum’s inclusive dialogue.

The event will have an impact beyond the panel discussions as Brookings India, a knowledge partner of Difficult Dialogues, will edit a larger volume on gender inequality including papers from different panels at this year’s event.

Difficult Dialogues was founded by philanthropist Surina Narula who was responsible for establishing the internationally-lauded Consortium for Street Children. She began the Dialogues with the intent to bring together leaders from the spectrum of society to meet and find solutions to South Asia’s pressing priorities. “My experience working with NGOs spanning 20 years has given me a deep understanding of the pressing need to work on policy change. Difficult Dialogues is an endeavour to provide a common platform to bridge the gap between policy makers and civil society involved with implementation. Unless the last mile implementers are included in the conversation, policies will only reflect what mega rich businesses want and democracy will be diluted.”

Her aim for this year’s gender focused dialogues is to include men in the conversation. “Gender equality can be best achieved with all genders working towards the same outcome. The only way that we can form a just society is if the journey is an inclusive constructive process, in which everyone feels empowered to participate. It should not be a feminist argument in isolation.”

The Difficult Dialogues is an interesting platform for all those who have an interest in the gender debate. Scheduled from February 9 to February 11 the festival aims to change the future of the Indian society.


(For further information and to register, one can visit

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