Contest Raises Awareness for Violence Against Women Through Music: Interview with Pixel Project Founder Regina Yau

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Rape, rape culture, domestic violence, and violence against women impact us all. The Pixel Project, a virtual, volunteer-led nonprofit, works to eradicate violence against women globally. They are currently running the Valentine 2013 YouTube Cover Carnival contest to raise awareness through the power and artistry of music. They dedicated the contest to Jyoti Singh Pandey, “the Delhi Gang Rape victim, to honour her courage in fighting for her life until the very end.”

I had the honor and pleasure to interview Founder and President Regina Yau about the Pixel Project and their creative and inspirational project.

The Pixel Project’s mission is to raise awareness, funds and volunteer power to combat violence against women; get men and boys involved; “generate conversation by tearing down taboos and creating safe online spaces;” and “challenge expectations and inspire activism.” Passionate about building a grassroots network, they provide entry level positions for diverse people to participate – by sharing their skills and unique experiences — who may never have thought about activism before. Pixel Project wants to engage and inspire people through art, social media, online strategies, and pop culture to work towards ending violence against women.

The Valenine 2013 YouTube Cover Carnival contest runs until 9PM EST, March 14, 2013. Yau told me the response to the contest has been extremely positive. In fact, they have extended the original deadline to accommodate more artists. They have received entries from musicians around the globe, including from the U.S. Sweden, Australia and Canada. Jyoti’s “story crossed boundaries and borders, so should this tribute.”

Without further adieu, here is my interview with the lovely and articulate Regina Yau on the YouTube Cover Carnival, Jyoti Singh Pandey’s bravery, Delhi being called the “rape capital,”  and how to end rape and violence against women:

1. Megan Kearns: What inspired you to start the Valentine 2013 YouTube Cover Carnival and the Music For Pixels Campaign?

Regina Yau: All The Pixel Project’s campaigns combine social media, pop culture and the arts in fun and unexpected ways. Music is a natural choice for us and the “Music For Pixels” campaign combines social media and music. It is also our first YouTube-focused campaign and the YouTube Cover Carnival is just one of three programmes under the campaign. The other two programmes are our year-end ’16 For 16’ digital EP and the ‘Artiste of the Month’ program (currently being developed) for established YouTube artistes.

As YouTube is the most popular video sharing channel in the world, the music video element of the “Music For Pixels” campaign has added another dimension and increased momentum for our social media outreach given that we have previously mostly campaigned through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, Pinterest and other text and link-based social media channels.

For us, working with popular YouTube artistes such AHMIR, Ali Brustofski, J Rice, Lisa Lavie and YouTube producers such as Mike Kalombo makes a lot of sense because their music is already on social media and they all have a ready-made built-in audience of extremely supportive fans.

In addition, using a visually stunning YouTube music video featuring a fabulous cover of a very popular song really helps us get the message of love and anti-violence out by:

  • Getting the attention of people who love music but who might not necessarily have an interest in the cause.
  • Giving our supporters an extra cool tool to share and take the message viral.

2. MK: I love that the Carnival is spreading awareness about violence against women and supporting musicians. Why did you choose music as a medium?

RY: To us, music is a tool for engaging the audience emotionally with the cause without resorting to triggering materials such as horrific imagery. Many people who would otherwise have taken the first step towards supporting the cause have been put off by such tactics in the past because, let’s face it: it’s difficult to face up to the ugliness of humanity inherent in violence against the women and girls in our lives. So we use music as a way of getting people aware of the issue and to get interested in finding out more about it and how they can help.

So, we created the Music For Pixels campaign as a platform for us to work with YouTube artistes to educate the online audience about violence against women in a positive way because music is one of the most effective ways of getting people to absorb an important message while being entertained.

3. MK: Who is the intended audience?

RY: The Music For Pixels campaign (and all the programs under it) is aimed at three different audiences in line with our mission to get people the world over engaged with the cause:

  • For women and girls who have experienced any gender-based violence, we aim to send them a positive and empowering message that they matter, that they are beautiful inside and out no matter what. One DV survivor who supports our work left a comment that the song “makes my soul dance!” That was such a satisfying moment!
  • For the general audience including men and young people, we aim to encourage them to think about, value and engage in positive and healthy relationships with women and girls in their families and communities.
  • For musicians/artists, it gives them a platform for using their music to say NO to violence against women while getting exposure to new audiences or, in the case of the YouTube Cover Carnival, getting prizes that will help their careers along.

4. MK: There are many songs dealing with empowerment as well as with rape and domestic violence. How did you select the Greatest Love of All and Little Things?

RY: We wanted to give artistes a choice of 2 empowering, positive and popular songs to cover – one that is very recent hit on the charts, and one that is a classic song that most people would have heard at some point in their lives.

‘Little Things’ is our choice for the recent hit song because the lyrics are about loving a woman for who she is, even the little quirks that she herself does not like. Too many women find themselves in relationships with men who, at best, don’t appreciate them for who they are and who, at worst, abuse them because of it.  This song is a reminder that we need to be more accepting and supportive of the women and girls in our lives and empower them to love and value themselves.

‘Greatest Love of All’ is the people’s choice song – voted in by our supporters from around the world in an online vote a couple of weeks before we launched the Valentine 2013 YouTube Cover Carnival. It’s a very timely and poignant song choice because this month marks the 1 year anniversary of Whitney Houston’s death and Whitney herself was a domestic violence survivor.

5. MK: Why did you want to showcase the Carnival around Valentine’s Day?

RY: We actually run the Carnival twice a year – February for the Valentine’s Day season and August for the Fall edition of the contest.

The Valentine YouTube Cover Carnival dovetails nicely with the ‘Season of Love’ which provides a focal point for us to work with artistes to spread the theme of positive and empowering love through music. In February, the Carnival becomes a platform for spreading positive messages about healthy loving relationships to counteract the overwhelming number of popular ‘love’ songs out there which extol the virtues of unhealthy relationships, rampant misogyny and even abuse.

6. MK: I know you’ve dedicated the Valentine 2013 YouTube Cover Carnival to Jyoti Singh Pandey because of her strength and courage. What made you choose Jyoti specifically rather than dedication to all victims and survivors?

RY: As mentioned before, our “Music For Pixels” campaign (including the YouTube Cover Carnival) is partly created to use music to send survivors and victims a positive and empowering message that they matter, that they are beautiful inside and out, that there is help out there, that there is hope out there, that they can rebuild their lives.

We have specifically chosen to dedicate the Valentine 2013 YouTube Cover Carnival to Jyoti Singh Pandey because her horrific case has been a tremendous force in raising awareness about Violence Against Women (VAW) by bringing it to the attention of the worldwide audience. She has become a potent symbol because she put a name, face and human story to the horror of gender-based violence that makes it far more difficult for anyone to sweep the issue under the carpet.

…We hope that many more artists will join the contest to help keep the momentum of the anti-Violence Against Women activism triggered by Jyoti’s rape and murder alive and going strong. As it is, despite the initial heavy media coverage on her case, interest is waning in India and worldwide as is the usual pattern for any high-profile VAW case. This time, we are determined to keep her story at the forefront of people’s minds to really lock in the message that VAW is unacceptable and music is a positive way of doing so.

 7. MK: Delhi has been called India’s “Rape Capital.” Do you think that’s an apropos or an unfair moniker?

RY: Delhi may have the highest reported incidents of rape but to call it India’s “Rape Capital” is to be incredibly reductive of the issue of VAW in India. To put things in context: the Trustlaw Women/Reuters survey of women’s rights experts and anti-VAW that I took part in last year, India was named the worst country for women among the G20 nations because of the extremely high and brutal levels of VAW in the country. Apart from rape, street harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence, they have culturally specific forms of gender-based violence including female infanticide, dowry murder and forced marriage.

In addition, VAW statistics anywhere will be skewed because it is still a taboo issue which victims do not report out of shame, fear of victim-blaming and the potential for triggering further violence against them.

Delhi may be in the spotlight because of Jyoti’s death and its position as India’s capital but it is far more constructive to see it as the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling VAW in India.

8. MK: After Jyoti Singh Pandey’s rape, demonstrations were held in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Why do you think Jyoti’s attack in particular ignited such an outpouring of outrage and activism?

RY: In a nutshell, I think one of the major reasons why Jyoti’s attack became a trigger for public outrage in these countries is that it comes at a point in history in these countries when people are slowly by surely gaining more education and have simply had enough of the entrenched and stark inequalities that relegate women to second-class status and which leave them constantly experiencing (or being threatened by) violence against them just because they were born female.

I’d say that the most important thing that Jyoti’s death did was provide people in these countries with a focal point for local anti-VAW activism. Oft-times, horrendous VAW cases may light the fuse of outrage but rarely does it provoke widespread public action. This is what is so astounding about Jyoti’s case – that it was the catalyst for widespread public protests.

I just wish that this did not come at the cost of Jyoti’s life (or any other woman’s life, for that matter).

9. MK: Jyoti Singh Pandey was incredibly brave and her death a tragedy. How can we take steps to prevent another senseless tragedy?

RY: Most individuals will find the issue of Violence Against Women (VAW) absolutely overwhelming, discouraging and uncomfortable because VAW is a very ugly and culturally entrenched and condoned form of human rights abuse in most, if not all cultures. It is so easy and convenient to think: ‘What can I do anyway? I am just one person!’ and just shut it all out and not bother at all.

However, the key to preventing further tragedies is for individuals and communities to take action to stop the violence and change the social and cultural norms that condone VAW. Any government can pass law after law but if it isn’t implemented and practiced on the grassroots level, it’s pretty much useless.

A good place for most people to begin taking action to stop the violence is to acknowledge that VAW exists and that it is not a “women’s issue” but a family and community issue that affects everyone on some level. With at least 1 in 3 women and girls worldwide experiencing some kind of VAW at some point in their lives, all of us do have victims and survivors in our social circles – they could be your mother, your sister, your daughter, your friend.

The next step after acknowledgement is to never remain silent when you are witness to misogyny or VAW. Misogyny feeds the gender inequalities that propagate VAW and VAW literally costs lives as we have seen in the case Jyoti and so many other women. Summon up your courage to speak out, take action and get support from others to intervene.

And if you catch yourself thinking: “My one action isn’t going to change anything,” just remember: every action, no matter how small, no matter how insignificant it seems, is yet another contribution to stopping violence against women.

10. MK: What is the message or lesson from the contest you hope people take away?

RY: As with all our campaigns, we hope that the YouTube Cover Carnival will send out a loud and clear message that Violence Against Women needs to stop and that there are positive steps that individuals and communities can take to do so.

We also hope that by dedicating the Valentine 2013 YouTube Cover Carnival to Jyoti, we will remind people that VAW is a pressing human rights issue with fatal consequences for the women and girls in our communities if it remains unaddressed and unchecked.

The Pixel Project’s Valentine 2013 YouTube Cover Carnival contest runs until 9PM EST, March 7, 2013.


Photo credit The Pixel Project.

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