There are missing women in India. The country’s 2011 census revealed that there are far fewer girls than boys under seven years of age. The situation was dramatic in the state of Haryana, where there were only 834 girls for every 1000 boys. Ever since, the problem of sex-selective abortion has been discussed intensely in India and beyond.
The OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) finds that the phenomenon of “missing women” occurs in fewer than 5% of countries, but that these countries contain 39% of the global population. Addressing this problem is thus essential if we are to achieve SDG 5: achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.
It was Sunil Jaglan, the mayor of Bibipur, a village in rural Haryana, who initiated the “Selfie With Daughter” campaign in 2015. The concept was simple: parents were challenged to submit selfies with their daughters to a local contest. The best three pictures were to receive an award. The public display of pride in girls by happy parents aimed to raise awareness of the value of girl children, encouraging soon-to-be parents to welcome daughters as much as they do sons. Parents responded and, within 10 days, had sent in 800 selfies!
In 2016, the “Selfie with Daughter” Foundation created a new selfiewithdaughter.world website to host annual contests and publish thousands of selfies sent in via WhatsApp. In 2017, it added a new smartphone app for parents to upload photos directly. The website has registered more than 100,000 pictures and 27,000 families participated in the 2019 contest alone. The 2019 campaign featured an additional competition for single mothers and their daughters, with both the announcements and the prize-giving receiving prominent attention from the mainstream media.
The campaign has benefited from star power. Prime Minister Modi lauded the project in a radio programme and several speeches. Celebrities like President Mukherjee and Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi have posted selfies with their daughters. Prominent Indian women have published selfies with their parents, e.g. Commonwealth Games gold medalist Manu Bhaker or mountain climber Shivangi Pathak. Thanks to such support, the campaign has developed a life of its own on social media, with people sharing selfies and tweets all year round using the #selfiewithdaughter hashtag.
The “Selfie With Daughter” campaign is closely linked with the national policy agenda, including the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” programme (BBBP – “Save the girl, educate the girl”), which aspires to raise public and political awareness for the rights and needs of girls. India’s 2020 Voluntary National Review on SDG progress highlights the issue of missing women and reiterates the BBBP’s aim “to reverse this trend, by awareness generation, mainly through country-wide campaigns”.
It is no surprise, then, that the government has decided to amplify the “Selfie With Daughter” campaign using its clout in public communications, helping transform a local initiative into a nationwide movement. In turn, the “Selfie With Daughter” Foundation explicitly states as one of its objectives “to impart greater impetus to already set out government initiatives and campaigns”. The campaign has become an excellent example of partnership, with government and civil society efforts reinforcing one another.
Around the world, these and other efforts appear to be gaining traction. The SIGI finds that effective government interventions, coupled with a shift in social norms, have led to a slight decrease in the number of missing women over the past decade. Of course, communications can only be one part of the solution: to shift son-biased norms, the SIGI calls for changes in legislation, new social protection schemes and cash incentives.
Yet, given the enormous number of selfies bouncing around the internet, it is great to know that some of them can have such a powerful impact on the SDGs!
This post is published in partnership with Engagement Global, a German service agency working on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to engage civil society on issues of development co-operation.