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"Unbox Me" by UNAIDS Uncovers Childhood Treasures to Defeat Transphobia in India

UNAIDS and FCB have teamed together to create "Unbox Me," a campaign aimed at increasing awareness for the rights of transgender children by inspiring them to stop hiding their identities and accept their true selves, in the run-up to the International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31. "Unbox Me" is the most recent joint venture between UNAIDS and FCB, whose ongoing relationship also featured "The Mirror" in 2021. It is a component of the #SeeMeAsIAm campaign.

"Unbox Me" is a creative exploration of the theme of secrecy and hiding, and the campaign's goal is to draw attention to the difficulties faced by transgender children, many of whom experience these issues as early as age two. These difficulties include being closeted and uneasy with their assigned gender.

This campaign was created by FCB India's Creative Chairperson, Swati Bhattacharya, who stated, "In India, children typically have a box that they use to store their most priceless items. However, since some of their most prized belongings don't fit the gender stereotype that society requires them to comply to, trans children must conceal their box of treasures.

"Unbox Me" demonstrates exactly that; each box that was opened revealed the owner's true self, she continued. We distributed these boxes to well-known locals, who opened them and shared their reactions on social media as the reality of countless kids stifling their spirit became a palpable reality that could be felt. The videos parody popular unboxing films, in which individuals open products and electronics. The unboxings this time around, however, have a deeper significance.

UNAIDS and FCB explored the idea that trans children are just like any other kids who enjoy making hiding places and what their hidden belongings tell about their identities, interests, and aspirations. For trans kids, hiding valuables becomes a strategy to conceal their identity from judgmental people. A lot of transgender children are out there, not just in India but all across the world, and "Unbox Me" is an attempt to metaphorically unbox their secrets to the world and start the conversation.

The development of "Unbox Me" was a joint effort between FCB's offices in India and Chicago, demonstrating how FCB pools talent and knowledge from across its worldwide network to produce effective work that tackles a universal issue.

Mahesh Mahalingam, Director, Communications and Global Advocacy, UNAIDS, commented on the campaign: "Gender diversity is a concern for people of all ages, especially children. There are other kids around the world who want to express and assert their identity, just like the ones who donated their boxes. They shouldn't have to wait till they are adults either since it will be too late by then.

He added: “As parents, as teachers, as brothers and sisters, as community members, we have to recognize and nurture children for who they truly are. Each of the objects in the boxes is a plea to be heard, to be loved, to be recognized.”

'Unbox Me' builds on similar messages seen in UNAIDS and FCB’s work from their yearlong partnership. For International Transgender Day of Visibility in 2021, they released “The Mirror,” an award-winning film written by Bhattacharya that features a young boy looking in the mirror and dressing up as a woman to raise awareness about gender identity during childhood.

Famous people, such Indian filmmaker Zoya Akhtar and well-known TV journalist Barkha Dutt, have already taken part in the "Unbox Me" campaign, which continues to get support from the education sector. Teachers at numerous schools have shared the information with their local communities of teachers, students, and parents (e.g., The Shri Ram School, The Millennium Schools, the Mussoorie International School and Vasant Valley, to name a few). Now, it will visit schools all around India.

According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 50 percent of transgender people in India try suicide at least once before they are 20. In addition, 31 percent of transgender people in India end their lives by suicide. Recent transgender student suicides in Bareilly and Noida, Uttar Pradesh, are blatant signs of abuse and rejection.

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