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Men are no longer seen as adversaries in achieving gender justice. They are seen as part of the solution. the battle against patriarchy won’t succeed if women do not talk to men

By Anita Katyal


When hardened autorickshaw driver on the killer roads of Delhi, Chandrakant Pande, attended a gender sensitization class, he was initially skeptical But he came back a wiser man. “I have now realized the problems faced by women in Delhi…. my attitude towards them has changed. I understand the importance of respecting women,” he said.

This remarkable change of attitude was an achievement of Delhi Transport Depart-ment and a local NGO, Manas Foundation, which joined hands to conduct classes on gender sensitization for Delhi’s 40,000 auto-rickshaw drivers.

20July32U

Members of various organizations…

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Want create site? Find Free WordPress Themes and plugins.

Men are no longer seen as adversaries in achieving gender justice. They are seen as part of the solution. the battle against patriarchy won’t succeed if women do not talk to men

By Anita Katyal


When hardened autorickshaw driver on the killer roads of Delhi, Chandrakant Pande, attended a gender sensitization class, he was initially skeptical But he came back a wiser man. “I have now realized the problems faced by women in Delhi…. my attitude towards them has changed. I understand the importance of respecting women,” he said.

This remarkable change of attitude was an achievement of Delhi Transport Depart-ment and a local NGO, Manas Foundation, which joined hands to conduct classes on gender sensitization for Delhi’s 40,000 auto-rickshaw drivers.

20July32U

Members of various organizations at a recent protest rally against the sexual harassment of a 6-year-old school girl in Bangalore

 

 

In Maharashtra, Jharkhand, UP and MP, a special program is on in 1,500 villages to find out why men oppress women; urging them not to abuse their power.

It is part of a quiet but perceptible shift in the focus of women’s movements across the globe over the past two decades. Bra-burning, militant feminism and male-bashing are no longer the order of the day. The conversation is no longer about “Them Vs Us” or “He Vs She”. It is moving towards how men and women can work as partners to achieve gender justice.

Men are now seen as part of the solution, not the problem. There is growing recognition that it is imperative to involve men for gender equality since they continue to wield power and decide what is right for women.

The call for a partnership between both sexes was first articulated at the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development in the context of reproductive rights. It was broadened the following year to include sharing responsibility at home and workplace.

LET’S JOIN HANDS

Gertrude Mongella, secretary-general of the Beijing World Conference on Women, had then famously declared that it is “now the turn of men to join women in their struggle for equality”. This was eventually included in the platform for action subsequently endo-rsed at the conference.

Predictably, this radical shift was not easy to come by. Bandana Rana, president of Saathi, a Nepal-based NGO, who was at the Beijing conference, recalled how uncertain activists were about changing tack after waging a long and arduous battle against gender discrimination. She spoke to India Legal on a recent visit to Delhi for the 2nd MenEngage Global Symposium, organized by MenEng-age Alliance and the Delhi-based Centre for Health and Social Justice. “I was a young act- ivist when the Beijing conference was held. There were many discussions about involving men and boys in women’s battle for gender justice. There were serious apprehensions among women that by doing so, they will end up squandering the gains they have made so far and surrender the space they fought for all these years,” she said.

It culminated in a grudging acknowledgement that the battle against patriarchy would not succeed if women did not talk to men. “The gender equality agenda has been led by the women’s movement for decades. But this is not a one-sided task. We see the engagement of men and boys—the other half of humanity—as a game-changer in shifting power relations to achieve gender equality,” remarked Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women.

LACK OF FUNDING

However, there are some niggling doubts, the biggest of which is funding. There is a growing fear, articulated by several speakers at the MenEngage Global Symposium, that there would be a cut in the funds for programs on women’s empowerment and gender violence as money would be diverted to work on engaging men.

“We see a clear crisis, as women’s organizations working at the grassroots are chasing donors and smaller women’s groups are closing down. Where is the sustained funding for women’s groups so that these issues do not get left out? For instance, illegal abortions continue to take place but there is no money for this work,” bemoaned Tulika Srivastava of South Asia Women’s Fund.

There is also debate about the terms of engagement with men so that age-old gender stereotypes are not reinforced. The situation is particularly worrisome in the present Indian context when right-wing fundamentalist groups (as witnessed in the love jehad campaign in Uttar Pradesh) are whipping up passions to underline that a real man is the one who stands up to fight for his religion, community and women. As a result, a wom-an’s sexual autonomy is becoming limited.

Then, there are traditional institutions like khap panchayats openly sanctioning punitive action against women who exercise their right to choice in marriage. Worse, principals of some educational institutions in cities are prescribing a dress code for women and even restricting their mobility.
Kamla Bhasin of the Delhi-based women’s organization, Jagori, expressed her concern that the outreach to men will end up projecting them as protectors of women’s honor, instead of becoming their allies. This could be all the more evident in cases when the man is an authoritative figure and the woman is compliant.

SKEWED ADS

Actor-activist Rahul Bose agreed, and referred to advertisements which show how men have to protect women. “This got me thinking. Though it is important to engage men and boys in gender justice, you have to engage them in the right way. It is not about protecting women, but about understanding that they will take their own decisions,” he said. But he also added that men have to learn to cede control. “They have to learn to let go,” he added.

rahul-bose

Though it is important to engage men and boys in gender justice, you have to engage them in the right way. It is not about protecting women, but understanding that they will take their own decisions.” Nonetheless, working with men and boys has made some progress over the past two decades. At the international level, a global “Network of Men Leaders” was set up in 2009 as part of the “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign. Meanwhile, UN Women launched a “He for She” campaign to create a critical mass of men who believe in gender justice. Many countries, including India, have launched several programs for adolescent boys and fathers, while women’s organizations have started working with men on these issues and protection of child rights and child care.

In Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maha-rashtra and Jharkhand, a special program is going on in 1,500 villages to understand why men oppress women and to urge them not to abuse their power. Rana said their organization had decided to reach out to men through popular football clubs in Nepal. “It was not easy to persuade them to listen to us on an issue like gender violence but we tried….We told them that so far they had been idolized on the field, but if they changed their attitude towards women, they would also be idolized off the field too,” she explained. The efforts paid off, as many boys told them that women had started looking at them in a positive light once their attitude towards them changed.

FORMATIVE YEARS

But men were obviously ill-prepared to accept fast-paced changes women had undergone. Ravi Verma of the International Center on Research on Women (ICRW) pointed out: “Most men agree that women should be treated equally at the workplace and at home and that women should not be subjected to violence, but they do not translate this in their personal lives.”

Verma should know; his organization had collaborated with the UN Population Fund on a study, “Masculinity, Intimate Partner Vio-lence and Son Preference in India”.

He maintained that these stereotypes could easily be addressed during the formative years of kids by transforming schools and revising textbooks so that they show boys and girls as equal partners.

One of the fixed views of men was that childcare and household chores are the woman’s domain. Preeti Sudan, additional secretary, women and child ministry, revealed that though India has a provision for 15 days of paternity leave, few men actually avail of it. “The socialization is such that men believe it is the woman’s job to care for the child,” she said.

Lakshmi Puri, assistant secretary-general of UN Women, disclosed that when she spoke about the concept of shared work, a UN delegate’s immediate response was along predicted lines: “So now we will have to ask our breadwinners to stay at home.”

Changing male attitudes ingrained from childhood will not be easy. It is difficult for men to acknowledge that they can be a part of what women had started.

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1 COMMENT

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