The December 16, 2012, gang rape in Delhi shook the city and the nation. There were massive demonstrations after the incident and several debates took place on how to make India safer for women. The momentum that the movement generated laid the ground for the 2nd MenEngage Global Symposium that was held in Delhi last week. The conference sought to provide a collective voice on the need to engage men and boys in gender equality programmes, something that has been missing in policies and ground-level actions.
Many governments in the developing world, including the Indian government, have so far focused only on women to achieve gender parity, leaving out men from the process. But now there is a growing realisation — rightly so — that men and boys cannot be left behind because they are also a crucial part of the story if gender discrimination has to end.
This view was also discussed after the December 16 incident when it became evident that young men who have never been part of any mentoring and gender sensitisation processes (either inside or outside their homes) have high chances of committing violent acts against women, as happened in the case of the young paramedic in Delhi.
But why did governments shy away from focusing on this important and vulnerable constituency? “One of the main reasons is that bureaucrats think that one policy will work for all. But the truth is that the needs of a 15-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl are different and so the rules of engagement have to be different,” Abhijit Das, Convenor, MenEngage Symposium, told HT.
“For example, the government tried to replicate the Sabla scheme [meant for adolescent girls] when it started working on the Saksham programme [meant for adolescent boys]. There are high chances of Saksham failing if it is implemented in the current form.” Das feels that while the exposure of adolescent girls has to be the outside world, for boys it should be the “world inside” (homes) and that will make them appreciate the role women play in their lives and break gender stereotypes in their minds.
However, gender sensitising men will not be an easy task because it requires men to shed their privileges, rethink their entrenched views on masculinity and recognise their vulnerability.
One of the most vocal sets at the meet was the strong African contingent. Many of them questioned the role culture and tradition play in blocking gender justice. “While tradition is often used to discriminate against women, if one goes deeper into tradition, they usually say the opposite,” said T Komayane of Johannesburg-based Sonke Gender Justice.
The emergence of the idea that men and boys must also be part of the gender programmes has given rise to the fear that funds would be diverted from organisations that work with women to those that work with men and boys. While such a move would be disastrous because the work with women is far from over, the need to include men cannot be overlooked any further, and so separate funding must be made available to those organisations as well.
Donors must also realise that several women’s organisations also work with men in an informal way because sometimes beneficiaries (women) themselves demand that their menfolk should be sensitised to make their lives at homes easier.
The Delhi Call to Action, which was released on November 13 , however, spoke of an inclusive approach and said that post-2015 development agenda must embrace a human rights approach and also transform unequal power relations. On the inaugural day of the conference, Dalit drummers had performed a show called ‘Beating the Drums of Change for Gender Justice’. The Delhi declaration now provides a strong platform for doing just that.