Every time he sees boys harassing young girls Abdul Sheikh, 15, intervenes.
He then proceeds to give the offenders a talking-to. This newfound gallantry he attributes to an on-going programme on gender sensitivity that he attends every week in his Dharavi neighbourhood.
On the eve of Women’s Day, at a weekly session on Monday, mentor Sanjay Kadam posed a question during the session: “What different toys do boys and girls get to play with when they are young?”
The class answered that girls got dolls while boys got cars or bats. “Have you ever thought why that is?” Kadam asked.
This kind of questioning of assumed gender roles through everyday practices seeks to make the boys think about social mores, and their own behaviour.
Pune-based social enterprise Equal Community Foundation that runs the programme began operating in Mumbai this January.
“I’ve become more sensitive, I’ve learnt how to behave with girls, how to be respectful towards my mother,” said Sheikh. He is one of nearly 40 boys attending the four-and-a-half-month programme that will end in May.
“Over the past 25 years, concerted efforts in the social sector have not resulted in the anticipated reduction in gender inequality,” said William Muir, founder of the Foundation. “Until men are engaged as part of the solution as a positive resource, we fear that the gap still won’t have closed significantly in another 25 years.”
The organisation works in partnership with community-based groups towards educating young men in low-income slum communities, whose gender attitudes have not fully crystallised.
“Mentors” who conduct the sessions combine films, games, and informal talks to help boys understand and modify their behaviour towards women.