It’s time for men to take the lead in the fight against gender violence
We keep talking about a mindset change that will usher women into a world where they can negotiate on an equal footing with men. That is not going to happen in a month of Mondays. A more realistic approach would be to make men partners in the fight against violence that women suffer since much of it is perpetrated by mencolumns Updated: Jan 20, 2018 19:29 IST
“A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boys and girls are not equal…About 20% of girls are good”. These were the sentiments expressed by Mukesh, the driver of the bus on which a young woman was gangraped in December 2012. While his crime is unforgivable, these sentiments are not very far from that of many men in India, the operative part being that girls who try to be equal may end up inviting violence as the girl on that bus did. But, more than five years after that outrage which brought a whole nation to its feet, we are struggling to explain why horrific crimes against women are increasing.
In recent times, there have been at least two rape-murders in which the victims, both minors were brutalised, one it would seem after being killed. The savagery in both cases was unbelievable, much like that which took the Delhi victim’s life, much like the Jisha rape and murder case in Kerala where the injuries the student suffered are too appalling to repeat.
At the same time, thanks the recommendations of the Justice Verma committee, the law has been strengthened considerably to expand the concept of rape and to include various forms of harassment as punishable. Yet, men, often minors, seem to act with impunity, attacking women in public places and visiting terrifying violence on them. We have gone through all the arguments of patriarchy, a regressive mindset which feels that women out unaccompanied are asking for it, that women wearing certain types of clothes are not deserving of respect and so on. But much of the discourse on women and their safety amounts to preaching to the converted. It is seen as an issue taken up by feminists; to many men they are troublemakers who urge women to forget their place and stand up for their rights, and does not involve any other stakeholder.
We keep talking about a mindset change that will usher women into a world where they can negotiate on an equal footing with men. That is not going to happen in a month of Mondays. A more realistic approach would be to make men partners in the fight against violence that women suffer since much of it is perpetrated by men. And it should begin at home. Here I must confess my shortcomings. I have two sons and have always assumed that they are well adjusted and would never harbour any anti-women thoughts. So I never thought it fit to have a conversation with them to ask what they really thought about women’s rights, violence, equality, etc until they began to express their views on their own. Mercifully, I did not have to worry; but it was an act of omission on my part. Schools could play a major role in shaping attitudes among boys. They should be taught that it is seriously unacceptable to use ugly words to describe girls, and most of all to think that violence against them can be justified in any circumstance.
Many young men grow up watching the unequal relationship, often abusive, play out between their parents. They replicate this in their lives as they do not know any better. But, what if like the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme, there was a nationwide awareness campaign about how men should be in the forefront of the fight against gender violence? The prime minister could use his powerful voice to speak on this. And many political leaders, eager to inform us of their views, not always pleasant, could lend their voices to this. It would signal that it is not demeaning or a threat to their masculinity if men were to join the drive to help women. The fight for women’s rights cannot exclude men and no one, feminist or otherwise, should think so.
We need more role models from among influential men to speak up against gender violence, to speak up for women’s worth and rights. The law alone does not seem enough as we have seen. It certainly helps but we need a much more proactive role from men. People like MGR were ahead of their time in advocating women’s rights through powerful films. We don’t see much of that today. It cannot be pious declarations after every outrage. It has to be concerted, nationwide and ongoing. It is not so difficult in this day of instamedia. Let’s try it, things can’t get much worse can they?