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Make the gender discourse more inclusive

Abuses of all forms will not go away. But for years, this was seen as a woman’s battle. Men stayed away or were kept out of the domain of gender rights

columns Updated: Dec 22, 2018 18:54 IST
Lalita Panicker
Lalita Panicker
Hindustan Times
MeTooMovement,Gender discourse,Feminism
It has not been a great year for men as the #MeToo movement mowed down many across industries in India. Years of pent up anger came boiling out as woman after woman found the courage to tell her story of abuse and violation(AFP)

It has not been a great year for men as the #MeToo movement mowed down many across industries in India. Years of pent up anger boiled over as woman after woman found the courage to tell her story of abuse and violation. And for many, this seemed a battle between the sexes which for once was now skewed in favour of women. But this is to forget that for each of the predators named and shamed, there was a huge amount of support from men across the social spectrum. Many male bosses took their male colleagues to task when allegations surfaced, inquiries were instituted and many were dismissed. This could not have been possible without the support of men who still dominate the workplace.

In many ways, we are guilty of not being empathetic enough to the men who were swept aside in the wave of resentment and fury. Many were real predators who took advantage of their position and power to prey on vulnerable women. But in the case of many who fell by the wayside, they were at best trying it on only to be rebuffed by the woman concerned and who found that this importunate behaviour came back to bite them years later.

A look at social media shows the outpouring of sympathy and anger from men at what happen to many women and the abuses they have suffered in silence over the years. This has been the case in many fields and it is time we acknowledged this. A heartening report I read was about the Centre for Health and Social Justice, an NGO beginning the training of 10,000 male gender champions in eight states to help improve the sex ratio. This is something that the government ought to put its mind to. In the case of family planning, the majority of health workers are women. In a patriarchal society, women find it difficult to discuss contraception and family planning with men. If more men had been in this field, we would have seen more positive results. This would then have put paid to the kneejerk political response of limiting families to two children.

The rise of women wrestlers and athletes from small towns has been thanks to the efforts of their male coaches and family members. This has changed the perception of women and what they can achieve. But we are often so reluctant to give credit where credit is due. This is not to suggest that men are allowing women to move ahead; it is rather to say that the success of social welfare plans and that of individual women requires a collective effort from which men cannot be excluded in the belief that they are a hindrance.

December always brings to mind the ghastly gang rape that caused such an unprecedented outburst that the government was forced to put all else aside and address it. The visionary Justice Verma’s changes to the law have empowered women and changed the dynamics of how the law deals with rape. But, if you cast your mind back to the protests that paralysed Delhi in the aftermath of the rape and subsequent death of the young woman, you will find that men came out in droves to protest the death of the brave young woman who fought so hard to live but lost her battle in a Singapore hospital. Across the country, there was grief and shame among men for what had happened. And with this, rape and other forms of sexual abuse can now be talked about more openly than ever.

Abuses of all forms will not go away. But for years, this was seen as a woman’s battle. Men stayed away or were kept out of the domain of gender rights. In the Sabarimala case, for the many men protesting to keep women out, there are as many men fighting for the entry of women into the iconic temple. In the fight against female foeticide in places like Punjab and Haryana, men, in the form of the clergy and social activists, have played a seminal role. As the year draws to a close, women can be proud of the many battles fought and won. But let us also remember that much of this was possible because of the support and genuine concern from so many men. If the gender discourse became more inclusive, so many points of friction would disappear. What could be better going into a new year?

lalita.panicker@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Dec 22, 2018 18:52 IST