Educate men and boys on gender sensitivity - Hindustan Times
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Educate men and boys on gender sensitivity

Aug 12, 2023 08:54 PM IST

The horrific attack on women in Manipur highlights the need for societal change in India to address gender-based violence

The horrific attack on women in Manipur has been spine chilling. Apart from the despicable administrative apathy and growing social fissures, this complete brutality and insensitivity towards women is a sign of how little value men attach to women, not just in Manipur but in different parts of India. Retaliatory acts aimed at settling scores use women and their bodies symbolically to drive home the message that if you trifle with dominant power structures, then this is what you will face. In every case, the worst sufferers of any ethnic violence are women and children. Why does this keep happening repeatedly across India? This clearly suggests the level of impunity men wielding power of any kind feel. When it comes to openly assaulting women, apart from administrative apathy and law and order lapses, it is also the failure of society to break the veneer of politeness and ask the not-so-comfortable questions and, if necessary, pressure our boys and men to share equal space, privileges, freedom, and opportunities with women.

We need to identify men and boys who are willing to be at the forefront of change. (AP) PREMIUM
We need to identify men and boys who are willing to be at the forefront of change. (AP)

The horrific attack on women in Manipur has been spine chilling. Apart from the despicable administrative apathy and growing social fissures, this complete brutality and insensitivity towards women is a sign of how little value men attach to women, not just in Manipur but in different parts of India. Retaliatory acts aimed at settling scores use women and their bodies symbolically to drive home the message that if you trifle with dominant power structures, then this is what you will face. In every case, the worst sufferers of any ethnic violence are women and children. Why does this keep happening repeatedly across India? This clearly suggests the level of impunity men wielding power of any kind feel. When it comes to openly assaulting women, apart from administrative apathy and law and order lapses, it is also the failure of society to break the veneer of politeness and ask the not-so-comfortable questions and, if necessary, pressure our boys and men to share equal space, privileges, freedom, and opportunities with women.

We are seeing the realities of two worlds colliding, one where men and boys have social sanction and are confident of getting away with such atrocities, and another where women and girls have to follow different sets of rules in the family setting, on the streets, in schools and colleges, and even at the workplace. “Reducing gender-based violence is possible if we reach out to our young men and boys through a community-based approach in order to challenge and change the social norms and attitudes that perpetuate violence,” says Sambit Kumar Mohanty, independent development communication consultant who works with civil society organisations that involve men in gender justice.

Despite progressive laws, we have seen that violence against women does not spark the sort of outrage it should — it took that gruesome video for a public outcry against what happened in Manipur. We have to find ways to incentivise gender equality and gender-sensitive practices so that men and boys can be taught the worth of women.

Many young men and boys grow up accepting that violence against women is normal, often on the basis of what they see at home. They pick up gender-discriminatory attitudes and see no worth in a woman’s work, which in many cases, is at home. Therefore, we need to socialise men on the notions of equality right from childhood and in schools; social networks can play a huge role in this. Initiatives need to be implemented in partnership between civil society and educational institutions in different states to help them in non-discriminatory engagement with their peers at school and colleges.

Studies in some regions of Maharashtra indicate that effective engagement with men at the community level enhanced male participation related to parenting, sharing partner responsibilities, and encouraging women in the family to be part of the decision-making process. And it has led to a significant reduction in gender-based violence.

If social media can be used to disseminate violence and negativity, it can also be used to develop apps for engaging young men more effectively on gender-related issues in societal settings. Many NGOs have developed audio stories to encourage young people to change gender-related attitudes and actions. Through gender games, young men are learning how to increase their participation in domestic work. Likewise, on online platforms such as WhatsApp, groups can be used to create and encourage discussions.

There have been some initiatives but they have to be scaled up and it is time for elected representatives to throw their weight behind such innovations. We need to identify men and boys who are willing to be at the forefront of change. They will be game changers, the influencers who could lead a movement to create a truly gender-balanced society.

The views expressed are personal

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Lalita Panicker leads the opinion section at Hindustan Times. Over a 33-year career, she has specialised in gender issues, reproductive health, child rights, politics and social engineering.

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