Gender equality: Why we must involve men
The National Commission for Women recorded 19,953 complaints of abuse from women from January to August 2021, as opposed to 13,618 for the same period last year. Among other factors, the reasons cited for this spike include frustration over unemployment among men, food insecurity, and spousal substance abuse. This shows that violence against women cannot be tackled unless men are involved in the effort.
Men’s organisations in India have been working to change the behaviour and perception of boys and men. Some of these are under the umbrella of Forum to Engage Men (FEM), and include Men’s Action for Stopping Violence against Women, Bapanchi Shala, Men’s Action for Equity, and FEM-Jharkhand.
This is a platform where men can discuss ways in which, as a society, we can usher in more equitable gender relations. There are many other organisations working across India, but they hardly ever get the publicity or recognition they deserve.
Showcasing and promoting the work of such organisations is important, and much can be learned from their experiences. Ravi Verma, director of the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) says that engaging men will make a significant difference to the prevention of violence against women, and the men’s groups working in this field could provide insights that could help frame policies.
“It is often peer pressure that forces men to engage in violence against women. I have noticed that when girls go to school in rural areas, they are often heckled and harassed by young men. Some of these men have confessed that they don’t want to be a party to this, but are somehow forced to go along to prove their masculinity,” says Verma.
We often hear about the need to change mindsets. But this tends to put the onus on individuals when an equal amount of stress needs to be on transforming institutions and structures which are weighted against women’s rights. Rahul Roy, who has made several documentaries on masculinities in South Asia, says, “The conversations with men through men’s groups or even women’s groups have to be ongoing and not in fits and starts.”
Discussions on gender equality and violence against women must start at home within families, and then at the school level. Teachers need to be trained to discuss these issues with students, while making no distinction between boys and girls. While many institutions, including educational institutions, engage women’s groups to hold workshops on women’s empowerment and rights, isn’t it time that men’s groups were also given a larger platform?
In addition to men’s groups, various experts in this field feel that men must be partners at the local level too.
This involvement could be through men’s groups and the Panchayati Raj system. Rahul Roy argues that there must be a greater political push to disseminate the message to men that they are equal partners in gender equality and that this cannot be built on aggression and violence. The panchayats, by making the issue a priority, could keep records of cases of violence which could then be used to frame interventions and policies.
We need to open more communication channels to boys and men if they are to become true allies in ending violence against women. The efforts of FEM and other men’s organisations have worked in changing attitudes, though in limited areas. However, this is encouraging and needs to be replicated on a much larger scale.
The views expressed are personal