Gender-based violence against women is both a human rights as well as a public health concern, associated with serious consequences for women’s health.
Over the years, gender issues – including gender-based violence against women have been seen largely as ‘‘women’s issues’’ by women’s organizations, other developmental activists and governmental bodies. In India, traditional efforts to tackle gender-based violence against women have concentrated on empowering women to assert themselves and prevent violence. This approach totally isolates and insulates men from the process of transformation and keeps them embedded in their patriarchal mould. Patriarchy, apart from disadvantaging women, brings with it a set of behavioral norms and responsibilities that hinders men from expressing their fears, problems and vulnerabilities.
Men, often become violent, aggressive, and uncaring due to patriarchal modes of socialization that moulds their psyche. Images of masculinity in society are linked to being strong and violent, and to notions that men with ‘power’ are ‘real men’.
The situation necessitates efforts that address how men can analyze perceptions of masculinity and create appropriate alternatives. There is a woeful dearth of safe platforms to talk about problems that give rise to violent behavior, including those relating to issues of gender and sexuality. There is also an equal need for positive role models among men, who assert a gender-sensitive society and can engage young men in the discourse.
While the importance of changing norms and attitudes relating to masculinity is widely accepted, there have been few sustained efforts at changing these norms. There is an urgent need to challenge perceptions of dominant forms of masculinity in men at a young age.
Gender-based violence is a wider social issue that affects not only women’s health ((physical, mental, sexual and reproductive) and well-being, it also affects men’s health and sexuality, relationships, their self-esteem and the ability to channelize their potential.
Thus, to address the root cause of the problem, focused, long-term efforts promoting men’s involvement (simultaneously with women’s empowerment) are required at various levels. Men have to be involved not as supporters (or do-gooders) but as ‘partners’ and ‘stakeholders.’ And they would be seriously involved only if they are convinced that the problem affects them equally, that it is a problem of both the genders.
While men have been earlier involved actively in numerous programs for women’s empowerment across India (in fact, women’s movement in the state was boosted by efforts of men like Mahatma Jotiba Phule and R.D.Karve), there were no platforms to examine ‘gender issues’ as equally ‘men’s issues’. Much before bodies like UN emphasized the need for men’s involvement to improve women’s reproductive health in 1994 (Meet at Cairo), Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA) in India had initiated a thought process in 1991 among men to go into the root cause of gender-based violence and has been promoting direct intervention programs involving men in the community, to be ‘part of the solution’ (Men seen largely by others concerned as merely ‘part of the problem’).
For the past 3 years, MAVA has been closely, passionately working with a sizeable number of male youths (of 18 to 20 years) in 2 districts - Pune and Mumbai, on issues surrounding masculinity, sexual health and gender-sensitive behavior.
The target group was specially chosen at this initiative as it is a vital un-reached population. Impressionable young minds, world over, are more receptive to questioning and attempting to change their attitudes (vis-à-vis men of older age-group). And focused, long-term efforts reaching out to this target group would help significantly in preventing gender-based violence.
At MAVA’s initiative titled 'Yuva Maitri'(meaning Friendship Among Youths), select youths -- from colleges and rural communities, possessing leadership skills and creative potential, are being sensitized and intensely trained to communicate with their peers and other young men on gender, healthy relationships, masculinity and sexuality-related matters. Through experiential learning, personal dialogue and revisiting formation of gender norms, the core group of male youths (after receiving intensive training on the subject through varied, innovative ways) have been engaging their peers and many other young men in their respective regions.
The trained communicators in Pune and Mumbai have been providing safe, non-threatening platforms (physical and psychological) to many young men to comfortably unwind, open up, communicate, share their fears, thoughts, dilemmas and concerns, get exposed to newer ideas on men and masculinity, self-introspect on a wide range of Sexual Health, Man - Woman Relationships and other gender matters. And in the process of collectively addressing gender matters, they have been evolving and promoting alternative, positive models of masculinity that are gender-equitable.
The initiative, only of its kind in India, with encouragement by College Faculty and Universities, grassroots voluntary organizations, women’s groups, media and donor agencies (present and potential), is been gradually being up-scaled to 4 other districts of Maharashtra state.