Yuva Maitri (Friendship Among Youths) : MAVA’s Initiative on Gender & Masculinity Engaging Young Men and Redefining Masculinity

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Yuva Maitri (Friendship Among Youths) : MAVA’s Initiative on Gender & Masculinity Engaging Young Men and Redefining Masculinity

India
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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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.

About You
Organization:
Men Against Violence & Abuse (MAVA)
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Section 1: About You
First Name

Harish

Last Name

Sadani

Website
Organization

Men Against Violence & Abuse (MAVA)

Country

, MM

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is this initiative/innovation linked to any established organization?

Yes

Organization Name

Men Against Violence & Abuse (MAVA)

Organization Phone

0091-22- 24360631

Organization Address

705 -706, Parishram Building, 7th Floor, Bhandar Lane, Lady Jamshedji Road, Mahim, Mumbai – 400 016.

Organization Country

, MM

Is your organization a

CSO/NGO

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Your idea
What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1-5 years

When was the project initiated? or When are you planning to begin?

Project initiated in August 2006

What kind of beneficiaries is your initiative addressed to?

Youth, Society in general.

Describe the profile of the beneficiaries of this project

The Project aims at reaching out to specifically young men, age-group of 18 - 20 years, from colleges and rural communities, in select districts of Maharashtra state. As on date, it has reached out to over 20,000 young men and 5000 young women. It plans to reach out to more than 6000 more Young men in the next 2 years.

What is your initiative’s implementation strategy?

The initiative began in August 2006 when 33 male students from 6 rural and semi-rural colleges in Pune district, having leadership skills and creative potential, were selected and intensely trained as ‘Communicators’ for a year. A wide range of youth-friendly and cost-effective media like interactive workshops featuring group-discussions, games, awareness songs, posters, film-screenings, street-theatre, exposure-visits, youth-festivals, debates and attractive wall-newspapers (monthly, every issue focusing on one gender theme) were used as part of the intensive one-year training.

In the second year of the initiative, 17 trained student communicators began communicating with their peers on gender, healthy relationships, masculinity and related matters. Weekly awareness sessions (one to one and a half hours each) were conducted by them in groups in their respective colleges, from mid-August to December 2007. Through experiential learning and revisiting formation of gender norms, they provided platforms to communicate with peers using all the youth-friendly media (used in the first year) extensively. They conducted several outreach programs for general student population (including girl students) and the neighboring community. These included film-screenings followed by an interaction, street-plays, Inter-Collegiate and Inter-District debates and focused group-discussions. Wall newspapers were prepared and displayed prominently by the communicators on varied themes like Healthy Male-Female Friendship, Ban on Sex Education in schools by legislators, Farmers’ Suicides and Performance-Anxiety in Men, Sex-Selective Abortions leading to declining sex ratio, Women and Anaemia (lack of sufficient haemoglobin – More than 52% women in India are anaemic). There were stimulated discussions, comments and contributions by many peers on these wall-newspapers. From time to time, the trained communicators also took specific stands on incidents of gender-based violence against women in their area (for e.g. gang-rape of girls working in call centres) through rallies and public protest demonstrations (here too female classmates joined them voluntarily) appealing several young men to join their campaign.

Throughout the initiative, students were encouraged to raise questions, doubts and seek clarifications on a wide range of gender matters covered. A booklet, answering key 40 questions was published and later copies of the same distributed to several students across Pune district.

Participation of the college faculty and Principals of respective 6 colleges alongwith Pune University officials was elicited, at various stages of implementation of the initiative, to encourage trainee communicators to continue their work with peers.

A significant aspect of the initiative was enabling the student communicators question traditional male stereotypes in society, chalk out a ‘Personal Change Plan,’ which will help them to work on their own attitudes towards women in their lives (mothers, sisters, wives of brothers) and evolve appropriate alternatives – positive models of masculinity. Each of the 17 communicators, who continued at the initiative, attempted to work for a year on their personal change plans, most of them accomplished their desired change in outlook, thanks to periodic encouragement by Harish Sadani and his team.

Each student trainer, who had attended Training in the first year of the initiative was asked to list down a Personal Change Plan, comprising of ‘a privilege’ and ‘a restriction’ experienced by them by virtue of being a Man in Male-Dominated Society. They were then asked to work on the two aspects and attempt to bring about equality with women in their personal lives.

Ganesh Phule, a youth from Waghire College had expressed as a part of his ‘Personal Change Plan’ that he will encourage his sister to ventilate on key decisions about her life. He did encourage her on several occasions and in one instance intervened when his sister was made to marry against her wishes, by asserting all family members that all related decisions about marriage would be solely taken by his sister. He learnt cooking and helps mother occasionally in cooking, whenever time permits. Kiran Mohite from A.Magar College attempted to encourage his paternal aunt to voice her views in decision-making matters at home, but could not succeed much, as elders in the family felt he was, too, young to ‘interfere’ in their matters. Nilesh from Grammonati Mandal’s College, Narayangaon encouraged his mother to move out of the house and commute freely. He periodically shares his feelings and personal problems with a peer.

During these first 2 years of initiative, the self-motivated team of communicators built considerable rapport with several developmental organizations (including women’s groups) in Pune district and gradually developed a strong network of resource persons. This helped them immensely to explore ways of collaborating with support groups to reach out to more men in the community.

With the help of this team, the initiative has been gradually spreading to other 4 districts of Maharashtra state : Mumbai (since August 2008), Satara and Kolhapur (since June and July 2009 respectively) and now to Jalgaon (December 2009).

Thus , the main strategies used for implementation of the initiative were:

• Capacity-building of select young men using varied, innovative media
• Thrust on personal dialogue and experiential learning. ‘Personal Change’ Plans chalked out by youths periodically monitored by MAVA’s team
• Providing safe, non-threatening spaces for young men to communicate, ventilate thoughts, fears and anxieties on wide range of gender matters
• Providing space for them to re-look gender norms, self-introspect, get exposed to newer ideas about men and masculinity and in the process evolve and advocate alternative, positive models of masculinity that are gender-equitable
• Structure Program in a way to include girls in select activities to ensure that boys do not use politically correct language

In your opinion, what are the main barriers or obstacles in connection with this theme?

• The student population in the colleges is a highly mobile group, wanting to involve in several curricular and co-curricular activities while studying. For the core team of student communicators and even the participating peer students in my initiative, ‘Yuva Maitri’ was one of the many Projects in which they were involved. They participated in other Projects too, apart from other co-curricular activities in which they were interested. The challenge was to engage the students using innovative, youth-friendly ways so that their motivation is increased and they find Project useful.

• Masculinity is intrinsically linked with ‘performance’ by men at various phases of life. One aspect of performance is the shouldering of responsibility to earn and sustain the family. In rural areas of India, the constant pressures to perform this role at an early age - even before completing their studies (compared to urban areas) and the inability to express these pressures was evident among many of the students at the Project, from to time. Poor financial circumstances at home was just an additional factor for many student communicators to take up jobs / employment.

Thus, during the second year of the initiative, there were 17 male communicators (out of the 33 intensely trained in the first year) – one of the crucial reason for dropout (of even highly motivated communicators) was the constant pressure to perform the traditional role of a ‘good man’, reinforced by family members and others in society.

• The trained communicators faced several difficulties in conducting interactive sessions for their peers. Sometimes there were no class-rooms available as some of the college buildings were under repair and construction (in case of one college), sometimes there were last-minute Guest lectures / extra classes on Degree subjects or on Courses stipulated by University arranged at the time of their planned sessions. There were also Faculty in some colleges, who dissuaded the students from taking part in any activities of the Project. Many of the college students, covered by the initiative, commute from far-off villages (10 to 25 kms.) and there isn’t much frequency of buses from the taluka State Transport stands that go to their villages. In view of this, no session could be arranged after 11.30 a.m. The trainers dealt with the difficulties of space by arranging sessions in a corner of their college playground or at public gardens and at college canteens.

• “Opening up” of men is much more difficult and complex than in women. They do not have any experience, confidence and even vocabulary to describe their innermost feelings – related to sexuality and otherwise. By involving a pool of experienced men who were willing to share their personal insights with the young men reached out by the initiative, I facilitated the process of opening up among the latter. I used the annual men’s magazine, brought out by my organization over last 15 years, that features first-hand experiences of men in opening up and communicating about their dilemmas, anxieties, vulnerability and other issues related to masculinity.

• Overall speaking, the motivation behind men’s movement is comparatively weaker. It takes guts to renounce obvious patriarchal privileges and step down from a dominant position, in order to win moral self-respect. Hence, the task of sustaining the efforts of all men, who are being engaged in an initiative like this, has been more difficult and challenging.

What type of partnerships you have or intend to generate strategic alliances with for the development of this initiative? Choose all that apply

State departments or areas, International organizations, Non-Government organizations, Social organizations, Universities, Other.

Describe with whom you have generated these alliances and how

The trained communicators from Pune have been receiving tremendous encouragement by several non-governmental, voluntary organizations across the state to continue with their efforts in reaching out to peers and other young men.

They have been offered opportunities by Stree Mukti Sanghatana, a women’s group in Pune to conduct periodic gender-sensitization sessions for boys in select schools in Pune city. In September 2008, Breakthrough TV, a Delhi-based human rights organization, enlisted participation of 10 communicators for a 40-day massive awareness campaign (called ‘Bell Bajao’) in Aurangabad and Nashik districts, sensitizing local youth population (largely male) on issues of domestic violence and prevention of HIV transmission.

Dr.K.N.Bavale, former Principal of Grammonati Mandal’s College, Narayangaon and currently Director, State Resource Centre, Pune got in touch with 8 student communicators, organized for them refresher trainings in street-theatre and enabled them put up a series of street-play performances on HIV /AIDS in various colleges and in villages across Pune district spreading messages of gender equality to a wider auidence.

3 communicators started working part-time since December 2008, as ‘Outreach Workers’ at a Voluntary Organization called Saudamini, Pune, which works with migrant men on issues of HIV /AIDS and sexuality.

The communicators, in collaboration with women’s organizations like MASUM, Tathapi and Nari Samata Manch are pro-actively planning and participating in joint public meetings, seminars, protest demonstrations and voicing their concerns on contemporary gender issues in their region.

Media is an important ally in MAVA’s notable initiative. Apart from providing due coverage to the developments at the initiative through print and electronic media, the communicators have been encouraged to articúlate their thoughts, concerns and insights on gender and sexuality matters through peridically writing articles in magazines and speaking at radio and television programs and at numerous youth forums, organized locally and at state level.

Many individual health activists, developmental professionals, womens groups, colleges and voluntary organizations across the state have been inviting MAVA and its team of communicators to conduct trainings, share training modules, methodologies (usage of FAQ booklets and wall newspapers, set of posters created on redefining masculinity etc.) and strategies to reach out to more adolescent boys and young men.

SwissAid India (branch of SwissAid, Switzerland) demonstrated keen interest in the Project and has been providing financial support to MAVA for up-scaling the initiative among college youths in Mumbai since August 2008. In April 2009, they also provided a grant to run a Project with rural young men in Satara district in collaboration with a local grassroots community organization.

In the past 3 years, MAVA has forged strong partnerships with all the Universities in the 5 districts, where the initiative is being up-scaled. Faculty from colleges covered by the initiative are periodically invited for training workshops and Meets with a view to enable them encourage the communicators carry out their action-plans. The Women’s Development Cell of Mumbai University have invited MAVA’s team of communicators to contribute towards bringing of Teaching Manuals, to be widely distributed to Faculty and NSS students in over 500 colleges affiliated to the University.

State Social Welfare Board has been encouraging MAVA to conduct residential awareness camps for youths in newer villages after learning about our initiative. They have recently asked MAVA's communicators to conduct mass campaign on stopping sex-selective abortions in select districts. Municipal Health Department in Mumbai has sought support of MAVA to reach out to more adolescents in the city on issues of sexual health.

Population Council - India, which supported the initiative for 2 years (since inception) through the prestigious 'Health and Population Innovation' Fellowship, has been providing numerous platforms to disseminate and share the key results and learnings at the initiative. International Bodies like UNIFEM and UNFPA have been inviting MAVA for Consultation Meets to share its innovative strategies in reaching out to men to prevent gender-based violence.

Lakerein - a reputed art gallery in Mumbai has offered support to MAVA's notable efforts by holding an art show in July 2010, where works of over 20 renowned artists would be exhibited and auctioned in aid of MAVA.

What are the main results generated and/or expected to generate by means of this initiative?

The core team of trained and experienced male communicators in Pune have been exploring ways and means to reach out to inspire, facilitate and mentor many young men across the state of Maharashtra. They are being invited by women’s groups, health providers and youth bodies across the state to periodically conduct gender-awareness sessions for young men (and women) and also to share methodologies and strategies to reach out to men as partners. They have been pro-actively planning and participating in public meetings, seminars, protest- demonstrations, putting up street-plays on HIV /AIDS and running special campaigns in other districts (Aurangabad and Nashik) on domestic violence, HIV / AIDS & other gender issues in their region.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the communicators have been co-organizing with women’s groups public protest demonstrations. Using public address system and posters, they have been voicing their angst over gang-rape of girls working in call- centres and other incidents, appealing passer-bys (largely male) to join their campaign against violence on women and distributed thousands of pamphlets on ‘what boys and young men could do to stop violence against women’. The youths continue with their campaign at State Transport Stands, appealing several students from various schools and colleges to enable women and girls to lead a safe, violence-free life. Pamphlets, with appeal are also distributed by the communicators to several men and women at massive public meetings organized on Women’s Day in Pune city by women’s groups and union bodies.

One of MAVA's Communicators Ganesh Phule has been selected among 80 young boys and girls from all-over Maharashtra state for Nirmaan Project of SEARCH, Gadchiroli district run by Dr. Abhay and Rani Bang. Nirmaan is a 2-year initiative which would provide the select youths first-hand exposure and interface with developmental professionals on a wide range of social issues and help enable create a team of ‘youth change-makers’. Another communicator Amol Kale, who completed his graduation, decided to pursue professional social work training and reach out to more youths on gender in future. He is now doing his Masters Degree Course in Social Work at Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Pune.

Since August 2008, MAVA up-scaled the initiative in Mumbai for male youths in 5 colleges (including a night college having working students). Through this, select 100 students from the 5 colleges are being sensitized and trained to engage peers and other young men on a wide range of gender and sexuality matters. These potential communicators from Mumbai have been engaging peers through poster competitions, street-plays, rallies, debates and open discussions on sexuality in classroms, residential camps and workshops.
A telephonic helpline for youths started in Mumbai, through the up-scaling, in September 2009, is reaching out to many distressed young men and women and counseling them to deal with their specific gender and sexuality-related problems. Over 500 young men and women, from Mumbai and even outside Mumbai, have called at the helpline till date. Out of the total calls handled, 28% was pertaining to queries about Sexuality in particular. The questions asked range from Masturbation Myths (both male & female), Pre-mature Ejaculation, Penis - size anxiety, dilemmas about sexual orientation (Am I heterosexual / homosexual / bisexual), Pre-Marital Guidance, side-effects of Emergency Contraception etc. 10% of the calls were on Relationships and Gender-Related. These included calls on Pre-Marital Guidance, Infatuation, Rejection in Love and dealing with suicidal tendencies.

The initiative got further boost in June 2009 when MAVA collaborated with Shramik Janata Vikas Sanstha - a grassroots community developmental organization in Satara and is currently developing a pool of around 25 male communicators, hailing from 20 disadvantaged villages.

MAVA entered into collaboration with D.K.Shinde School of Social Work in Kolhapur in July 2009. Since then, 3 student social workers and a voluntary trained social worker from the said college are working actively to reach out to students in their college and select villages of Panhala taluka in Kolhapur (having the lowest sex ratio in Maharashtra as reported by latest Census figures). They have started a Drop-in Centre in their college campus and are taking periodic gender-sensitization sessions for their peers and preparing wall newspapers.

In December 2009, MAVA was invited by North Maharashtra University, Jalgaon district to conduct a Gender-Sensitization Workshop for select Faculty from 3 neighboring districts. The University has, thereafter, approached to MAVA to train a batch of select lecturers from the 3 districts and plan a long-term program to reach out to many college students in and around Jalgaon on issues of women’s empowerment and gender-sensitization.

MAVA’s initiative, which has been spread beyond Pune and Mumbai district, has on date reached out to over 20,000 young men and 5000 young women (though the focus is on men) by way of Interactive Awareness Sessions and Outreach Programs for general student population and youths in the community.

As one of the key outcomes of the initiative, there has been a sizeable number of adolescent boys and young men, comfortably talking about gender and masculinity issues and in an healthy manner(not disrespecting women). They are gaining scientific, factual information about health and sexuality (including HIV /AIDS). While conducting pre-test evaluation of the participating youths in all districts covered by the initiative, it was studied that ‘blue films’ were the primary source of information on sexuality for 90% of them.
A detailed analysis, by an independent researcher, of the 18 pre and post test questionnaires filled by the core team of communicators in Pune showed that they on an average, had a fairly high degree of knowledge related to gender issues and favorable attitudes related to gender issues before the training / intervention. The analysisAfter intervention all of these young men had well above average knowledge and favorable attitudes towards gender issues. A majority of those who had initially replied in the negative, turned affirmative over the fact that women do not invite abuse because of the clothes they wear. All of them (in the post test) agreed over the fact that preventing violence does not entail restricting girls from going out alone. Homosexuality was abnormal to 14 of the young men at the initial stage, by the end 9 of them had transformed.

Among the specific gains from the initiative expressed by the communicators of Pune and observed by an external professional were: They developed ease in communicating with girls in their colleges. The traditional outlook, of some trainers, towards girls changed and they stopped teasing / harassing girls in college campuses. Many started sharing work at home like picking up dishes after meals, washing own clothes, sweeping floor etc. Many students advocated for greater freedom of mobility and expression for their mothers and sisters. One of them argued for his sister to have a say in choosing a match for her marriage.

Changing traditional male mindset is a long-term, challenging process, which necessitates involvement of all concerned stakeholders (the educational sub-system, media, law, government, women’s and men’s groups). MAVA’s pioneering initiative has been shaping a men’s movement that is deconstructing masculinity and replacing the patriarchal value system (that dis-empowers women) with an egalitarian alternative that empowers girls / women in society and improves their quality of life.

What is the main impact that your initiative might generate?

Through this pioneering initiative, a rich pool of self-motivated and committted male communicators is being generated. These communicators are engaging, inspiring and mentoring many young men in promoting a wider, healthy dialogue on issues surrounding masculinity and gender-sensitive behavior. They are exploring various ways and evolving specific action plans to prevent gender-based violence against women.

The processes, learnings and resource material developed at the initiative is being disseminated to developmental professionals, women’s groups, health-care providers, academicians and other interested community organizations across the state, exhorting them to adapt / replicate similar efforts in their area of work engaging men.

Women’s groups in respective regions and the media are seriously noting the developments at the initiative and providing further boost to it.

The main impact of the initiative is that young men are and would be seen as change agents, taking ownership of issues (which have been largely seen over the years as women's issues). They are and would be seen as a major forcé in addressing issues of violence against women, as ‘partners’ in the movement for a gender-equitable society.