Empowering men – A timely solution!

Background

India, despite being the world’s largest democracy, remains one of the most unsafe places to be a woman. Even the so-called ‘liberated’ women, who are educated and economically independent, have reported experiencing violence and harassment, especially in public places. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)[1], the number of crimes against women continues to rise. Independent research done by the International Centre for Research on Women[2] accounts to around 400 million Indian women (that is, every 3 women out of 4) who have faced some form of physical or psychological violence. Out of which, only 2.3 lakh cases were reported to the police  in 2011 – perhaps a reflection of women’s fear of retribution from the perpetrators of the crime, or rejection from the very institutions that are there to protect them.

The Problem

Recent incidences of men participating in violence against girls and women[3], and later suggesting solutions of restrictions and ‘safety’ orders for women, promote a strikingly misogynist[4] approach –women are responsible for the brunt of violence targeted towards them, hence they deserve it. The men who perpetrate the violence and harassment in the first place are left unaccountable. Even the traditional women’s empowerment movement places the onus on women to achieve equality, leaving men, whose attitudes and behaviour sit at the root of the problem, absent from the process. 

ECF’s research shows that very few NGOs working on women’s empowerment engage men in their approach. But the recent public attacks on young girls have generated public awareness about this issue. Empowering men for women’s empowerment has hit the headlines in India.

Recently, a progressive statement was released by Delhi Minister for health and Family Welfare, Kiran Walia. She said in a statement to the press, We need to bring up boys differently in our homes. Boys need to be made sensitive right from school. We need to tell them right from the start that being macho is about being cultured and treating women equally.”  Many senior journalists in India, after the recent public attacks on women, have echoed her sentiments. Barkha Dutt tweeted, Don’t let the mob win. Don’t tell your daughter she can’t go out alone at night. Don’t restrict the clothes she wears. Teach your sons better.  

The need to address the root cause and engage men as a part of the solution to violence against women has been recognized, finally.

ECF’s Solution

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Equal Community Foundation (ECF) is one of the very few organisations that empower men and boys to empower women. Our mission is to empower every man in India with an opportunity to end violence and discrimination against women.

In practice, this is what we do:

  • We develop, deploy and scale high impact programmes that mobilise men to take personal and collective action to end violence and discrimination against women.
  • We evaluate these programmes to gather evidence that empowering men does indeed empower women. We measure the impact by assessing the experiences of women who live with men who have completed the programmes.
  • We research and analyse the best practices employed by other organisations.
  • We share all of this information, along with our insights from the field, to grassroots organisations, policy makers, and funders. We do this to shift policy, increase the available funding, and ultimately increase the number of organisations who empower men to empower women.

So far, we have worked with over 1,450 men in 20 communities across Pune; over 600 men have completed our programmes and we have developed over 200 male leaders who continue to volunteer in their communities on a weekly basis. Over 61% women from these communities have reported a significant reduction in incidents of violence or discrimination.

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 How Can You Help?

We are actively seeking opportunities to scale our approach of empowering men to empower women through partnerships with organisations, networks of community based organisations, civil society groups, and schools and colleges. We will partner with organisations by providing training and developing a database of best practice tools, methodologies and curriculum that can be adopted and replicated by anyone who wishes to work with men in women’s empowerment.

At the same time, we are seeking partners who can provide us with organizational capacity building and financial support in this venture. If you have any ideas or suggestions for building partnerships and support, please contact us.

What do you think of our approach of empowering men to empower women? We would like to hear your opinion! Please write to us or simply comment below. 


[1] NCRB – Crime against women, 2011 http://ncrb.gov.in/CD-CII2011/cii-2011/Chapter%205.pdf

[3] A mob of 20 men molest a schoolgirl outside a pub in Guwahati, caught on camera http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/news/Shocking-20-men-molest-girl-in-Guwahati/videoshow/14862672.cms

[4] Sting operation by Tehelka journalists on senior police officials in Delhi-NCR region http://www.tehelka.com/story_main52.asp?filename=Ne140412Coverstory.asp

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Who is a ‘Real Man’?

Abhishek Misal

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A real man does not impose social customs and rituals on women.
I, Abhishek, am a real man.

Abhishek lives in Prem Nagar, Pune. He has been involved with ECF’s Action for Equality Programme for the past year and half.

What changes does he see in himself after joining ECF’s AfE Programme?

“I have learnt, most importantly, about equality. We are wrong to say that women should be ‘given’ something – choice, freedom, or resources. It is their right to have the choice and freedom, and as many resources as we do! We should make sure we are not denying or holding back what women rightly deserve.” 

As a result, he has stopped associating with social and political groups that he thinks are discriminatory.  

How has his definition of masculinity changed?

“Earlier, I was the worst behaved boy in my neighbourhood. I swore at and insulted everyone, answered back to my mother, beat my sister and fought with other boys. ECF helped me stop this behaviour and develop confidence in myself. Now, I am in charge of the Abhyasika and teach 9th and 10th std. students. Even there, earlier the girls would clean the space. But I involved the boys and now they do the cleaning work.”

He feels strongly against the social and cultural norms – rituals, customs, beliefs – that restrict or discriminate against women. Currently interning at ECF, he goes to various communities to spread awareness about such restrictive customs and practices and encourages men and women to step out of them.

 

Somnath Raste

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A real man is not afraid to express his feelings and understands the feelings of others.
I, Somnath, am a real man.

Somnath lives in Depotline area, a community in Khadki. He has been involved with ECF’s AfE Programme for the past year and half. After he started going to the Graduate Programme’s weekly classes, his first realization was the ways in which his own mother and sister were being discriminated within his home.  

“My sister was the one helping my mother with the cooking, nobody ever asked me to help. During mealtimes, they would eat after everyone else in the family had finished. My mother and sister ate whatever was left.”

In his personal action plan, he resolved to help at home and make sure everyone ate together.

“Earlier, it was difficult for my family, especially my mother, to accept that she would eat with the rest of the family, but I made sure it happened. Now, we all eat together.”

When his family selected a groom for his older sister, he asked his mother for her opinion in the selection process. Later, he asked his sister if she approved of the choice her parents had made.

“My mother knows all of us the best as she has raised us. More than my father and other relatives, she should have a say in choosing a life-partner for my sister. Also, since it is about my sister’s life, no decision can be made without her consent.”

Through the weekly inputs by Ramesh, ECF mentor in Kasarwadi, Somnath developed confidence that helped him make interventions like these in his family and peer group.

“I also began talking to my friends about women’s rights. Once, when my friend said, ‘I want to have two sons but no daughter.’ I proceeded to lecture him for over 2 hours about the importance of daughters. In the end, he told me he was convinced just to stop me. Even now, whenever he sees me, he runs away!”

What changes does he see in himself after joining ECF’s Action for Equality Programme?

 “The session on violence was an eye-opener for me. I realized that violence did not just leave physical scars but also emotional hurt. I remembered the times I had behaved aggressively with my mother or sister and resolved never to do that again. I am in control of my feelings and behaviour now. There have been rare times when I have lost my temper and shouted at my mother, but now, I say sorry to her. That makes my mother happy, and I feel better as well.”

How has his understanding of masculinity changed through his engagement with ECF? Somnath now believes that a real man is not afraid to express his emotions, and understand the emotions of others. He has become more expressive: in his class, his peer-group and in the community. 


Vishwas Khare

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A real man does housework. 
I, Vishwas, am a real man.

 Vishwas graduated from AFE – Gradaute Programme in September 2011. He used to be a very quiet person. After volunteering in the Alumni Programme, he has built confidence and the skills to act upon things that he has learnt from the programme.

“I had no focus or goal earlier. I would not do any work at home, behaved insolently with everyone, especially women. Since I took part in the Alumni Programme, I developed a focus and volunteered regularly in my community. It showed; I was made a volunteer leader in the programme.”

How has his outlook towards women changed after engaging with ECF?

“Ever since I started helping with the chores at home, my respect for women, and the work they do, has grown. My mother, too, was surprised by the ‘sudden’ change in me. I have taken up the responsibility of cleaning the house; I sweep, mop and do the washing. Sometimes I cook as well. I am still learning, though. When my mother cooks, I stand next to her and watch, ask her the method sometimes.”

Vishwas used to face flak from his friends when he started helping at home.

“My friends would say, ‘Why are you behaving like a girl? You do all the things girls do.’ Earlier, I would’ve been angry had someone accused me of acting like a girl, but ECF has taught me that there is nothing shameful about the work women do. Instead of getting angry, I encouraged them to join the Action for Equality programme. Now, most of these friends have completed the Graduate Programme and are helping in their own homes as well!”

Vishwas has joined ECF as an intern, where he is getting an opportunity to become a leader who promotes his changed understanding of masculinity amongst other men in his community.

ECF organises exposure visits Samyak and Magic Bus

In June 2012, ECF visited Samyak and Magic Bus to expose the team to other organisations working with similar aims and methodologies. These two organisations were initially chosen because Samyak works with engaging men for women’s empowerment while Magic Bus mobilizes children living in poverty towards livelihood, through the medium of sports.

The purpose of the visit to Samyak was to learn about organisations working with men on the issue of violence against women, understand their working model, and create a platform to initiate a dialogue for sector research on engaging men to end violence against women. The dialogue with Anand Pawar, founder of Samyak, gave our team an insight into the historical, social and political contexts of working with men in India.

On the other hand, the visit to Magic Bus was more helpful in understanding the methodologies of working with children in lower socio-economic communities. Their approach is to empower children through sports-based activities in becoming confident young leaders in their communities and creating viable livelihoods for themselves.

An important thing we learnt from Magic Bus was to make modules that are easily replicable and create content that is simple in its delivery and powerful in its impact. 

Admitting Failures

At ECF, we believe in admitting our failures rather than hushing them up. We all make mistakes occasionally, but these mistakes make us sit up and take action, invite change, and become a little wiser than before.

Another reason for willingly sharing our problems is because we have reason to believe that if there’s something we haven’t got right as yet, there’s somebody out there who has, and we don’t hesitate to ask for help, suggestions or innovative ideas. Similarly, others working in this field might also be able to learn from our mistakes, at least, not to repeat them.

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With this premise, we present to you our Failure Report for this quarter.

SURVEY ON STREET SEXUAL HARASSMENT:

As part of the Action Events in the communities to mark the end of another AfE cycle, we decided to do a survey on the sexual harassment faced by women in public spaces. With this survey, we aimed to make the graduates aware of the extent and gravity of the problem of harassment and engage with them to address it in their communities.

We designed a survey which the graduates began conducting in their respective communities, but they were largely unsuccessful. Initially, the graduates themselves were afraid, or perhaps ashamed, of interrogating the women they knew. But even those who started the survey were soon demotivated because the women refused to answer any question, or said they had never been harassed, which made the rest of the survey pointless. In the Premnagar community, some men took away the papers and stopped the graduates from speaking to the women.

The reasons identified by our team for the format being unsuccessful are:

  • The age and gender of the graduates were not conducive for the women to share their experiences honestly. 
  • The surveyors were young men (aged 14-17) who belonged to the same peer group which teased or harassed the women in question.
  • The method was inappropriate; the survey questions were too direct and made the women feel unsafe to share.

The team is working on changing the format of collecting this kind of information. There is a value in men (graduates) gathering this data as it would help them understand the issue in a much better way. It would also initiate a dialogue between men and women. But we need to identify alternatives methods that make the women feel safe to share their experiences, and get the point across to our graduates.

If you have any suggestions or ideas, please share with us.

 

CUTTING DOWN THE STIPEND FOR LEADERS OF THE ALUMNI PROGRAMME:

In our Alumni Programme, we encourage volunteers who show leadership potential to be leaders in planning and implementing volunteer events in their communities. These leaders are given a stipend of Rs. 800 for two months as an incentive to contribute their time and effort.

Why do we want to cut stipends?

After looking at attendance, participation data and feedback from programme staff, we have identified that monetary incentive doesn’t work as a motivating factor for the leaders. Rather, it demotivates other volunteers who work equally hard but are not leaders. As a principle, we don’t want the leaders (or volunteers) to work with us only for money but because they are committed to ECF’s cause.

As our pool of volunteers is also growing, it would be expensive for ECF to provide stipends to all the volunteers and not just the leaders. Dialogues with the mentors reveal that cutting down the stipend may demotivate some of the existing leaders, and possibly to the point of quitting the alumni programme altogether.

We realise that the problem needs a two-fold approach: first, we need to dialogue with the leaders to make them understand why their stipends need to be cut down, and take into account their responses. This dialogue can also give us an idea about the leaders’ willingness to work towards empowering women in their communities. Secondly, since the Alumni volunteers are not as motivated as we expected, we need to strengthen the Alumni Programme further so that the volunteers feel a sense of ownership about it, and we don’t have to rely on money or other material benefits as incentives to retain them.

Experienced something similar; got some ideas; know a way out? We would love to hear from you. Please share your experience with us.

Mentors undergo a refresher course at the Intensive Mentor Training

ECF conducted its periodic Intensive Mentor Training at the Forbes Marshall Welfare Centre in Kasarwadi from June 25 to 29, 2012. The training aimed to re-acquaint the AfE mentors with the concepts of violence and discrimination against women (VAW) and enhance their module delivery and facilitation skills. The number of participants in the training was 14, with 4 AfE mentors and 2 trainee mentors from ECF and 8 community health workers (CHWs) from Forbes Marshall.

Since the CHWs’ main work is on health, the training provided an introduction to the concept of violence and discrimination against women and its consequences on women’s health.

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The training modules were designed to build clarity on concepts like violence, discrimination, equity/equality, gender and patriarchy. Rupali Gupta and Ajim Inamdar from ECF and Meghana Marathe from Forbes Marshall facilitated the training through film and documentary screenings, games and discussions. ‘Umbartha’, a Marathi feature film on VaW; ‘India Untouched’, a documentary about untouchability; and an episode of ‘Satyamev Jayate’ on domestic violence were screened and discussed.

Other skill-enhancing modules such as facilitation skills to effectively deliver the AfE – Graduate and Alumni programmes, basic documentation, presentation, and computer skills were also included in the training.

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Pravin, a mentor, shared an important learning from this training: effective presentation. “I learnt not to argue about any issue unless I have evidence in the form of facts and figures. I need to question my own presumptions before making a statement, because often what we say actually comes from our internal conditioning and prejudices.”

For Sunil, another mentor, the module on HIV/AIDS and VAW by Meghana provided a new perspective. “I hadn’t thought about this before. Women are more prone to HIV due to men’s control over their sexuality and their secondary social status which provides limited access to healthcare. If they contract HIV, they are the ones who are blamed, even thrown out of the house and not given adequate care.”

The 5 day long training was also a break for the mentors who work mostly in the field. As Rahul puts it, “It was a relaxing and recharging time. We got to re-look at the concepts we deliver in our modules, and we got an opportunity to share and connect with the community health workers.”

New batch of graduates take action against street sexual harassment

The fourth cycle of ECF’s Action for Equality (AfE) Graduate Programme ended in mid-June with 113 young men graduating from 17 communities across Pune. The fifteen-week programme cycle, which began on February 16th earlier this year, was facilitated by ECF mentors to empower young men from the ages of 14-17 to become change-makers towards women’s empowerment in their communities.

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In the two weeks from June 11th to 21st, the graduates organised ‘Action Events’ in their communities to mark their graduation and take collective action to reduce violence and discrimination against women. The theme for the events was to address the issue of street sexual harassment in the graduates’ communities. The first week was for preparation and the second one for the actual events. In the first week, the graduates did a survey on women’s experiences of harassment. The aim of this survey was to analyse the number of harassment cases in their communities, and to establish the enormity and gravity of this problem in the minds of the graduates and through them, to the community. Unfortunately, the survey was not successful. (Find out more about it in the failure report)

Even then, the graduates and mentors decided to take up this issue. In the next week, they organised an event on street sexual harassment, which was divided into 2 parts:       

  • Graduates, with support from the mentors, explained what qualifies as harassment to the women. They clearly emphasised that acts like staring, wolf-whistling and passing comments to indecent gestures, pinching and grabbing qualify as harassment and are not normal. Graduates shared the nation-wide statistics on harassment, the reasons men harassed women (and other men), and simple steps women can take to deal with the harassers, an important one being not to blame oneself for it.
  • All graduates took a pledge in front of the women not to harass a woman ever again and oppose any incidence of harassment they came across.
    Pledge

After the presentation, the graduates were given certificates for completing the AfE programme.

The women who attended the event shared their approval of the presentation. They were more willing to share their experiences of harassment after the presentation and agreed to be more vocal about this issue, especially with members of their family. As one woman from Bibwewadi Ota put it, “Harassment is the grim reality that we cope with everyday. But women alone cannot put an end to it as the men who harass need to stop. ECF is doing good work to that end.”