ECF’s young community leaders speak up, speak loud

Every conversation with the young graduates and community volunteers brings into sharp relief the deep-rooted process of change that ECF’s Action for Equality has begun in these communities.

Gourish Swami

Goureesh Swami

Almost-18-year-old Goureesh from Prem Nagar, who has recently become a volunteer leader after graduating from the programme, shares his experience and thoughts with the enthusiasm of a fire-brand. “I will be honest and say that my initial interest to join the AfE programme was because I had heard that they talk about ‘women’ and that sex education was also in the mix,” he says with a short laugh, “but after I started attending the weekly classes, I genuinely began to appreciate what was being taught. This completely changed me as a person. ECF taught me to look at women, all women, with respect.”

Goureesh vouches for not only changed perspectives and mindset – he has put it into action when he had the opportunity. He protested against the dowry that was being taken for his uncle’s marriage. He took his mother’s help to convince the family to finally settle for an agreement, where the family of the bride-to-be only paid for half of the expenses for the wedding. This is a huge step forward in a society where taking a dowry is considered so normal that parents begin to save up for it the moment a girl is born into the family.

 

Abhishek with his mother

Abhishek Misal with his mother

Abhishek is now 18 years old and has been a very active leader/volunteer for a while now, having gained the respect and support of all his peers. The younger boys in the community look up to him as a role model. He currently is doing Mechanical Engineering at Bharatiya Vidya Peeth (BVP). He finds pleasure in advocating change and passing on his thoughts/ideas to the boys in his direct circle of influence.

“All 14 year olds are in the phase of discovery and can grasp things very easily…want to learn something new, so giving them a chance to get into the ECF course at that time is the best thing that can happen,” he says with a smile of sage wisdom. “There was a time when the mothers used to just say that their sons were displaying changed behaviour at home, but now we can see the evidence too. I have seen our boys doing their share of work at home, changing roles without caring about people’s perceptions and doing all the stuff they didn’t before.”

He added, “I have benefited from these activities and I want to support ECF in taking this work forward.”

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ECF mentors share the inside story

Working with boys and men to prevent gender-based violence is a relatively new approach. Even though it seems a mammoth challenge, our “Special Seven” team of mentors breaks it down into some practical, bite-sized steps. In a candid discussion, they highlight a few of the things that worked really well, challenges that cropped up, and solutions we developed.

ImageMentor interacting with volunteer leaders from Action for Equality Programme

Mentor interacting with volunteer leaders from Action for Equality Programme

Challenges faced and lessons learnt:

  1. Gender equality is not a priority within the communities we work in. Completing education, securing a job, earning a decent living, trying to get the family out of poverty, etc. is a priority. So, convincing boys and their parents to encourage participation is a constant challenge. Consistent dialogue is the only solution. When the Mentors face this continued resistance, they spend extra time with those parents to highlight the advantages of the programme for their sons and outline the positive behavioural changes they can expect to see. This effort has more often than not, turned the situation around!
  2. Keeping the boys engaged enough to come back each week is one of the biggest challenges we face. While the age group we work with (14-17) is the best in terms of being mouldable both in perspectives and behaviour, the attention span and interest levels need constant renewing.
  3. The content of the sessions and the method of delivery should be made extremely engaging for the participants. Lectures or one direction trainings, definitely do not work. Sessions must be designed based on the principle of activity based learning. We constantly update the content, the tools we use for delivery and our mentors’ facilitation skills, based on our experience in the communities. Our current curriculum is available on request and the next version will be ready for sharing by end of this year.
  4. Availability of space in the community to conduct the sessions has often been a challenge. Conducting the sessions in community owned venues has its own benefits but often these centres are being used for several activities. So, in every community we have now identified two or three alternative spaces. Mentors have built a strong rapport with community members that allows them to have options – to an extent where the parents have often offered their home as space for conducting sessions.
  5. Working with boys cannot happen in isolation. Understanding and involving the various influential groups within a community is important. Parents are one of the most influential of these groups. However, getting parents involved in the programme is a challenge. When we tried to break it down, it had mainly to do with the need to build trust amongst them towards the youngsters and us as an organisation; and finding a suitable time for all to meet and take action.

The mentors’ repertoire of practical tips:

  1. The best way to get the boys is to go where they hang out – at the playground, in the mitra mandals (youth groups) or other addas (hangout areas). We play a game of football or cricket with them, perhaps grab a chai and talk about general stuff. We cannot move ahead and talk about anything unless they begin to see us as a friend or even a brother.
  2. We have learnt to create the “safe space” these young impressionable boys are looking for – the place where they can express themselves without fear of being judged, the space where they can share their personal stories and struggles. In our experience, there is no substitute for this. This is one of the main reasons the boys keep coming back every week.
  3. ‘Building rapport’ is a big task but involves very simple things – call the boys up on their birthdays, chat over chai, listen to what they share, remember small details, hang out where they feel comfortable, give them the space they need and be as non-judgemental as you possibly can …in short build a relationship with them that they value.
  4. In order to keep the boys engaged, motivated and responsive, it is important to keep the tone, language and content of the sessions to be non-accusatory and open, which further emphasises the “safe space” concept that is used in all communication.
  5. It is extremely important for us to understand how the programme will benefit the boys. We need to understand and articulate that boys need to be part of the programme not for somebody else but for themselves – so that they can have happy and healthy relationships. Also, we need to make these benefits very tangible. When designing the curriculum and activities, we keep this mind.
  6. Sometimes when we face continued resistance from parents, we spend extra time with them, to highlight clearly the advantages of the course on their sons and outline the positive behavioural changes they can expect to see. One of the highlights that really scores a point is when we are able to pick out a particular real-life example of one of the boys they know and highlight the changes that are obvious in him. This effort has more often than not, turned the situation around!

The ECF Mentors are often called farishteys (angels from another world) by the boys and alumni in the communities. While this is true in many ways, the mentors are aware that each day and each initiative requires patience, time and effort; each boy who stands up and speaks out against gender based violence and discrimination is the sweet taste of victory!

‘We must engage boys and men as part of the solution’

In April, ECF had the opportunity to participate in the Catalyst Conference: Igniting leadership to end sexual violence’ organised by EmancipAction and The Ananta Centre. Rujuta Teredesai, Co-Founder and Executive Director was a panelist for the session ‘Men’s attitudes: Where do they come from’. She also hosted a separate catalyst session during the conference on working with boys and men.

The Catalyst Conference was envisaged as a two day, interactive exploration of the issues with some of the highest ranking experts in the field of women and violence. The objective of the conference was for participants to gain a nuanced understanding of the key drivers and challenges associated with addressing the violence, and also to have the opportunity to participate in the development and execution of some very pragmatic and cutting edge solutions.
It was organized with the goal to inspire and equip a cadre of India’s top young leaders to become catalysts of change in their workplaces as they engage in and seek support for practical solutions to eliminate sexual violence against women and children in this country.
During the session, Rujuta highlighted the work that ECF has been involved in, drawing attention to the organization’s mission – “to ensure that every man in India has the opportunity to study and practise gender equitable behaviour to end violence and discrimination against women and girls”. The discussion revolved around the practical side of the approach of working with boys and men. The emphasis was on the need for widespread adoption of the approach and the role practitioners, funders and policy makers will need to play.

The Catalyst Conference was a unique platform that opened the doors for a more collaborative approach and strategy, where different organizations can partner together and each find a role in the endeavour to end violence and discrimination against women.

I’m not celebrating because…

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On this International Women’s Day, I’m not celebrating because, I know that it is not yet the time for celebration, there is long way to go.

March 8 is an important day in the calendar. I understand we need to celebrate the journey, we need to celebrate the achievements, but we also need to recognize we have a long way to go.

It has been long that women are still struggling to come out of the gender stereotypes and social norms. It has been long that a lot of people, organizations and government bodies across the globe are working for women’s empowerment. Yet, even today we are not in a position to say that women are treated equally, women are treated with respect and all kinds of discrimination and violence against women are over or even reduced. The fact is women still do not have equal access, rights and opportunities, women are still disrespected and there is still existence of violence and discrimination against women whether at home or outside.

There is a lot of work to be done.

This is essentially why, I do what I do today at Equal Community Foundation. I’m doing my bit to contribute towards the solution.

How about you? What are you doing?

– Anjana Goswami, Programme Manager – Action for Equality

प्रश्न समजून घेणे ही प्रश्न सोडविण्याच्या दिशेने पहिली पायरी ..!

इक्वल कम्युनिटी फाउंडेशन आपल्या एक्शन फॉर इक्वलिटी या कार्यक्रमाच्या माध्यमातून विषमतेवर आधारित पुरुषी मानसिकता बदलण्याचा प्रयत्न करत आहे. १५ आठवड्यांच्या प्रशिक्षण कार्यक्रमाच्या शेवटच्या दोन आठवड्यामध्ये यातील सहभागी मुले काही कृती कार्यक्रम (Action event) करत असतात. नुकत्याच संपलेल्या आठव्या प्रशिक्षण कार्यक्रमानंतर “लिंगभाव आणि प्रसारमाध्यमे” याविषयावर कृती कार्यक्रम करण्यात आला.

For an English translation of this blog article please click here.

कोणताही प्रश्न सोडविण्यासाठी, अगोदर तो प्रश्न आहे याची जाणीव झाली पाहिजे. त्याचप्रमाणे आजच्या नव्या पिढीतील पुरुषांनी स्त्रियांसोबत होणा-या भेदभाव आणि हिंसेच्या विरोधात उभे राहावे, कृती करावी असे वाटत असेल तर अगोदर त्यांच्या स्वतःच्या आसपासच्या वातावरणात असणारे या प्रश्नाचे अस्तित्व आणि स्वरूप त्यांना जाणवले पाहिजे.

समाजावर प्रसारमाध्यमांचा खूप मोठा प्रभाव पडत असतो. त्यातून लोक अनुकरण करत असतात. मात्र आजकाल सर्वच प्रसारमाध्यमांमध्ये स्त्री आणि पुरुष यांना लिंगभेदावर आधारित चौकटीत अडकविण्याचा प्रयत्न होताना दिसतो. या कृतीकार्यक्रमाच्या माध्यमातून मुलांनी वर्तमानपत्रे, जाहिरात, चित्रपट, गाणी, टी.व्ही. मालिका यामध्ये दिसणारी विषमता शोधण्याचे, समजून घेण्याचे प्रयत्न केले.

ब्लॉग

अशा अनेक मुद्यांवर मुलांनी सविस्तर चर्चा करून वर्तमानपत्रे, मासिके यातून कात्रणे काढली. त्या कात्रणांच्या सहाय्याने सुंदर कोलाज पोस्टर्स बनवली. या प्रशिक्षण कार्यक्रमाच्या सहभागाबद्दल दिल्या जाणा-या प्रमाणपत्र प्रदान कार्यक्रमात उपस्थित असणा-या पालक आणि वस्तीतील इतर लोकांसमोर त्याचे सादरीकरण करून चर्चा घडवून आणली. इतकेच नाही तर, आपण स्वतः कधी हिंसा आणि भेदभाव करणार नाही आणि इतरांना करू देणार नाही, याबद्दल आपल्या मित्रांमध्ये आणि समाजात जनजागृती करू अशी सर्वांनी प्रतिज्ञा घेतली.

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Young men from the AfE programme discussing posters, taking the pledge and receiving certificates. For more pictures from the action event click here.

आम्हाला याची पूर्ण जाणीव आहे की, केवळ अशा पोस्टर्स आणि चर्चा यातून लगेच आणि फार मोठा बदल होणार नाही; तशी अपेक्षाही नाही. मात्र या निमित्ताने स्वतःच्या घरात आणि आसपास राहणा-या मुलींच्या, स्त्रियांच्या आयुष्यातील भेदभाव आणि हिंसा याबद्दल १८ वस्त्यांमधील २०२ मुलांच्या मनात काही प्रमाणात जाणीव निर्माण झाली. ही निर्माण झालेली जाणीव आणि त्या जाणीवेतून या लिंगभेदाबद्दल लोकांशी चर्चा घडवून आणण्याचा त्यांनी केलेला छोटासा पण महत्वपूर्ण प्रयत्न, हा समतेवर आधारित समाजाच्या उभारणीच्या दिशेने पडलेले एक मोलाचे पाऊल असेल, हे मात्र नक्की !

– Shrikant LaxmiShankar | Programme Development Associate | Equal Community Foundation

The first step towards solving the problem is understanding it!

Equal Community Foundation is working towards changing the attitudes and behaviours of young men through the Action for Equality (AfE) program. In the last two weeks of this 15-week training program, young men participate in Action Events.

The most recent action event after the completion of 8th cycle of the AfE program was based on the issue of Gender Discrimination & Media.

To solve any problem, we need to understand it first. Similarly, if men want to stand against violence and discrimination, if they want to act against it, then they need to first realise the existence and nature of this problem in their own environment.

The impact of media on society is huge. Nowadays, media tries to attract women and men into a frame based on gender discrimination. Through the medium of the AfE action events, our young men analysed the inequality reflected in newspapers, advertisements, films, songs, television serials and other kinds of media.

Here are some examples discrimination against women reflected through media-

  • In almost all advertisements, we see that is a woman has backache because of doing household chores, she is given an ointment or a tablet to make her feel better. Is the responsibility of others in the household over by doing this? Instead of talking about the need of same allocation of work, the media teaches us that using an ointment or a tablet will help women quickly finish all her chores (sometimes by flying in the air too?) What type of message we are giving the community through this?
  • In multiple advertisements for shaving blades, shaving creams even refreshments women are ‘displayed’. Is this really necessary?
  • There are multiple songs like ‘sheila ki jawani’, munni badnaam hui, paisa fek tamasha dekh, nachengi pinki’ which are humiliating and insulting to all women. In songs like ‘Tu chiz badi he, mast mast’ women are described as a ‘chiz’ which basically means ‘an object’. Really? Is a woman a mere ‘object’ for us?
  • In films, why are actresses only used for entertainment? Why are ‘rowdy’ (careless) or ‘dabang’ (strong) characters associated with actors coming to the rescue of actresses?
  • Why are women from the same television serials always wearing expensive saris while working in the kitchen? Or standing helpless before God? Or always fighting and conspiring?

Our young men did a detailed search on many such issues and collected cut outs from various newspapers and magazines.  With the use of these cut outs they created poster collages. During the distribution of certificates at the Action Event, they presented these posters and had discussions with the parents and other community members present at the event. That’s not all; they even pledged not to be a part of any kind of violence and discrimination henceforth and to encourage their friends to do the same.

We are completely aware that posters and discussions like these will not bring about major change in the attitudes and behaviours of these young men. We don’t expect it to! However, because of such programmes, we are able to create awareness regarding the issue in the minds of some 202 children from 18 communities in Pune.

The realisation and because of the realisation, a small but important effort taken by the young men to discuss gender discrimination in their community, is an essential step to provide the direction for the establishment of a community based on equality!

Mistakes made, lessons learnt

We are starting the new year with new challenges, revised priorities and a stronger team. In this new year, we will continue to share with you some of the lessons we have learnt on an ongoing basis. We urge you to ask us questions, share feedback and share our findings with your friends and colleagues.

In this section, we have highlighted two of our lessons learnt in the last few months.

1. Emphasise on the element of ‘critical thinking’ in the programme curriculum

One of the most critical tools for implementation of Action for Equality Programme is the curriculum. Curriculum development is an ongoing process and today we are using the 4th version of the curriculum. We have invested a lot of resources to design, develop and strengthen the curriculum.

However, one element that we haven’t emphasised on enough is the element of ‘critical thinking’.

Over the coming months the Action for Equality Programme team will be focussing on embedding this element in each and every module of the Graduate Programme as well as the Alumni Programme. Our objective will be to ensure that we provide inputs to the men who are part of the programme to develop skills including observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation and explanation.

We expect the men to attend our sessions, learn, unlearn and apply what they have learnt to inform their behaviour. This includes them being able to:

• Recognize problems, to find workable means for meeting those problems

• Gather pertinent information

• Recognize unstated assumptions and values

• Comprehend and use language with accuracy, clarity, and discernment

• Interpret data, to appraise evidence and evaluate arguments

• Draw reasonable conclusions

• Put to test the conclusions and generalizations at which one arrives

• Reconstruct one’s patterns of beliefs on the basis of wider experience

• Render accurate judgments about specific things and qualities in everyday life

We recognise that this is step–by-step process. This means that we do not have to wait for them to take action at the end of the graduate programme, but the process can start from the day they join the programme.

2. Let’s change the conversation

In this section, we talk about a ‘change’ that we as an organisation have gone through over the last few years. Change that is reflected in our approach, principles, model, curriculum, communications; and plans for the future. Change that demands us to look at men as agents of change rather than current or future perpetrators; change that demands us to believe in the fact that men WANT to change; change that demands us to stop pointing fingers and recognise our role in raising men.

These points are further elaborated in the blog that we recently released called ‘Let’s change the conversation’ . Now, our job is also to ensure that the people we work with – our beneficiaries, partners, supporters, well wishers, etc are on the same page with us.

– Rujuta Teredesai | Co-founder | Equal Community Foundation