The newspapers are teeming with stories
of violence against women. Abductions, rapes, murders, acid
attacks, honour killings, dowry deaths, female foeticide,
maternal mortality, the list goes on. There are questions
being asked on where we continue to go wrong as a nation and
Existence of legislations and laws alone
are not abetting the problem of violence against women and
girls. India is ranked as the worst place for women among
all the G-20 nations by a survey that not only looked at violence
but also empowerment.
There is a shift underway in the way
gender relations and women’s rights have been addressed
through government policies and civil society actions. This
relates to recognition of the role men and boys play in changing
mindsets and creating an enabling environment.
A country’s economic development
is not the only prerequisite for women’s empowerment
and equal gender rights. Both developed and developing nations
continue to struggle with various forms of discrimination
and violence against women.
In a society under transition from tradition
to modernity, the gender relations undergo numerous strains
and challenges. While women are joining workforce in big numbers
and charting new areas, the mindset that sees them through
stereotypes of the past continues.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment
can only be brought about by changing the mind-set of people
and breaking the societal norms to involve men in the process.
This also means that more men would have to start talking
to other men about need for change in gender attitudes.
A young man from a slum in East Delhi
is an inspiring example of how to break barriers and win men
for the cause of women’s rights. Mohammad Alam, 29,
is father of two girls and uses traditional inter-personal
and behaviour change communication methods to connect with
men in his community.
“I was blessed with two daughters
and as a father I felt the need to work towards making our
country a better place for daughters…I want them to
grow in a better and safer society,” says Alam explaining
his motivation for setting up a group of community facilitators
who work with him. They motivate community members and also
perform street plays with colloquial scripts, travelling across
Delhi and sensitising people on the need to make the society
a better place for girl children.
Alam’s change journey started with
a visit to local community centre of Swabhiman, Smile Foundation’s
national programme on women and girl child empowerment, in
New Ashok Nagar area three years ago. “When we become
living examples, it is easy to bring change,” Alam concludes.
Swabhiman programme enables women and
adolescent girls, from the lower socioeconomic strata in and
around Delhi, by empowering them to lead a life of dignity
through realisation of their self-esteem and inner potential.
It follows a tailor-made strategy called the ‘4 S Model’,
which is an acronym for four novel approaches, namely Seeking
Healthcare as a Behaviour, Support for Education, Supporters
in Men through Male Involvement, and Sustaining the Change
Learning from the experiences of past
interventions, Smile Foundation adopted an innovative model
of involving men in the intervention areas for creating an
enabling environment for women. Exclusive counselling sessions
are held with men to encourage them to be more participative
and actively involved towards the issues concerning maternal
and child health. Swabhiman’s experiences as well as
various research studies have demonstrated that men,
when shown the way, take responsibility for their sexual and
reproductive behaviour as well as their social and family
Men play a significant role in many aspects of social and
political life. Husbands often make decisions about family
planning, their wives’ economic activities and the use
of household resources for healthcare and education. These
decisions have a direct impact on the wellbeing and prospects
of the whole family. The care and support of an informed husband
improves pregnancy and childbirth and has a positive outcome
for maternal mortality. Supportive fathers play a larger role
in the nurturing of their children. Fathers with gender-equitable
and responsible attitudes towards family are more likely to
pass on those values to their sons and daughters, thus empowering
a whole generation.
Violence against women is one of the
most pervasive human rights violations across the world and
especially in India.
It is rooted in gender inequality and discrimination against
women. Any effort to eliminate such violence must focus on
the achievement of substantive equality between women and
men and on promotion and protection of women’s human
rights. The involvement of men and boys in the struggle to
transform gender relations and eliminate violence against
women is essential.
Ideas about masculinity are deep-seated in our society.
From an early age, boys are socialised into gender roles designed
to keep men in power. And they grow up believing that dominant
behaviour towards girls and women is part of being a man.
Since gender stereotypes are pervasive and operate throughout
a lifetime, a life cycle-based approach is required to transform
the way men and boys socialise in their surroundings - home,
education, workplace, economy, etc. Life cycle-based approach
should start with early childhood education and care. Here,
mothers have a crucial role in educating boys in how to treat
their female partners.
While we continue to work on the strategy of engaging men
and boys on gender issues, the aspect of women’s economic
and social empowerment cannot be left behind.
An empowered woman contributes to the productivity of her
whole family, both economic and social. The astounding success
story of Shri Mahila Griha Udyog
Lijjat Papad is a classic example of harnessing the women’s
strength in the economic realm. The brainchild of seven semi-literate
Gujarati housewives from Bombay, the enterprise was started
with a seed capital of Rs. 80. Today, Lijjat has a turnover
of Rs. 500 crore, providing dignity and employment to over
Research has shown that gender inequality in areas of reproductive
health, women’s empowerment and labour market participation
impairs human development as well as the country’s development.
According to 2013 Human Development Report (UNDP), “gender
inequality is especially tragic not only because it excludes
women from basic social opportunities, but also because it
gravely imperils the life prospects of future generations.”
Since India ranks 132 out of 187 countries on the gender inequality
index, as per the UNDP report, it is especially important
for the country to take its men along the path of fostering
gender equality and women’s empowerment.
To become a global power India will have to place gender
equality at the centre of its development policies. World
Bank President Jim Yong Kim reiterated this in unequivocal
terms during his recent visit to India and said: “If
you (India) want to grow economically, you’ve got to
focus on gender equality.”