Summer Issue - 2013

Smile Foundation


Taking boys and men along the path of gender equality

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 society.

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 in Communities.

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,

Md. Alam addressing young community men

when shown the way, take responsibility for their sexual and reproductive behaviour as well as their social and family roles.

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 42,000 women.

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.”

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