This will add to women’s movement
Dhaka: Dhaka consultation on engaging men and boys for gender equality and violence prevention was on its last leg. I was going through lots of questions and dilemmas – ideological, political, and strategic. I am actively associated with many organizations working for women. Therefore, I think myself as a part of women’s movement. The most important question for me was, is the women’s movement ready for this engagement? Will the men, ‘the culprit’, hijack movement against violence? Will the movement derail from its goal for gender just society? I thought it prudent to ask women, who are part of the movement and not to the men who are trying to engage themselves with movement.
Madhubala Nath, associated with United Nations Fund for women (UNIFEM) based in Delhi, answered some of these apprehensions. And she starts with straight words, “only those will feel threatened to such important engagements whose understanding of gender is problematic. If the movement feels threatened then we have to reclaim the real meaning of gender relation that involves both men and women.” She continues, “and this whole issue of men involvement has been settled many years ago. In Nairobi World Women Conference it was decided that work with men is very important and necessary.”
Maria Rashid, co-director of Islamabad, Pakistan based organization ‘Rozan” said, “We are a women organization and we are working with men for the last ten years. And this need was felt by the women’s movement itself.”
She has a different perspective and says, “Women organisations saw men only as a problem. Now they have to see them as a solution too.” Not only that, she said, men also have to see the violence against them in outside world to understand violence against women.
Dr. Rakshanda Parveen of SACHET from Islamabad, has different opinion, “I think there was not much done on this issue with women’s movement. There is a need to create linkages. It should be.” She said, “Yes, there will be little discomfort or opposition but we have to face it. Because engagement of both the streams is necessary for gender justice.”
Whereas, an activist of Indian women’s movement and Director of Madurai based organization Ekta, Bimla Chandrashekhar is more straightforward, “involvement of men is our need.” What is the need, she explains, “When we go to the community, women say we do not have power to do anything. Why don’t you talk to our men? Therefore, women have pushed us on this path.” She elaborates a little, “With our experience and growth we (women’s movement) only focused on violence against women. Now we say all issues are women issues. Women issues should be everyone’s issues.”
However Dr. Rakshanda points out, “we are not competing with women’s movement and rights. No, not at all. I believe in gender harmony.” She also cautions, yes there might be certain discomfort on the issue of allocation of resources.
Maria also has important point. She said, we have to be cautious. Otherwise, overemphasis on the male engagement will lead to disconnect with women’s movement. We should watch carefully, there should be no competition. We have to keep both connected to the movement.
Madhubala talks about initiative, “We will certainly talk to women’s movement to be part of this initiative. This will add to their work and enhance their work.” She ensure women groups that they do not have reason to feel threatened at all.
Vimala underlines an important disclaimer, “Not all men are the same. Not all are violent. They have burden of masculinity. Society also expects them to behave in certain masculine way. Society expects a man to be violent and legitimize it. Society also puts burden on men to be a bread earner. This creates lot of pressure on them. This also has to be understood.”
But will there be any positive outcome of all this initiatives… engagements…? Madhubala is quick to respond, UNIFEM has firm conviction that engagement with men and boys will give positive result in the direction of gender equality and violence prevention.” She gives an example that in prevention of HIV infection it is very necessary to involve men to help women. Engagement with men will prevent them from risky behaviour.
Maria has worked with men. She shares her experience, “we work with police personnel and we observed remarkable change in their attitude and behaviour towards women. So engagement is effective.”