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Women Empowerment: Men's Way!
Men to Stop Violence Against Women
Generally NGOs and other social organizations working towards women empowerment focus on the victims of gender violence and try to support and empower them so them they can protect themselves against further abuses in the future. It is rare to target the volcano that is constantly spitting smoke and ash and threatening the innocent people around it. But this is exactly what the MASVAW - short for Men's Action for Stopping Violence Against Women - does. MASVAW operates where the source of violence originates: inside men's head! And it does so with surgical precision!
MASVAW first sensitizes men to realize how their up-bringing in a patriarchal social atmosphere has shaped their behavior and beliefs towards women that is generally offensive or derogatory. To be fair, men are not inherently violent; it is their gender training that makes them behave in certain not-so-good ways towards women. Good news is that the gender definition (and hence, the gender behavior) can be changed - of course, with some efforts. Once, the MASVAW training makes them realize their own faulty behavior and thinking pattern in the light of patriarchal social set up, men begin to change from inside (and who can certify it better than their spouse!!). Then they are encouraged to take social action and make themselves known as men who will speak loudly whenever they see any violence against women (VAW) anywhere.
MASVAW has shaped itself as a movement (and a network), rather than an NGO or an NGO project. Hence, men from all walks of life join its network that also offers them support in their crusade to become catalysts of change in the society. Partnering with other like minded organizations, MASVAW is writing the script of change for men and helping them discover new and healthy ways of expressing their masculinity. Although the MASVAW ideology started ten years ago in the Uttar Pradesh State of India from the backyard of Sahayog - a well established name in the field of women empowerment - its wings are now defying state and national boundaries.
Violence Against Women in India
According to a recent United Nation Population Fund Report, around two-third of married Indian women are victims of domestic violence, as many as 70 per cent of married women in India between the age of 15 and 49 are victims of beating, rape or forced sex and more than 55 percent of the women suffer from domestic violence, especially in the Uttar Pradesh and other northern states of India.
VAW – A Shameful Human Rights Violation
Violence Against Women (or VAW) has been described as the “most shameful human rights violation” by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. What is most objectionable is the fact that in a large section of patriarchal Indian society, violence against girls and women has ceased to be an issue – it has become a fact of routine life and yet another symbol of male superiority that feeds and sustains patriarchal beliefs in the society.
The Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, 1994 (ICPD) has also pointed out: “Men play a key role in bringing about gender equality since, in most societies, men exercise preponderant power in nearly every sphere of life, ranging from personal decisions regarding the size of families to policy and program decisions taken at all levels of Government.” Accepting that there is historical inequality between the sexes, the ICPD emphasizes that the goal of gender equality cannot be achieved without active efforts to engage men.
The plight of traditional Indian women is comprehensively described by Dr Abhijit Das of the Center for Health and Social Justice of New Delhi during a consultation: “Caught in the mesh of feudal-patriarchal systems, women’s bodies are often the battle-grounds for many wars – between communities and clans, over inadequate dowry settlements or even in the matter of family planning. This daily violence takes its toll in the death and maiming of women in many ways – physical, psychological and emotional.”
What is Violence Against Women (VAW)?
“VAW is only the tip of the iceberg, underneath that exists discrimination of all kinds.” – B. K. Roy, MASVAW member
VAW may be the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world. The forms of violence include wife-beating, sexual abuse of female children, dowry related violence, rape including marital rape, traditional practices harmful to women, such as female genital mutilation, female foeticide and other methods employed to dominate women.
It also includes non-spousal violence, sexual harassment and intimidation at work and in school, trafficking in women, and violence perpetrated or condoned by the state through its policies. It includes controlling behaviors such as restricting access to family and friends, monitoring the woman’s movements, restricting access to resources and constant belittling, humiliation and intimidation.
A dominant part of the gender abuse takes place within the family. Since the abuser is most often a member of women’s own family, the acts mostly go unchallenged and unpunished. Traditionally men are brought up to believe that they have the right to control their wives’ behavior; women who challenge that right can and should be punished.
Online Oxford Dictionary defines masculinity as
"possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men:a need for men to prove their masculinity through domination over women"
No wonder men behave that way!!
Masculinity and Gender Violence
Since the traditional definition of a ‘man’ defines a man as someone who wields authority, leadership and power, the fear of losing their leadership position, of being left behind in the race by girls and women, makes boys and men find ways of controlling children and women.
VAW is most common where the concept of masculinity is linked to toughness, male honor, dominance and the “ownership” of women. Masculinity, macho, machismo or its counterparts in Hindi like ‘muchch’ (moustache) or ‘mardana’ (masculine in Urdu) are ideas which thrust on men the onus to be callous and uncaring, put on a swagger, act aggressively and be competitive. At the same time, these shut men out from experiencing some of the more fulfilling emotions which emerge from acts of caring and sharing.
Gender and Masculinity
What makes men effective?
As a trainer I’ve seen that men react negatively to us (women) when we talk of VAW, but when men talk, men are forced to listen; they can’t ignore their own role in violence any more. Men help the process of confronting VAW to move further. – Bindu Singh, Gramya Sansthan and WAMA, India
Need to Work with Men and Boys
“Since men are part of the problem, they must become part of the solution too. I am thankful to well-known feminist, Kamal Bhasin, who told me in 1997 that if you want to work on gender equality work with men.” – Satish Singh, MASVAW Convener, Delhi, India
“Since ours is a patriarchal society, men’s actions will be far more effective than women’s in fight against gender violence.” – A MASVAW Activist, Uttar Pradesh, India
While a number of initiatives exist in the area of women and girls’ empowerment, little attention has so far been given to build partnership with boys and men to promote gender equality. Although men appear to be the perpetrators of violence against women, they merely act according to the role imposed on them by the patriarchal nature of the society. Therefore, the real problem is the social constructs – adult’s attitudes and their input on boys’ socialization. When one carefully analyses it becomes evident that they are also a victim of the social system in ways more than one.
The rationale behind the need for a platform to address men is clearly voiced by Dr. Sanjay, a Reader in the Social Work Department of MGKVP University of Varanasi, India: “The work done by women’s organizations to help survivors of abuse is not enough as they do not manage to influence men, whose attitude towards violence really needs to change before any progress can be made.”
Similar sentiment is echoed by MASVAW activist Rajdev Chaturvedi, head of Gramin Punarnirman Sansthan of Azamgarh city in the Uttar Pradesh State: “In the new millennium both men and women have a vested interest in challenging the traditional gender roles of time-worn notions of masculinity that have proved dangerous to the well being of both sexes. Starting at a personal level, each individual needs to rework what it means to be a man.”
The MASVAW Movement
“MASVAW initiative was first of its kind in Asia which helped propagate such movements in many other countries. It also played an important role when the “Men Engage Global Alliance” was set up in 2004 at the international level.” – Satish Kumar Singh, MASVAW Convener, New Delhi, India
MASVAW men speak up for women, think about women, and work with women. Its members include youth in university and colleges, rural adolescents, school and university teachers, media persons, social activists, academicians, and local elected councilors in rural areas. It trains and supports them to make changes at a personal level, form groups to raise their voices against violence against women and gender inequality through agitations, campaigns, media reactions, public debates, discussions, workshops and seminars.
When men initially come to participate in the MASVAW programs, they often associate VAW with only wife-beating. But they soon begin to discover that it has many subtle dimensions that show up in many overt and covert ways.
“I always thought that violence against women only meant beating wife or having forcible physical relation with her. But now I realize that doing anything without her consent is also violence and so I now allow her to express herself.” – A MASVAW member in the Uttar Pradesh State of India
Changing The Course
What’s in it for Men?
Do the perpetrator men remain immune from the impact of violence against women? The answer is no.
Although women are the primary victim but the abuse creates a barrier which also denies men the opportunities for experiencing more fulfilling and deeper emotional relationships with the women they victimize. Therefore, VAW is unhealthy for them too.
What men gain from stopping violence against women? It makes their lives better too!
When men learn to treat their spouse with care, respect, sensitivity, and dignity it promotes long lasting, more fulfilling, and happier life. As a result they are less prone to depression, stress, and mental disorders. Besides, they get to spend more time with the family and kids resulting in better bonding. When family members provide opportunity for sharing, they need not look outside for mental/emotional support.
Why MASVAW Men Inspire?
“It was the intensities in the passion for the gender justice I felt in some of the core (MASVAW) members I knew from my earlier days of activism.” – Runu Chakroborthy, A well known Social Worker
There is no difference between MASVAW men’s words and actions – they first do and then talk. I also should be like them – implement first on me and then talk. – A new member, on how MASVAW men inspire others.
What makes MASVAW Effective?
MASVAW puts “Men” at the center of attention. It considers it important to address what goes on inside men’s minds – their thinking process, beliefs, ignorance, dogmas, misconceptions, and so on. Having a set of correct attitudes towards women and right understanding of women as human beings is what makes a “MASVAW man” who then becomes the harbinger of change in the society. They become role model for other men.
By putting “men” in the center, MASVAW also operates directly where the source of VAW lies. For most women’s groups working on women empowerment VAW is just a peripheral issue and they rarely focus on changing men’s intrinsic behavior. MASVAW, on the other hand, does not see it as only a “women’s issue,” but views it as resulting from men’s behavior pattern that has a social context. Therefore, it not only provides support to the victim but also works with men, the perpetrators of violence, to make them understand their own-selves better and how their wrong conceptions and faulty tendencies lead them to inflict violence on women, almost instinctly.
Significance of MASVAW's Work
Men's distorted gender definition does not just lead to gender violence - which is fairly obvious - it is also at the root of most social ills in the Indian society that has far deeper significance. The traditional denial of women control on their lives and bodies has led to a society where ills like child marriage and teenage pregnancies are far too widespread for the comforts of population dynamics, besides perpetuating health problems - particularly reproduction related. There is far too lop-sided distribution of work load with men merely ordering and women trained to comply as mere subjects.
If MASVAW's work is mainstreamed there is a strong possibility that women across the country would have a healthier and freer atmosphere to shape their lives where the larger issues of health, population, and poverty would suddenly cease to exist. It is here that the media can play a vital role provided media people are sensitized on the crucial issue of violence against women.
This article is based on the material provided by the Center for Health and Social Justice, New Delhi, India. I am not connected with MASVAW but fully endorse the wonderful work the network is doing on the issues of women empowerment and violence against women. For more information you may visit the MASVAW Blog and its parent's website.
You can also mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Or contact its secretariat at Sahayog: A-240 Indira Nagar, Lucknow - 16, Uttar Pradesh, India
International Actions to Stop Violence Against Women
- UN Treaties on Domestic Violence
There are various UN treaties to prevent violence against women, looking from different perspectives.
- WHO Fact Sheet on Violence against women
WHO fact sheet on violence against women providing key facts and information on the scope of the problem, health consequences, prevention, WHO response.
- WomenWatch: Resources on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women
WomenWatch is the United Nations Internet Gateway on the Advancement and Empowerment of Women. WomenWatch contains UN Information and resources on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women.