Ending the beatings, rapes, murders: where are India's men?

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 11 February 2014 17:09 GMT

Demonstrators shout slogans during a candlelit vigil after four men convicted of raping and murdering a 23-year-old woman in Delhi were sentenced to death in New Delhi. Picture September 13, 2013. REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal

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India has a dire record on violence against women, but few gender equality groups think of inviting men to join them, seeing men as the enemy rather than people capable of changing their ways

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Violence against women is widespread across the world. Globally, 35 percent of women have been beaten by an ‘intimate partner’ or suffered sexual violence at the hands of a non-partner in their lifetime, the World Health Organisation says.

The same research suggests that almost one third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner, and that some 38 percent of all murders of women are committed by their husband or boyfriend.

In India, the situation is little better. The International Centre for Research on Women reports that 37 percent of men surveyed admit to inflicting violence on their intimate partner.

Yet, while U.N. agencies, charities and the government run many programmes focused on promoting gender equality in this largely patriarchal country, few of them try to draw boys and men into the conversation, social activists say.

"From the Indian perspective, I would say that engaging boys and men to address gender equality is still not part of a mainstream approach used by civil society and government," says Abhijit Das, director of the Centre for Health and Social Justice.

"Men are still seen as the problem rather than the solution. As a result, gender justice is primarily seen just as a women's issue," he adds.


Das's organisation is one of only a handful in India that focuses on bringing men into the conversation on women's rights.

His initiative, MASVAW (Men's Action for Stopping Violence Against Women), began more than a decade ago and uses male activists to talk to boys and men in deeply conservative areas of India such as Uttar Pradesh.

MASVAW tries to provide men with a space to explore a different way of "being men" and to understand how equitable gender relations can benefit both men and women.

It encourages men to confront traditional attitudes regarding gender roles and become agents for change in their community.

It also helps men recognise the myriad forms of violence against women -  domestic violence, rape, trafficking, dowry murders and female foeticide - accept personal responsibility, and learn non-violent ways to manage their anger.

"MASVAW men operate from the principle that men, being the primary holder in patriarchy, also need to be the primary agent of change in establishing a gender just society," the MASVAW website says.

"They promote change in male-dominated norms in institutions such as the workplace, educational institutions and Panchayats (local village councils)."

Such approaches are still on the sidelines in India and many other countries, partly because the non-governmental organisations that engage with men say they face resistance from some hardline feminist groups.


"Many women's rights groups are saying 'Why now are we engaging men?'," says Lydia Mungherera, an activist who founded the "Mama's Club" in Uganda which supports HIV-positive mothers by engaging their male partners. 

"There has been this fear of competition for the limited resources out there for women's projects, and women's rights groups think that if we use funds to engage men, where will women fit in?"

Mungherera, however, says the two approaches can work in tandem. "As long as we are all looking at the same goal, then I think we can work together as partners."

Many women's organisations now support the idea of engaging men and there is a global coalition of charities called MenEngage which focuses on such projects, she says.

In 2009, the alliance held the first ever global symposium in Rio de Janeiro looking at how to engage men in issues such as gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive rights of women, homophobia, child abuse, sexual exploitation, trafficking and maternal and child health.

Over the last five years, members of MenEngage say their approach has gained ground and they now have over 1,000 members, including U.N. Women and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

"We came together as a network of NGOs to put a space and voice to the outrage that men who come from a pro-feminist background feel about the gender injustices in the world," says Gary Barker, Global Co-Chair of MenEngage and founder of Promundo , a charity which works in Brazil, the United States and Rwanda.

"We realise that patriarchy and these injustices require working together, trying to bring a joint advocacy voice around the outrage and finding meaningful opportunities to connect with the women's rights movement."

MenEngage plans to hold a second global symposium in New Delhi from Nov. 10 to 13 with the aim of bringing men to the forefront of the conversation on violence against women, and expects more than 600 participants. 

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