Playing on the Minds of Men!
Getting men to think about women sounds easy, but it is not. Having them talk sense about women is even tougher. Ask Ravi. At Vishayi village in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district he stands confronting a circle of eyes. Only men. Yet it’s the absent women who are the overwhelming presence.
Ravibegins by introducing the participants to each other. The men are small traders, cultivators, young students, drawn from Vishayi and other surrounding villages. They are here in their capacity as husband, father, brother, in-law.Ravipicks two men from the group. Each is given a task to complete, such as making a drawing or putting together a puzzle. One can go about it independently. The second must work only on instructions given by others, yet he is not allowed to speak a word and must remain silent all the time.
The first participant quickly finishes his assignment, while the other mute participant is confused and frustrated by the instructions on which he must depend.
For the gathered men this is the first taste: of what it can mean to be a woman. The games continue at this workshop for men in Barabanki, conducted byRavifrom the network MASVAW. The aim is to make men understand how domination and powerlessness affects decision-making abilities and self-esteem of women.
In the second game, a line is drawn on the floor. Two men stand behind it, one of them is pretending to be a woman. It’s like a game of snakes and ladders. WithRavireading out from flash-cards, the participants take ONE step-forward when positive things happen to them, and ONE step-backward when it’s negative.
Ravicalls out: ‘Celebrations! A boy is born,’ followed by ‘Gloom. It’s a girl.’ And so on. Leading them through the game of life – all the way from schooling for boys and girls to the meals they eat, from going out of home and meeting people to marriage and caring for the sick and elderly. Gradually the “man” moves ahead, leaving behind the “woman” who is clearly slowed down by domestic responsibilities, violence and discrimination.
A silence descends on the group as the ‘man’ easily outpaces the ‘woman’ to reach the ‘Finish’ line. The members look thoughtful, uncomfortable. Now is the time to sow seeds in their minds – to challenge mental stereotypes and set attitudes.
A participant who has been coming regularly for such workshops is 42-year old Dinesh Kumar Maurya. He tells the gathered newcomers that at first he walked out of the program following differences during discussions on the role of men and women at home. Initially he saw no reason why he should help out with domestic work, which he considered his wife’s work. Gradually, he says, his attitude changed. When he tells the gathering that now he has started chopping vegetables at home and bathing children to get them ready for school in the morning, he faces stiff resistance.
One member says, “If we put our wives on such a high pedestal it will go straight to their heads. They will refuse to do the housework.” Others fear they will be called “Joroo ka ghulam” (wife’s servant), if they are seen carrying out such lowly tasks. These views are countered by 26-year old Babulal Bharati, who says “it is better to do the right thing and have a wife who is happy and not tired all the time, rather than blindly follow social norms.”
Many of the men say it is the wife’s duty to serve her husband, particularly when she does not “work” outside like her man. When asked, the husbands say they do not consider the heavy household work to be “work” in the true sense. Drawing out such prejudices and countering them with alternate suggestions, the MASVAW members feel it frequently takes more than three to four meetings with a group for attitudes to start shifting somewhat.
Since the MASVAW activities started in Vishayi in partnership with the local NGO Vigyan Foundation, villagers say the awareness generated has had its effect. Earlier around a dozen cases of bride-burning were reported from here each year; this heinous crime has come down to just one or two cases a year.
In fact, men themselves are asked what the punishment should be for such crimes. Hanging to death, was the unanimous answer to bride burning. The suggested punishments for incidents like eve teasing and molestation included various forms of ostracism by the village, such as being excluded from village meetings and hookah-chillum sessions.
The Process of Change Begins!
(a) Ideological Change
At the outset of the process, often the deeply ingrained gendered mindset is jolted as can be seen from the following comments:
“I was shocked when the trainers talked about joining wife in the kitchen.” – A married youth in Pratapgarh
“When I heard MASVAW men for the first time, I thought they are talking nonsense.” – An unmarried young man from Jaunpur
But as the gender justice message begins to sink, men wonder as to how any change is really possible, but acknowledge the presence of VAW as well as its seriousness:
“How can we change these (patriarchal system), these have been practiced for so long since the days of our four fathers…. After attending the training I realized that these things happen in our families in daily life but we never pay attention.” — A married man, Pratapgarh
“These are serious issues.” – 26 year old unmarried PhD scholar, Jaunpur
Many begin to reflect on their own actions too and realize their faulty behavior. For instance,
“Brow beating and taunting are also kind of violence.” – A youth from Jaunpur
After discussions on sex and sexuality many married man also start to see the component of violence in forced sex or sex done without considering the partner’s desire. And as the association with MASVAW’s programs goes ahead, an overall sense of responsibility about one’s behavior germinates.
“The most important change I find in myself after involving with the program is an increased sense of responsibility. Earlier I used to ask wife and others for every single work. I used to throw my copies anywhere in the room after returning home from tuition and ask them to find it on the next day. I used to scold them when they didn’t get it quickly. I have reduced my anger to a great extent and don’t scold any one at home now. I have dealt with the tendency to ‘always establish my own point without considering what others are thinking.” — A Married man, Pratapgarh
The change in the ideology also inspires them to look back into the values and behaviors they have been practicing, and re-think the gender roles at home, various forms of violence in the society, ideas of real man etc. Many of them remember their “mistaken notion” of ‘women’s works’ and realized the fact that they were overburdening their mothers and other women and girls in the family. They now discover happiness in the time spent at home and helping the women folks in their domestic chores. It leads them to discover a new meaning of being a “real man” – one who respects everyone and treats every one with care and concern.
(b) Behavioral Change
Men start doing their own work and shift away from the habit of depending on women folks. They also begin helping women of the house in domestic chores like fetching water, washing clothes, cleaning, cooking etc. Consulting wives, mothers or sisters and not acting unilaterally as earlier is a healthy change admired by women. Anger management also becomes an important area of change for many men.
“If I can’t control my anger I just leave the place.” – A youth from Jaunpur, UP
Men also report about their abstinence from violence and other discriminatory behavior in the family and among peers. Young men and boys are often found arguing with peers on respecting girls and stopping eve-teasing, although they themselves might have been indulging in eve-teasing earlier.
The tendency of “wasting time with friends” gets replaced with a preference for “spending more time at home” is another commonly behavior change. Many also report a feeling of happiness over ones’ changing behavior. The gains of the change were seen in aspects of family life such as a happier relationship with family members. (“There is less tension between me and my wife.”)
“A thirty two year old teacher from Pratapgarh used to think that being a teacher he knew everything and used to scold everybody for their mistakes. He used to always go by the social norms and thought that it’s a women’s responsibility to look after men in the family. However, MASVAW’s program has made him realize that it was a mistake on his part to think in this way. He has become gentle in his talks with wife and siblings and participates in household tasks.”
– Process Report (2009 – 2011): Supporting Men’s Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women in Uttar Pradesh, A project supported through UN Trust Fund