MASVAW puts Men at the Center
“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.
“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. To name them one name that first comes to my mind is Rahul whom I knew from the days when we were spending a lot of time on the streets of Delhi and harboring a lot of dreams in our young heart to be able to make this world better and sensitive.” – Runu Chakroborthy, A feminist and well-known Social Worker
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. Therefore, the activities revolve bringing about achieving these changes in men.
By putting “men” in the center, MASVAW 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 works with men, the perpetrators of violence, to make them understand their own-selves better and how their wrong conceptions and patriarchal tendencies lead them to inflict violence on women, almost instinctly. In addition, it also offers a supportive hand to the victim through social action.
The MASVAW campaign aims at providing men with different ways of expressing masculinity, increasing their awareness of different forms of VAW and motivating them to shun violence, protest against violence, provide new role models, and support victims. The network also works with men to promote responsible partnership between the married couples to improve women’s reproductive health and rights – dominant men imposes their ignorance too on women.
MASVAW’s strategy is two fold: First set the process of change in men, and then encourage them to take social action.
Sensitizing, Educating, and Supporting Men
“Initially I thought I would only work with others. I didn’t think I wanted to change myself but later realized if I don’t make change within myself first there’s no way I can bring change in others.” – A MASVAW activist
An important component of MASVAW is the attention it pays to men’s issues. While most groups focus on providing support services for women, men rarely get assistance in the form of care or counseling and they hardly have access to accurate relevant information. MASVAW provides a safe space for the boys and men to express their emotions. It allows them to discuss their problems openly which then leads them to examine wider social issues, such as the changing roles of men and women. The simple exercise of communicating with men often led to an improvement in their behavior.
The importance of looking after emotional needs of men is most emphatically outlined at a MASVAW discussion in Gorakhpur, organized by the Saraswati Devi Shiksha Samiti Inter College, where the participants decided to set up a ‘Crying Club’ for men, where they can cry or discuss emotional issues with other men the way women do, free of social pressures and without the fear of being laughed at.
Educating Men on Men’s Reproductive Health
MASVAW also discovered that men hold a lot of myths and misconceptions about their own sexual health. Their fears and concerns deeply affect their behavior with their partners. Ignoring men’s needs for reproductive health information and services was seen as having a detrimental effect on women. Unless men are also educated about the need, for instance, to practice safe sex and prevent unwanted pregnancies, healthcare services and related information to his partner may not be effective in any meaningful way. If men refuse to cooperate in changing their sexual behavior, women’s health would continue to be jeopardized.
Discussions reveal that men’s own reproductive health needs are rarely addressed by anyone. Therefore, education about condom-use and encouragement to undergo vasectomy, for instance, are topics sometimes taken up at the men-only workshops. Men are encouraged to take the responsibility for safe sex, rather than putting the onus on the women. They are also told to seek immediate and effective treatment for infections like STD and avoid passing it on to their wives.
Educating Men on Women’s Reproductive Health
Another important aspect has been the focus on women’s reproductive health system men’s workshops system, about which they apparently knew very little. For instance, their understanding of menstruation is often very sketchy. How educating men on this vital area helps, is explained by MASVAW’s convener Satish Singh: “Exploring men’s knowledge, attitudes and behavior in the areas of sexuality and reproduction and the manner in which they deal with sexual relationships, all contribute in finding ways for couples to negotiate safety and satisfaction in their sexual relationship.”
Help Remove Ignorance and Cultural Beliefs
Men sometimes express complete ignorance of the implications of some of the cultural beliefs and practices they enforce. In some cases they reveal they have blindly followed social expectations, enacting certain roles because they know of none other. With the help of MASVAW initiated discussions, men also recognize the psychological stress they take on themselves by being unable to publicly express the “gentler emotions”. For instance they are unable to express concern for their woman partner, as it would be taken as a sign of weakness. They also feel compelled to stay away from ‘matters of the woman’s domain’ because of family and peer-pressure. In fact, not being expected or permitted to participate in pregnancy, child-birth or post-partum care can be difficult for their own emotional needs.
The core idea is for men to stop discrimination against and rights violation of women, and adopt new supportive roles, responsibilities and behavior. To promote this MASVAW focuses on the formation of an “alternate” male identity, emphasizing its effect in the exercise of power in men-women relations, the dynamics of a couple’s negotiation and decision-making, strategies for resolving disagreement and how men should relate to women’s reproductive health issues.
2. Encouraging Men to Take Social Action
Apart from gender sensitization training to help men bring about personal changes in their lives, MASVAW has also built a cadre of committed men’s groups in towns and villages who actively follow-up cases of crimes against women and make efforts to get justice for victims.
Sanjay Pandey, head of the Chandrakanta Gram Udyog Seva Sansthan, a MASVAW partner in Gorakhpur, for instance, is involved in helping out rape victims. A recently concluded successful intervention by his team was the case of a poor six-year old Dalit girl who was sexually assaulted by her maternal uncle. When the medical examination took place the doctor insisted the girl’s wounds were due to an external injury. Following an intervention by the MASVAW team, the doctor re-examined the girl and acknowledged that it was indeed a case of rape. The team collected money from the public to fight her case and stood by the girl and her mother till the rapist was put behind bars. MASVAW is also involved in giving help to a woman in Gorakhpur whose arm and leg were amputated following the torture she underwent for resisting her father-in-law’s advances. Money is being raised for her medical treatment and the fitting of prosthetics, and support provided in dealing with lawyers and the police.
Pandey says, “In one year of our activities we have made a lot of progress. People now know that whenever they are in any kind of trouble and need help, they can rely on the MASVAW network to support them.” The NGO is now trying to set up youth organizations in the Panchayats (councils) of villages neighboring Gorakhpur. The aim is to motivate youth to take up cudgels against child marriage, dowry-harassment and domestic violence in their villages.
An unmarried young man from Jaunpur feels highly sensitized on women VAW and says, “Whenever we hear about any domestic violence case, we intervene without thinking who the victim is.”
Santosh Kushwaha of Banda is not only highly satisfied with the positive changes in relationship with wife and other family members but has inspired others too. For instance, he encouraged the principal of a local inter college to change his abusive behavior towards women. Likewise a rich man who had strained relationship with wife and was staying away from her began relating to her in a positive way. Another success story that he related is from Late Kamta Prasad Shastri Mahavidyalay in Badausa town of Banda district in Uttar Pradesh where, due to MASVAW groups intervention, the post of vice president got reserved for ladies only.
Rajdev Chaturvedy of Azamgarh narrated the following story of transformation in the life a woman from affluent background, in a telephonic interview.
A postgraduate woman was working as a teacher in a private institute of her father-in-law where her husband was the principal. Despite the strong educational background of the family she was a victim of gender violence at the hand of her husband and in-laws. She was contemplating suicide when she got hold of a pamphlet distributed during a MASVAW campaign. [Interestingly, the (Pad-Yatra) campaign was earlier started from her house!!] She got in touch with the group and narrated her sorry situation.
When some group members contacted the family her husband and father-in-law first became furious and then concerned about family reputation in the society. While Rajdev never met the woman nor contacted any male member of the family but soon things got sorted out in the family. Now the woman feels highly grateful to MASVAW members, particularly Rajdev, that their intervention saved her life. Rajdev, however, gives credit to the woman for the courage to speak out openly against the violence which created a social pressure that resulted in behavior change of the male members of her family.
In a rape case in Pratapgarh, the victim was not making any complain to the police because of fears of defamation. The youth group intervened and talked to the girl. They talked to some important local people and lodged a complaint. The culprits were taken into custody. The group then tried to help the women get government benefits meant for single women. In another case of rape of a widow in Fatehpur, the youth group intervened and supported her in lodging complaint.
Here are some more examples of how MASVAW men take social actions:
- When women were not given adequate and timely payment for their MGNREGA works, men’s groups in some villages of Pratapgarh intervened. The youth group in Redigarapur village intervened in a similar situation and complained to concerned authorities. They persistently followed up until the panchayat (local council) leader was finally compelled to pay the wages properly.
- In Aurahi village, some boys from other villages used to tease girls in the village mela organized every year. The Aurahi youth group, along with some other adults, intervened in the situation and tried to persuade the teasers. But when the boys didn’t listen they finally lodged a police complaint.
- Youth groups in Pratapgarh facilitated admission of children in school – they convinced authorities to exempt fees of some poor girls and encouraged some parents to send their girls to school. Youth groups in some villages educated widows and other single women about various government schemes designed for their benefits. Some even contacted Panchayat and other officials and ensured that the needy women get the benefits of widow pension or old age pension schemes.
- A young teacher from Pratapgarh advocated and arranged for girls’ toilet in his school as he felt that the girls were facing problems in absence of a toilet.
- Another youth from Jaunpur stood against relatives when a widow was not allowed to enter in the kitchen in a marriage ceremony.
- Susheel Yadav from Jaunpur went against his family when he failed to persuade the family to allow his sister for higher education. He took his sister to the city and arranged for her admission in a degree college. Then he got her a bicycle and trained her to ride it. He has also helped this sister and some other community women to form a group and support other girls who want to study.
Bicycle rallies by men in Azamgarh on Women’s Day and media campaign and street plays in Gorakhpur have been organized in support of women’s issues. In the village of Birsapur Khurdin Pratapgarh district, a youth club set up by MASVAW successfully prevented setting up of a liquor shop near a primary school.
In several towns MASVAW members have sensitized existing citizen’s groups and local vigilance groups on the issue of violence. Professionals such as doctors and lawyers have been told to bring to notice incidents of violence against women that they come across in the course of their practice, and shopkeepers and businessmen around crowded places like railway stations have been asked to report cases of violence. Medical shop owners in Gorakhpur have been motivated by MASVAW members not to sell expired or banned women’s contraceptives.