Women Empowerment? Violence Against Women? MASVAW? I am Confused

Violence Against Women 

“VAW is only the tip of the iceberg, underneath that exists discrimination of all kinds.” – B. K. Roy, MASVAW member

Violence against women (VAW) in India has far wider significance than it is normally accepted by those who are working for women empowerment. It certainly is an unacceptable form of male dominance in a patriarchal society. It not only forces women to stay within the boundary lines that are drawn by their male counterparts, they way they desire, but also often leaves the victims shattered mentally. Whether hardships of women should or should not be talked about beyond the home boundary, whether it should be seen only within the framework of human rights violation and make the guilty (violators) pay for it, or whether it should be seen as an unwanted social ill with wide ranging consequences for the society and nation can be a matter of both choice and perspective.

All gender based violence stem from only source – a faulty or out of place definitions of gender roles imposed by the society. It becomes a tradition if followed over a period of time. So patriarchy has deep rooted tradition in India– which I am sure historians can explain in many ways – and manifests itself in various ways, with women at the receiving end.

So, What is the Ideal Remedy?

Youth on Path of Change

Attack the problem right where it starts – no one can dispute that. The problem is not going to disappear if the treatment remains cosmetic or merely symptomatic. Now you see why women empowerment when defined only in terms of providing relief to the victim, or making them more aware of their “rights” fail to provide effective solution. Of course, there are situations where it works. “Empowering the victim” is certainly a logical concept; it is necessary but not sufficient without changing men.

“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

How about targeting the source of the problem of gender abuse – right inside the heads of men? Yes, this is where energy should be concentrated for the best efficiency. Gender discrimination or its extreme manifestation as violence against women is all due to unhealthy and asynchronous concept of definition of “male gender.” Why a man acts the way he does is decided by the way he thinks, his attitudes, his understanding of what is “woman”, and his notion of how he should relate to women – in nutshell, whatever goes on inside his gray matter by way of mental activity.

“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

There is, however, another dimension to his behavior; it is peer or societal pressure. Even if he somehow understands “rights” and believes they are sacrosanct, yet is not skillful or strong enough to stand his ground and not behave against his own beliefs. For example, elders expect his to keep his wife confined inside the home but he lacks courage to stand for “rights” of his wife, or even if he would like his wife to go out and participate in social activities and can’t resist pressure of other men.

So, the remedy is amply clear: Fix the “mental software” and also “empower men” to enable them to live a different life based on the new and healthy set-of-codes where gender based discrimination simply does not arise.

In layman’s words it means: Make men sensitive about not-so-healthy gender definitions and provide him support so that he can live according to his new understanding.

What is MASVAW?

The word MASVAW of course does not exist in English dictionaries. It is neither some scholarly word boasting of Greek or Latin connections nor yet-another-acronym from the United Nations (to confuse less-than-scholarly people!).

It is a network of ground-to-earth people (mostly men) who have geared up to Stop Violence Against Women! The six English alphabets in MASVAW mean Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women. They prescribe and propagate the “ideal remedy” described above. They first apply some anti-virus vaccine against the virus of “patriarchal mindset” through their training workshops, discussions, and debates – it offers new set of instructions to their mental software. And the men start behaving with care and concern towards women folks around.

MASVAW also offers a supportive platform for men to share and vent their feelings and frustrations. (You know what happens to a pressure cooker without vent valve!!)

The supportive environment also helps them withstand social and family pressure and continue life with new changed behavior. Then slowly these men become role model for others to follow; this is how the process of change begins. This change no longer remains inside home boundary but shows up everywhere – neighborhood, society, workplace – wherever the transformed men move around.

For an overview of MASVAW’s work, you may like to read Women Empowerment: Men’s Way!

Why has MASVAW’s work remained rather limited to Uttar Pradesh?

A MASVAW Campaign

In order to understand this, you have to know a little biography of MASVAW and find the real culprit. The real culprit behind MASVAW’s birth ten years ago and existence today is an NGO called Sahayog which is based in the capital Lucknow of Uttar Pradesh. According to MASVAW convener Satish Singh, “Sahayog was and is the backbone of MASVAW.” Sahayog has been promoting women empowerment in the framework of rights since its inception in 1992. Besides being the secretariat of MASVAW network, Sahayog also functions as a resource center for “Work with Men” in several states ofIndiaand other countries ofSouth Asia.

Years of experience of working with different groups of communities and people made Sahayog realize that violence against women (VAW) was an effective deterrent acting against women’s participation, equality and empowerment. It also emerged that violence against women was not merely a “women’s issue” but a larger social issue and that men have a bigger role and responsibility towards stopping gender violence.

If you are wondering whether this enlightenment happened all of a sudden like “Eureka!” or slowly without excitement or drama, you will have to contact Sahayog. I am too ignorant to tell you!

In October 2002, the consultation in the capital city Lucknow of Uttar Pradesh gave concrete shape to the realization that men must also be actively involved in opposing violence against women both as individuals and as part of institutions. About thirty men from 19 organizations, working on women’s empowerment participated in the consultation, of which only 2 organizations worked directly on violence against women. The consultation also tried to demystify how these organizations ensured gender equality in their own management. After the consultation, a series of workshops covering gender violence against women, sexuality and masculinity were organized.

The consultation highlighted that before involving men and boys in a movement towards gender equality, there is a need to first understand them and their perspectives. It was also important to understand the consequences of women empowerment – How do boys and men and girls and women deal with empowerment, how does it change gender relations? How do women change because of empowerment and how do men react to it? These discussions resulted in the need for all the participating organizations to work together to find a collective answer.

To cut the long story short, it was decided to form a new and more focused group. Initially it was formed as Men’s Association for Stopping Violence Against Women (MASVAW). But then some wise people (or fortune tellers) predicted that the word “association” might lead to power struggle with the women’s groups (you know very well women don’t trust men!). Therefore, it was replaced by the word “action” and thus MASVAW is now known as Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women. Supposedly, it put the focus on self-action, highlighting the need to change the self first.

So, the ten year old MASVAW baby has grown up playing in the backyard of Sahayog, ie Uttar Pradesh. But its work is steadily gaining recognition in areas beyond Uttar Pradesh boundary.

Acceptance and Spread of MASVAW’s Work

Here is the list of some its achievements that offer it a promising future:

  • MASVAW has been written as a case study in the 2006 UNESCAP report Elimination of violence against women in Partnership with men. Its work has also been documented in booklet titled “Re-discovering Ourselves.” Local media persons have written about MASVAW and its various activities as coverage of events and campaigns, as well as part of feature stories on violence against women and the role of men and youth.
  • MASVAW men and their experience provided a solid foundation for a two-year research project (2009 – 2011) of the Center for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ), Delhi that was done in collaboration with Tarun Chetna Sanstha, Azad Shiksha Kendra and Purti Sansthan on gender based discrimination and violence in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
  • MASVAW hosted a national symposium on men’s journey towards gender justice in collaboration with a prominent Uttar Pradesh university in the holy Varanasi city – Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidya Peeth – during 16-17 Dec, 2011.
  • Many women headed organizations are sending their men staff to become active with MASVAW, in order to strengthen their own work on VAW. Thus, MASVAW has emerged as a collaborator, not as a competitor, of women’s groups. Its approach is not paternalistic, but is a human rights and feminist approach.
  • Its training manual in English has been a big hit. It is being translated in several local languages as well as in Sinhalese.
  • Its members (including the youth) were invited by Save the Children in a meeting represented by 35 nations.
  • Its work has also been documented in the films
  1. Children’s Action to end Violence against Girls and Boys in South and Central Asia
  2. Changing the Course – A film on men and boys’ initiatives for gender equality and stopping violence

If you are a die-hard skeptic and think that MASVAW does no more than lecturing people about gender equality, you may like to read What makes MASVAW Effective? And What are MASVAW’s Tools/Processes of Change?

Violence against women has a lot of far reaching consequences and is behind most of the major social ills in India – say, population. Therefore, MASVAW’s work on changing men gets directly translated into women empowerment. Find out how mere women empowerment solves a lot of backwardness in India.

Acknowledgement: This article is inspired by resources from Center for Health and  Social Justice in New Delhi.

About Goodpal

I am a firm believer in healthy people (mind and body both), healthy societies and healthy environment. Please feel free to comment, share and broadcast your views -- I like rational and intellectual discussions. Thanks for stopping by. Have a Good Day!
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